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It is a story with great symbolism about the City of New London and the nation, always changing and evolving, successive ethnic groups adding their special design to the quilt that is America, even as they become part of the whole. Underlying this journey for many are values rooted in religious beliefs in a place where all beliefs are welcome.
We refer to the story of the merger of two churches. With a celebration Sunday that was beautiful in its cultural diversity and exciting with its promise of new beginnings, the First Baptist Church and First Hispanic Baptist Church of New London merged to become the Church of the City.
Here are two congregations embracing new opportunities. The First Baptist Church, in this the first decade of its new century, had seen its rank shrinking as prior generations that populated its congregations moved out. Rather than focus on lamentations about good days gone by, the congregation has sought instead to embrace a bright future.
With membership down to about 100, the First Baptist Church congregation seemed diminished by the large surroundings of its State Street sanctuary. The First Hispanic Baptist Church had a different challenge, with membership moving past 300 and the congregation growing, it had outgrown its Redden Avenue worship space.
Now they are one church, making use of the ample space of the historic State Street church.
While a practical move, church leaders say it is more about creating, through this merger, a church that reflects the character of the community and embraces change as positive. It could be an example for other churches dealing with demographic upheaval and a lesson for the community as a whole to look for creative solutions.
Special congratulations to Rev. Daniel Martino, pastor of the 35-year-old First Hispanic Baptist Church and Rev. Tom Hogsten, pastor of the First Baptist Church for their willingness to explore a new paths and lead the congregations through the change. Rev. Martino will be senior pastor and Rev. Hogsten will be executive pastor of the new church.
"We were not meant to be alone, isolated from each other and our Creator," said Rev. Hogsten at the celebration merging the congregations.