The year was 1888 in Stamford, Connecticut. Twenty-five descendants of former slaves had transitioned from southern states to settle in Stamford with the objective of making a new life with their families in Connecticut. Among them were Robert and Sarah Doswell, who maintained an employment agency and trucking business, Brother James Green, Sister Sally Green, Sister Bessie Ralston, Sister Bable, Sister Clara Pattry Lightfoot Wells, a former slave, her husband, George Mack Wells, and their children: Bertha, Sarah and Jesse who arrived by train with the Hurdis family, their employers, from Big Island, Virginia. These citizens were pioneers who had traveled to the northeast to seek employment in factories, shops and private homes during the aftermath of the Reconstruction period. The families experienced the famous “Blizzard of 1888,” which generated twenty-foot high drifts, gale force winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour and sub-zero temperatures during a four-day period.
Nevertheless, these individuals remained undaunted in a singular goal which God had planned for them. Thereafter, twenty three years after the Civil War, our fore parents who initially attended services at the Stamford Baptist Church, decided under the leadership of Reverend George H. Jackson, Pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church of New Haven, Connecticut, to organize the Union Baptist Church Mission. While the Stamford Baptist Church afforded opportunities for worship, this small band of Christians faced the segregated practices of having to occupy seating in the rear of the church. They soon wished to make a transition from this manner of worship.
Therefore, under the leadership of Reverend Moses J. Haskins, worship services were held at Weed’s Hill, an old rented dance hall located at Atlantic and Canal Streets near Main Street. Canal Street was so named because it was formerly a canal through which merchant and passenger ships passed and docked. Perhaps, when ships blew their horns, the children of our founding members would run from Broad Street to Canal Street to watch the excitement on the docks. After the dances concluded at Weed’s Hall on Saturday evening, church members, numbering about twenty-five persons, would scrub the floor, clean and rearrange furniture, thereby transforming the untidy dance hall into an edifice of worship.
Reverend Moses J. Haskins served the Union Baptist Mission for a period of three years and was succeeded by the Reverend J. O. Cornish of Concord, New Hampshire. During Reverend Cornish’s pastorate, a lot on the corner on the corner of Adams Avenue and Beech Street, now Vista Street, was purchased from St. John’s Society, now St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Reverend Cornish was succeeded by Mr. William O. Harris. Mr. Harris was, at that time, a student at Boydton Institute in Boydton, Virginia. While he was a student, he served the Union Baptist Church congregation during the summers as a part time minister. During his absence, the pulpit was filled by the Revered James Bowman of New Haven, Connecticut. Reverend Harris returned to the Union Baptist Church Mission for full time service.
Under the leadership of Reverend Harris, the Mission was officially named the Union Baptist Church. A new church was built on the corner of Adams Avenue and Vista Street. It was a wooden frame structure built in a New England style motif, which included a belfry tower, and consisted of three floors: a basement, main level and loft. Church services were held on the main floor, which provided a sanctuary, altar and baptismal pool. Under Reverend Harris’s leadership, several groups, including Boy Scout Troop #10, were organized. Clara Wells was a founder of the Willing Workers organization which originated in 1906. The mission of this band of Christian women was to maintain a Christian home for homeless children, young women and the elderly. The Willing Workers established a Colored Children’s Home in a dwelling they rented on Vista Street. After a successful pastorate of 25 years, Reverend Harris resigned to accept a pastorate at the Morning Star Baptist Church in Albany, New York.
In January of 1923, the Reverend Baxter L. Matthews succeeded Reverend Harris as pastor. Under his leadership, the site across the street from the original wooden frame church was purchased. With the completion of the new stone church the wooden frame church building was used for social and community affairs and was renamed “The Community House”. Numerous African-American organizations, inclusive of fraternal orders, civic and social clubs made use of this facility for events on a regular basis.
Several organizations were formed within the church during this time period. Among these were the Willing Workers Fuel Club, the Pastor’s Aid Society and the Men’s Club. The Children’s or Junior Choir under the direction of Mrs. Ruth Austin and Miss Helen Hubbard was also organized. It was the first church organized children’s choir in the city of Stamford. The activities of Boy Scout Troop #10 continued under the leadership of Mr. Charles Brooks and Mr. Jesse Wells, Jr. Membership in the Union Baptist Church Sunday School and the Baptist Young Peoples Union also flourished. A Girl Scout troop under the leadership of Ms. Sara Doswell was organized and a Neighborhood Art and Sewing Club was formed which was later named The Sarah C. Matthews Friendship Club.
Reverend Matthews, a community activist, fought for the civil rights of the African-American population in Stamford. He served on the Mayor’s and city’s Chambers of Commerce; he was president of the Connecticut Baptist Convention for 13 years.
The Reverend William Lee Baxter came to Union in 1941 from St. Augustine, Florida, upon the recommendation of Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. The first female trustee, Mrs. Daisy Pellman was installed during his administration. A tremendous financial gain was experienced during his pastorate and new auxiliaries were organized. The Stamford Branch of the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People (the N.A.A.C.P.) was also initiated in 1942 at Union Baptist Church. Mr. Edward Jones, the church clerk, served as its first president.
In 1946, the Reverend I. Logan Kearse of the First Institutional Baptist Church of Winston Salem, North Carolina accepted the call to Union Baptist Church. A most successful stewardship program was introduced by Reverend Kearse, enabling us to complete the superstructure of the building on Adams Avenue. During the construction of the superstructure and tower, the Stamford community opened its doors to accommodate us by permitting us to hold worship services at Hart Elementary School on Adams Avenue.
In September of 1954 the Reverend T. Ewell Hopkins came to us from the First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. During his tenure, the mortgage on the Adams Avenue church was burned. Central air conditioning was also installed within the sanctuary, and there was a significant increase in membership. Following the departure of Reverend Hopkins, Reverend Edward H. Coleman served as interim minister.
In July of 1959, the Reverend Charles J. Sargent, Jr. was called from Ebenezer Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie, New York. During his tenure, numerous ministries were formed including The Board of Christian Education, a Drama Club, The Willing Workers Ministry and a First Aid Unit. The membership soared to over one thousand persons. The Operation Progress Building Fund Program was established and the Every Member Canvas Financial Program was initiated. In addition, stained glass windows were installed within the church sanctuary, a new Allen organ was purchased and the 15 Fifth Street parsonage was acquired. The Reverend Barry Hopkins became the fifth man in the church’s history to enter the ministry during this period.
The Reverend Charles M. Franklin, pastor of the Beulah Baptist Church of Spotsylvania, Virginia, assumed the pastorate of Union Baptist Church in May of 1969. Under the leadership of Reverend Franklin, The Lay Ministers’ Program was established and the church became involved in various community organizations inclusive of The Stamford Day Nursery, the Stamford Hospital, the Rehabilitation Center and the West Main Street Community Center which is now the Yerwood Center.
In 1972 the Reverend Dr. Robert W. Perry was called from the Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Portsmouth, Virginia to become pastor of Union Baptist Church. He has served in this capacity for a period of 42 years, the longest tenure of any pastor in the history of Union Baptist Church. During the early years of his illustrious leadership and in accordance with God’s Divine Plan, we moved from our Adams Avenue church to our present site located on Newfield Avenue, and situated on a 3.5 acre plot of land. Shortly after the move in 1978, it was discovered that the quarters were too small. With deliberation, planning and prayer, we embarked upon a Capital Stewardship Program to provide capital for the building of our present edifice, which was completed in 1998. We assumed the building task ourselves and served as our own general contractor. Under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Perry, who is known for his prophetic preaching, prolific discipleship and progressive ministry, the Union Baptist Church has become a viable Christian enterprise which operates to serve others on a 24 hour basis. During the 1990’s the Union Baptist Church in Whitlesea, South Africa was also completed with our financial support.
More than 35 ministries have been organized under Reverend Perry’s leadership. These include: the Greeter, Helping Hand, Missionary, Nurses, Pastors Aid, Ushers, Christian Education, Mass Choir, Public Relations, Sound, Street, Social Media, Hospital and Nursing Home, Prison, Technology, The UBC Sports Initiative, Women’s, Men’s Fellowship, Progressive Adult, The Sister 2 Sister Book Club, and Praise Dance Ministries, among others. A myriad of ministry activities radiate from our church each week which include: Sunday and Mid-Week Services, Church School, Discipleship Development Classes, Healing Classes, The Children’s Church, Bible Study Groups, choir rehearsals, prayer meetings, youth activities, The Kids’ Academy and a host of other programs. The Deacon, Deaconess and Trustee Ministries are also viable entities which facility multiple Christian programs within Union Baptist Church.
Our church members are not only fulfilling the spiritual mission which God has ordained and mandated; but with His blessing have assumed leadership responsibilities in education, medicine, politics and government on the local and state level. From our obscure beginnings at Weed’s Hall, God has transitioned us into the 21st century and provided for us a kingdom building purpose and agenda through which we may serve humanity within our local and regional communities and the world.
As we view our present church, which is a $5.3 million edifice, we rejoice in the fact that it was built by tremendous sacrifices from the membership. Our theme was and continued to be in our Higher Ground Campaign: Not Equal Giving, But Equal Sacrifice. Within this structure there are no walls of memory or plaques of donation. Although many generous gifts were given, the building serves as a monument dedicated to the joint sacrifices of all God’s people. It is a mute testimony to the joint labor of love. No one received the praise but God, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. From 1888 until the present time, Union Baptist Church is truly an earthly vineyard in which the spirit of God reigns. We have enduringly been Kept By Jesus, Through Our Heritage, Our Faith and Our Service and are the rich benefactors of God’s Amazing Grace, as we “Celebrate our Past, Present and Purpose, Through Prayer, and Perseverance.”