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Beneficent Church

From Beneficent Church’s October 2010 newsletter:

On October 16 & 17, Beneficent Church will be hosting a gala celebration of the 200th anniversary of our Meeting House. This event will bring to a close over a year’s worth of work. We would like to thank what has come to be known as the MH200 planning team—Doris Mathewson, Pat Falcon, Jane Eastman, Marilyn Washington, Jon Farnum, Charlotte Decker, Jean Kelly, Matt Hird, Peter Borgemeister, Jed Griswold, Irene Hope, Susan Carroll, Pastor Todd, Pastor Nicole, and especially our chair, Mary Ryder.

Please make every effort to participate in the weekend celebration. And invite your friends! It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Saturday evening awards gala on the 16th is an opportunity for us to invite people from the community to join us in celebrating community groups and leaders who are partners with us in working to make Providence a more just, compassionate, healthy, and whole place. The Sunday celebration is an opportunity for current members and alumni to celebrate our connection to this faith community.

The purpose of celebrating the 200th anniversary of our Meeting House has been twofold: 1) to get in touch with where we as a faith community have been in order to better understand where God is leading today and 2) to reconnect with our communities—Providence, in particular—by sharing our story and inviting our friends and neighbors to become a part of that story.

We began at the beginning. On January 3, 2010. Harl, Jonathan, and Linda Ryder dressed in 18th century period costume, and Harl acted as town crier announcing the commencement of the year’s festivities. Over the following months we celebrated different aspects of our history: our colonial beginnings as a “New Light” congregation, our African American history, the leadership role of women at Beneficent, our ministry among immigrant and refugee groups—particularly our connections to the Chinese community, our more recent public and intentional inclusion of LGBT people in our life and ministry. All of these aspects of our history can be seen in who we are today! They were celebrated with speakers and dinners and events—including a major renovation of Abbott Park—too numerous to mention here.

We’ll end with an 1897 quote from Beneficent’s Home Mission Board. At that point in our history, the neighborhood around the church was changing and putting pressure on the church to adapt. Here’s what our ancestors said: “In our location we must be largely a ‘missionary’ (as distinguished from a ‘home’) church. Let us pray for the success of the venture; and, that this old church, besieged by business and surrounded and restricted by growing traffic, may, in its adjustment to changing conditions, continue a powerful influence on the community.”

Little did they know at the time, but in 1897, Beneficent was on the brink of the greatest period of growth in its history!

That 19th century spirit of vitality, hope, and mission in the face of change is alive today and will carry us forward into the 21st century.

On April 26, Beneficent Congregational Church (Providence, RI) called Todd and Nicole to be their co-pastors. Beneficent Church was founded in 1743 by a group of Congregationalists who had a revival experience during the Great Awakening and were moved by the Holy Spirit to start a mission to the working-class people on the west side of the Providence River. The founding pastor, Joseph Snow, Jr., was a carpenter by trade.

Over the years, Beneficent Church grew in size and influence. The working-class neighborhood gentrified and became a place where the wealthy and powerful lived. Beneficent responded by adjusting its mission to reach its new neighbors, many of whom found a church home there. The church’s pastors continued to be very creative and mission-oriented, beginning what were at the time cutting edge programs such as children’s Sunday school, and taking advantage of the new medium of radio to broadcast their sermons.

In more recent history, Beneficent Church, like many established, mainline churches, has experienced significant decline in its membership. Beneficent Church has called Nicole and me in the hopes that we might help the congregation “redevelop,” that is, re-establish a vital relationship to its community in order to grow in membership and mission impact. It’s a challenge we look forward to.

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