My wife and I recently had the opportunity to visit New England. It was our first ever trip to this part of the United States. I was officially on task to do two things: 1) Visit and speak in chapel at a new Baptist college in Vermont, and 2) visit and preach on Sunday at a new church plant in Maine.
My wife rarely travels with me but this time things fell into place for her to join me and I was so glad. Packaged around these two official engagements was time to explore New England as we moved across the region. Over the course of five days we visited six states: New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine. For a pastor from the Southeast this was fantastic. Where I am from the states are larger and it just takes longer to get to places. Not so in New England.
The trip was marked by several highlights:
Northeastern Baptist College is a three-year-old school in Bennington, Vermont. President Mark Ballard has done an unbelievable job of planting and growing an evangelical training ground for young men and women in New England. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on campus meeting students, faculty, and preaching in chapel. New England is a godless land. NEBC is committed to piercing the lostness of our nation from New England, where 20% of our nation’s population resides.
Thirteen miles from Bennington on the campus of Williams College in Massachusetts, is the site of the 1806 Haystack Prayer Meeting. It was a holy moment when the librarian of NEBTS, Jim Mancuso, took me to visit the birthplace of North American Foreign Missions. All missions endeavors in the United States can be traced back to this spot where five young college students in the summer of 1806 dove for cover in a stack of hay to seek shelter from a strange summer storm. While in this haystack, the Holy Spirit moved them to found efforts to take the Gospel to the nations. The monument was erected in 1867. It was lost and forgotten on the campus of Williams College and by the 1980s was so overgrown with brush it could not be easily located. Due to outside pressure the college eventually cleared the area and formed a small park.
On Friday, we headed to visit my brother and his family in Connecticut. He’s a professor at Quinnipiac University and we were able to enjoy a tour of the campus with him. On our way there we passed through Northampton, Massachusetts, and we just had to stop and see one very special place. The site of the church of one of America’s greatest preachers – Rev. Jonathan Edwards. I’ve read and studied Edwards’ works my entire academic career. It was a thrill to stand on an original paving step to the church where he ministered and preached the First Great Awakening. Edwards pastored this church at the time he preached his most famous sermon, Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God. I was also profoundly saddened. On this site today is another church, The First Churches. An “open and affirming” church, where on their website, they publish a sermon that nearly laments the theology and preaching of Jonathan Edwards. Oh, how quickly, a people can turn from God and holiness, while clinging to a “form of godliness.”
Nearby The First Churches is the Bridge Street Cemetery where missionary David Brainard and his fiancée, Jerusha Edwards (the daughter of Jonathan Edwards) are buried. I’ve never been one to cemetery hop, but the history in New England was to rich and easily located to skip. We also visited the grave of poet Robert Frost in Bennington along with the schoolhouse of Grandma Moses. Yes, so very, very cool.
We finally ended up in Portland, Maine. Church planters, Aaron and Kathy Werner, are dear friends. Portland boasts the highest per capita percentage of atheists in the United States. Cross Church Maine launched nearly two years ago. Another light shining in the darkness. On the day of my visit, this church was humming with youth, excitement, and energy on the campus of the University of Southern Maine. It was a highlight of my ministry to preach in this setting to a new body of believers and others seeking the truth that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
Putting all this together, here is my closing thought:
God uses the most ordinary of people and the most ordinary of settings to do the most extraordinary things. It is so important, so critical, that we remember. For when people forget, we are but one generation away from darkness. But darkness is never so dark that a single Light cannot but easily pierce it.
May it be so, not only in New England, but all across this fruited plain that we call the United States of America.