A Brief (ahem) History
Pastors of First Baptist Tully:
Information gleaned from the Edwin Starr – Baptist Bibliography
1816 – Rev. Uriel Smith in Vesper formed a Baptist Church
1828 – Rev. Isaac Puffer initiated a Methodist Meeting
1818 Elder Squire Abbot seems to come from a prominent family of Baptists in N.H.
1833-35 Reuben Winchell – may have written a songbook.
1837-39 David Pease. Wrote against masonry and spent quite a bit of time in CT.
1879-81 John Deming Pope -
Wrote a pamphlet for ABPS “On the Annihilation of the Wicked”
1870 -72 D.D. Brown seems to have returned in 1881-82
1887-89 Sylvester S. Powell
1905-07 C.A. Johnson went to Glens Falls and wrote the history of the South Glens Falls Baptist Church.
1910-11 The Rev. James Jones seems to have followed C.A> Johnson to Glens Falls
1911-14 B. E. Williams
1914-21 B.R. Smith
1921-23 Clayton Stoddard – father of Horace Stoddard?
1923-32 J. Wilbur Richardson Seems to have pastored the Huntingdon St. Baptist Church in New London, CT. Wrote an oration on public education.
1932-47 Howard Fitch Myers Missionary to Rangoon Burma for nearly 30 years returned to Lake Placid then Tully – retiring in Bath died in 1948. Involved in some controversy over Baptist missions in Burma.
1947-53 Alfred Scipione
1951-59 R. Donald Williamson – Wrote much about Christian Stewardship. On staff of New Jersey or New York City Baptists.
1959-63 W Leo Peacock
1963-69 Finley M. Keech
1969 – The Rev. Herman Murdock, Methodist. Rev. Harry Guckert, Baptist
. . .
Concise History of the Merger
Conversation in Calvin Bigsby’s Barbershop – 1961 reported by Pat Fessenden:
“All week long these people work together, do business together, laugh and tell jokes together, play cards together, have supper in each others’ homes, even go partying and dancing together on Saturday night. On Sunday morning they walk down the street together, and then go into two different churches to worship the same God! If that isn’t crazy, I don’t know what is!”
The Voice of our History
February 1816, fourteen people gathered at the home Uriel Smith in Vesper and formed a Baptist Church and six years later, that little congregation had constructed a Meetinghouse in Tully Center.
In 1828 the Rev. Isaac Puffer initiated a Methodist Meeting Class, which by 1830 resulted in the establishment of the Methodist Episcopal Church. That congregation met in local schoolhouses until 1834 when the original part of the Tully Methodist Church building was constructed on State Street.
In 1849 the Baptist Meetinghouse was moved from Tully Center to its present location…just south of the original Methodist Church on State Street.
For the next 120 years the two church buildings stood side by side, with their separate congregations, with different ministers in each church developing their separate traditions and identities but they were not unfriendly.
When the Baptist Meetinghouse was being moved in next door, the Methodists invited the Baptists to use the Methodist while their building was “in transit”. Over the years the two churches had cooperated in many ways…Sunday School picnics, lenten services and Inter-Faith banquets. They also planned their pastors’ vacations at different times. The members of both congregations then attended summer services together, in whichever church the minister was not on vacation.
Although denominational structures differ radically from each other the style, the tone and outward observances of Baptists and Methodists have much in common. They are the two largest denominations of Christians in our nation our patterns of growth are very similar. Preaching missions, evangelistic rallies and camp revivals marked both the worship style of both Methodists and Baptists along the ever expanding frontier of our nation in the 19th century. We were known for our enthusiastic preaching and singing.
In 1969 the two churches stood side by side, two small congregations, about the same size, neither really in financial trouble.
In August 1969 The Rev. Herman Murdock, pastor of the Tully Methodist Church, wrote a letter to Fay Cummings, the chairman of the Baptist Church Board of Trustees. In this letter Rev. Murdock suggested: “That our peoples have conversations about the pros and cons of a community church.”
What an explosive idea! It came forth from this mild-mannered man-of-God at just the right moment in time. Caught by surprise, both churches hesitant, approved the “Investigation of a Possible Merger.”
No one missed church during those Sundays! Those “Agin it” and those “Fer it” and many “Let’s see what happens!” all discussed the issue…in and out of church.
November 15th saw the first joint meeting of the two congregations. Present were Rev. Robert Williams of the New York State Baptist Association, and the Rev. Donald Wright the Methodist District Superintendent. The meeting was advised by the Rev. Stanley Skinner of the New York Council of Churches who set the congregations to work on a “Joint Merger Exploratory Committee.” Fay Cummings, chairman, and Pat Fessenden, vice chairman, in turn put the committee to work to complete a Merger Feasibility Study for each church.
The Feasibility Study caused each church to: study its buildings and equipment, analyze its budget, complete an analysis of its church school enrollment, complete an occupational analysis of its members, and even complete an age analysis of its membership. On March 8, 1970 at concurrent meetings in both churches…both churches voted only to “proceed with merger.” Rev. Skinner was moving us slowly, being careful to allow time for all questions to be asked and problems solved before a final binding commitment.
The spirit of Rev. Herman Murdock and Rev. Harry Guckert:
It really is crazy for a lovely little village like this to have two congregations, sitting right next to each other, singing the same hymns and sharing the same bread and cup. These two particular families of God have so much in common. I think they should get together. “Herman what will your Bishop say?”
“Well, for heaven’s sake I’d never tell him – I’d get sent out to the wilderness of Old Forge or someplace like that! You Baptists are such a disorganized bunch that you can do whatever you please and no one would care.”
“Yes, in our local autonomy the individual church in its community has a lot of freedom of movement. The important thing here to remember of course is the local church in its community and by that I mean the congregations of God’s people in the Village of Tully. We are the Body of Christ who just happen to be called Baptists and Methodists. We do each have our traditions to honor and uphold but we must not let those traditions keep us apart.
Getting the job done well takes time and let me just try to outline for you how the job was well done – maybe even overdone! Thirteen Merger Committees were selected with membership from each church. These committees investigated and later made recommendations on all aspects of the proposed merger from church membership to Sunday School. It was a year of many meetings, of many mailings, of announcements, arguments, and endless discussion.
Meetings had periods of long silence… People thought before they spoke… There was some fear and anxiety: When reciting the Lord’s Prayer were we going to say debtors or trespassers? Were we going to sprinkle or immerse for baptism?
When you deal with something that may change the tradition from which you have come, or which may change your image of who you are, it is scary. But both congregations were alive with hope and a vision, at the cutting edge of something new and wonderful. The possibility was there if we could just grasp it.
Any kind of change is scary and the church is the one place where we think things should stay the same… but God is always calling us to look at life and hope and humanity in new and refreshing ways. Those thirteen committees may have gotten bogged down and frustrated and weary of argument – but that is the very way in which God works to renew us and change us and bring us to the place in our lives where God wants us to be. God is always among us alive with new hope and vision. God is the one at the cutting edge of life – it is we who must overcome our fears, place our trust in God and try to somehow grasp what it is we are called to do in life.
By mid March of ‘71 it was time to take the final vote, which would approve both the legal consolidation agreement and the proposed constitution…and make us one church. But even at the last minute, issues which had not been properly considered or resolved were brought forth. More meetings, discussions and two amendments were added to the legal consolidation agreement dealing with: money held in a Baptist Building Fund, and monies held in the Memorial Funds of each church.
Legally, we needed only a simple majority to merge. But both churches had agreed, that unless the final vote showed a 2/3 majority in favor of merger…they would not merge. When the votes were counted over 77% of the people said “Yes.” We were merged.
On Sunday, June 6th the new church gave a fond farewell reception to Rev. Herman Murdock who had been reassigned to the LaFayette Methodist Church in Syracuse. We are forever indebted to Rev. Murdock. He knew when he wrote his original letter, that a new church formed from two existing congregations had to start with new ministerial leadership if it was to have any chance of success. He made the sacrifice.
Co-officers and co-board members were selected (one from each of the original churches) to serve together until the First Annual Meeting of the new Church in January, 1972. The new Tully United Community Church held its first worship service on June 26th led by interim pastor Rev. William Cruikshank.
The pulpit committee of the new church had already begun its search for a new pastor. The committee members were Jay Bartholomew, William Ehlers, Lucille Hartwell, Carolyn Hilton, Merton Moore, and Janice Witter. Bill Ehlers is the only remaining member of that “God Blessed” committee. It was indeed quite a committee. So different and diverse were their backgrounds and viewpoints that several people said to me: “Any preacher that can satisfy all of them on that committee will have to be a blessed miracle!”
The committee traveled from town to town all over the state and every time they got back into the car after the worship someone would raise a voice of doubt about the particular candidate they had heard that day. “He preached too short.” “He preached too long.” “Bad handshake!” “Did you see his wife!” “I don’t like his red hair.” “I don’t like his beard!”
Each Sunday they had roast preacher for lunch zapping one poor pastor after another saying: “He just won’t do.” The committee was beginning to wonder if they would ever find a candidate suitable to everyone on the committee! But then a new day dawned. The committee woke up one Sunday morning and traveled to Falconer, New York to hearing the Rev. Walter Ketcham preach.
They all got back in the car and drove for a half an hour in silence. Each one want to say, “I think he’s our man”, but didn’t say it for fear the others would start the tearing down…”He just won’t do!” procedure. When one of them finally ventured a positive statement, they all fell over each others words getting on the bandwagon for Walter.
On January 9th 1972 Rev. Walter Ketcham preached as a candidate for pastor in Tully. He was selected by an almost unanimous vote of the congregation held immediately after the service. Tully United Community Church had another miracle to celebrate.
That is how the spirit sometime works in our lives – it surprises us with truth and vision! Surely that committee must have been ready to give up in its search, convinced it could never find anyone to satisfy them all. Most likely they couldn’t even find Falconer on the map! But God blessed us. Indeed God has blessed this congregation with two fine Pastors who have led us in unique and challenging directions – just the people God needed to get the work done in Tully!
And the Miracle has continued, with the building of our facilities here on Meetinghouse Road and the growth of our congregation. Calvin Bigsby would have been proud of our new kind of craziness…our together craziness. What is more, we have proved that we are not dinosaurs about to become extinct because we cannot change. We did change, and we are still changing.
We have learned more than just survival. We have learned that we can argue, disagree, feel fear, anxiety and frustration, and still accept our differences and truly love one another as Christ has loved us.
Whatever the issue, whether it’s getting oil tanks out of the ground, or relating to our neighbors in the use or sale of property, we are still today, as we were a the time of merger, still out there on the cutting edge of something new and wonderful. So it is that my story, our story, is…NOT over. It continues now and into the future of the Tully United Community Church.
. . .
A Closing Prayer written by Pat Fessenden:
Lord we thank you for this chance to be reminded of the exciting origin of this Tully United Community Church. Help us now to take our eyes off the past and turn in our present and our future. Continue to help us deal with our fears and frustrations, our hopes and our visions. Most of all Lord, we pray that you will help us keep alive in this congregation the same spirit that Paul expressed so well in chapter four of his letter to the Ephesians:
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love: Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in the one hope of your calling; One Lord, on faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you…all.