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The story of the West Medford Baptist Church.

by Frank Woods Lovering.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, April 17, 1916.]

THE life-story of the West Medford Baptist Church spans a few months over twenty years. It was soon after the middle of 1895 that the Rev. James P. Abbott, at that time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Medford, urged upon those of his parishioners dwelling in the western section of the Mystic city the formation of another body. Mr. Abbott saw in the future the opportunity for an organization of West Medford Baptists which now, as we see this end of our city grow, seems a future still, but one even richer in opportunity than it has been in the two decades that have passed since 1895.

Eager to have the denomination of his faith extend its usefulness, Rev. Mr. Abbott encouraged a movement which, in the fall of 1895, took shape in the first meeting of those most vitally interested. This occurred at the home of the late George F. Spaulding, on Monument street—a large, square, old-fashioned residence, with summer house and garden, and fence on every side, that so many of the older ones so well remember; a house which passed as its owner passed. Only memory remains.

Mr. Spaulding was strongly opposed to the proposition. In his opinion the idea was too big to finance. He believed it unwise to make any definite move until it could be seen where the money was coming from. The leaders in the movement who were present refused to be discouraged, and the matter of a suitable building lot was agitated, although no definite action was then taken.

Other meetings were held later at various homes in [p. 74] the community, notably with Mr.Crosby and Mrs. George E. Crosby, Mr.Stevens and Mrs. Edwin E. Stevens, and Mr. and Mrs. Lewis H. Lovering. A committee was selected to examine definitely into the matter of a church site, and among these was the Bishop estate on High street, across from the railroad station, and the large Boston avenue frontage of the Spaulding property.

In the meantime, under the guidance of Mr. Abbott, the movement for a church body of Baptists in West Medford took permanent form at an assemblage in Mystic hall on October 20, 1895.

This is the first actual date in the life history of the church. The meetings were held on Sabbath afternoons, with growing numbers, until January 1, 1896, when Rev. Mr. Abbott's duties with his home church increased to such an extent that he was compelled to relinquish his work in West Medford, and, following various supplies, Rev. Arthur A. Cambridge was called to the leadership of the new church body, not then incorporated.

The initial steps toward organization were taken on January 20, 1896. Rev. Mr. Cambridge was called March 5, and came in May from the Baptist Church in North Billerica. On the 9th of May a committee was selected to secure land, since the problem of financing the building proposition had been solved, and it was then that the Spaulding lot was settled upon.

Mr. Spaulding refused to sell the part of his estate directly upon the corner of Boston and Harvard avenues, requiring that the entire Boston avenue frontage be assumed. Out of this grew the parsonage, and oddly enough the parsonage was erected before the church. The committee bought the parcel of land which Mr. Spaulding agreed to sell, and Lewis H. Lovering purchased from the society the two lots adjoining the parsonage lot on the east. There now stand the residences of M. E. Bearse and E. W. Shedd.

On July 9th a finance committee was chosen to raise the funds, and a building committee to arrange for plans [p. 75] and later make a contract. The drawings of architect G. Leslie Nichols were adopted, and Lewis H. Lovering was selected as builder. Work on the parsonage was begun immediately, and when completed it was occupied by the Rev. Mr. Cambridge. After his retirement it was rented, in order that it might carry itself in the Medford Co-operative Bank. In this connection it is of timely interest to note that on May 1, 1915, the church society became the owner, free and clear, of the pastor's home.

On July 16, 1896, a council of churches was assembled in Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church (Mystic hall being engaged) for the purpose of formally recognizing the organization of the West Medford Baptist Church. Nineteen churches were reported through their delegates, and the young society was thus definitely placed upon the list of churches of the Baptist denomination in the district embracing Medford and adjacent communities.

Ground was broken without delay for the starting of the church building, and the corner-stone was laid November 24, 1896, at 2 P. M., by the late Rev. William Howe of Cambridge, and Dea. O. M. Wentworth of Tremont Temple made the leading address. The church cost, including land, organ, furnishings, etc., $21,507.79, with subscriptions amounting to $8,715.00 Individual contributions in the form of carpets, memorial windows, mantels, etc., added greatly to the original value of the structure.

Easter Sabbath, April 18, 1897, was the date of the first occupancy of the building. Rev. Mr. Cambridge preached an Easter sermon at the morning service and gave an address at night. Formal dedication took place on the following Wednesday afternoon. The Rev. George C. Lorimer, late pastor of Tremont Temple, Mayor Lovering the builder, and other men of prominence made addresses at a banquet later in the day. At this dinner were over one hundred invited guests, besides those who had come to see their dream and the dream of the Rev. Mr. Abbott realized. [p. 76]

Rev. Mr. Cambridge resigned March 5, 1899, and on November 24 of the same year Rev. Truman O. Harlow of Somerset, Mass., was called to the pastorate. He resigned January 6, 1901, to take effect on March 1, but twelve days later, on January 18th, the society chose a pulpit supply committee, which shortly reported in favor of hearing Mr. Nathan R. Wood of Newton as a candidate. He was chosen at a meeting on the 29th of March, and read his letter of acceptance the following Sabbath. Mr. Wood was not then an ordained minister, and this was to be his first charge after ordination.

Thursday, April 25, a council was assembled in the church to participate in the ceremony of the ordination of Mr. Wood, and to confirm the action of the society in calling him to be its pastor. The examination of the candidate proved wholly satisfactory. The council recommended acceptance, and in the evening of the same day Mr. Wood's father, the Rev. Nathan E. Wood, then president of Newton Baptist Theological Seminary, and now pastor of the First Baptist Church in Arlington, Mass., preached the ordination sermon. Other prominent Baptist clergymen had a part.

Rev. Mr. Wood continued as pastor of the growing church until 1911, when the repeated call for him to become dean of the Gordon Training School for Missionaries in Boston grew so urgent that he felt duty bound to heed it.

His going was with mutually deep regrets, but in his place came one who has grown into the hearts of his parish day by day, widening the sphere of the West Medford Baptist Church and its activities, helping with unflagging energy and zeal to build it up to greater good and greater strength and greater things for the people of the growing western section of the city—the Rev. Eben F. Francis, who at the time of his call to this charge was assistant pastor at the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston. [p. 77]

I have dealt, up to now, wholly with the men, in this review of the West Medford Baptist Church and its development, but the women have always had a prominent part, particularly in assisting financially, when the church needed such assistance. From the beginning there was a strong organization of women who took active part in all the efforts to promote the welfare of the church, and the. success of the society has been in no small measure due to their sacrificing efforts. There was at one time a Women's Home and Foreign Missionary Society, which was the nucleus of the Farther Lights Society. Out of the latter grew the present flourishing Philathea Class. The Ladies' Social Union was affiliated with the organization almost from the beginning, and the enthusiasm of this body of earnest women has done much at all times to help in the betterment of the church, corporate and spiritual.1

West Medford is growing in a good direction. New fields of religious work are opening with the passing of each new year. Additional families are coming to dwell there; new faces are to be seen in both church service and Bible school, Sabbath in and Sabbath out. There lies the strength of this Baptist body, and there its paths of effort are defined. The church membership today numbers two hundred and forty-one; in the Bible school are registered two hundred and sixty-eight.

Thus rather briefly I have outlined the birth of West [p. 78] Medford's third permanent religious body, and its development to the present day through a period of two decades.

Prediction of its future is idle, except to make the safe prophecy that the society must grow as West Medford grows, or else go back. And that it is growing needs no better proof than the presentation of the definite fact that its Bible school quarters have been sadly cramped for a year, and that plans are under serious consideration now for their enlargement. The church itself will accommodate a growing congregation for some time to come, the problem of the Bible school is pressing. But this problem will be met and conquered before very long, for to conquer problems such as this one is the way in which those who formed the nucleus of the West Medford Baptist Church set forth upon their mission.

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