Churches of God in New England mark 40th anniversary
By John Warren
KITTERY, Maine--Church of God members from a variety of fellowships congregated in this city in the southern part of Maine the Sabbath of Nov. 18 to mark the 40th anniversary of Church of God groups with origins in the Radio/Worldwide Church of God in a six-state area.
The celebration began with church services sponsored by the United Church of God congregation commonly referred to as the Portsmouth church, even though Portsmouth is across the state line in New Hampshire.
The UCG congregation is pastored by Paul Suckling of Shrewsbury, Mass. Mr. Suckling also pastors a congregation in Worcester, Mass., and serves as a regional pastor for the UCG.
Organizing and sponsoring the reunion were two Church of God members, Denzil Thayer of Farmington, N.H., and Walter Warren of Buckfield, Maine.
Welcome to all
Mr. Suckling noted in a printed invitation that "it was 40 years ago on Nov. 12, 1966, that the first service of the [Radio] Church of God was held anywhere in New England. Manchester, New Hampshire, was the starting place and so much has happened since those early days."
Mr. Suckling concluded:
"The one thing that we ask of everyone is that there be no rancor over what has happened through the past 11-plus years since the major splits of '95.
"I'm sure that we can all enjoy the 40th-year celebration in the right attitude and spirit."
Church services took place at the Roadway Inn from 2:30 to 4:30.
Don Cole of Leyden, Mass., a long-time church member and deacon, offered the opening prayer.
Mr. Warren gave the first message, which included a reciting of some of the early activities and development of the church.
Mr. Warren serves as a deacon in the United congregation and was a driving force in planning the celebration.
The first meetings of the Radio Church of God in New England were Bible studies, the first of which was conducted in June 1963 in Passaconaway, N.H., with 34 in attendance. Carlton Smith conducted that service.
When church headquarters in Pasadena, Calif., transferred Mr. Smith to a new assignment, Raymond Cole became the first district superintendent on the East Coast for the Radio Church of God.
Mr. Cole would send men from New York to conduct what became monthly Bible studies.
From 1963 to 1966 these studies were conducted (after the initial one in Passaconaway) first in Farmington, then Concord and finally in Manchester.
Full-time pastor in 1966
The Ambassador College graduates who led these Bible studies included Walter Sharp, Robert Spence, Gary Antion, Guy Engelbart and Reg Platt.
It was not until 1966 that headquarters assigned a full-time pastor to the area and weekly Sabbath services began at Manchester.
Mr. Cole conducted that first church service, and Mr. Platt, a native of Britain and a graduate of the Bricket Wood, England, campus of Ambassador College, was appointed to serve as the area's first full-time pastor.
The second pastor to serve the area was Fred Kellers, a graduate of the Pasadena campus of Ambassador.
Mr. Kellers pastored the congregation beginning in 1969 and remained in New England until the summer of 1973.
As the Manchester congregation grew, it divided in 1967, and Mr. Platt pastored the new congregation in Boston, Mass. At that time services in New Hampshire moved to Concord.
Mr. Platt, who now resides in Pembroke, Mass., attended the evening fellowship.
Mr. Suckling invited Mr. Kellers to join the celebration and present the main message.
Mr. Kellers and his wife, Lucretia, now live near Nashville, Tenn., and pastor congregations at Nashville and Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Bowling Green, Ky.
Mr. Kellers spoke about patience and how God and humans view time differently.
The service concluded with a closing prayer by Mr. Thayer, a longtime church member and deacon who served in the Radio/Worldwide Church of God congregation from its inception.
Mr. Thayer, who was ordained a local elder in the WCG in 1995, now serves a small group that meets in members' homes on the Sabbath."
Mr. Thayer told this writer:
"The 40th anniversary was a memorable experience.
"I saw a lot of old friends I hadn't seen for years. Most everyone knew me, but I had trouble remembering some because so many were children 40 years ago that have grown up and are now middle-aged adults.
"When they introduced themselves, in some I recognized their resemblance when they were children. I saw Don Cole, who looks the same as he did years ago and is now 85. I am looking forward to the 50th [anniversary]."
Pictures of history
The evening activities began with a pasta dinner followed by fellowship that included historic video presentations and viewing of other pictures.
Cynthia Gordon of Nashua, N.H., and April Washburn of Phillipston, Mass., coordinated the dinner.
One collection of pictures from the early outings and activities of the church was provided by Mary Sweat of Bethel, Maine.
Her husband, Clayton, who died recently, had taken them over the years.
Mr. Thayer had brought two albums as well as a video of the 25th-church-anniversary observance. Mary Lou Richmond of Hope Valley, R.I., provided another video.
Organizers had encouraged anyone with pictures to bring them for everyone to enjoy.
The oldest person in attendance was 98-year-old Rebecca Pope of Thornton, N.H., and next was longtime church member Ethel McMullen, 96, of Berwick, Maine.
Diane Smith of Somersworth, N.H., expressed her appreciation to this writer for the efforts of Mr. Warren and Mr. Thayer in making the celebration a reality.
"It was wonderful to see old friends and be able to fellowship with other groups," Mrs. Smith said.
"One of the highlights for many was to see our first minister, Reg Platt."
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