Wilton Baptist Church, located at 254 Danbury Road, is closing.
The announcement was made today by Rev. Caroline Smith, the church’s pastor since 2017, in a joint statement with Rev. Shannon White, pastor of the Wilton Presbyterian Church and a leader of the Wilton Interfaith Clergy Association.
“After 54 years of dedicated service and love for our community, Wilton Baptist Church will hold our final worship service on Sunday, April 4, 2021. We thank the Wilton community for the way that you have loved and encouraged us over the years. It has been a great privilege to be a part of such a wonderful and caring community. Decades of interfaith services, ministries and outreach have truly blessed each of us in ways that have helped us to become who God created us to be. We are who we are today because of our relationships with this community. We would like to extend an open invitation for all who would like to join us on Sunday, March 28, 2021, at Wilton Baptist Church for benediction of service led by the Wilton [Interfaith] Clergy Association.”
GMW spoke to Rev. Smith after the announcement. She explained that the decision to close the church stemmed primarily from declining attendance over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic did nothing to help that.
The property was reported to be for sale in late 2020. While it is not yet sold, Rev. Smith told GMW the property is “under contract” with a buyer.
Smith is not involved in the real estate transaction and could not discuss details, but did say that she is optimistic that the iconic church will not be torn down. “The intention is for it to remain,” she said.
The church building is historically important* and has been a significant presence in the Wilton community for many people, beyond just the Wilton Baptist Church members.
While Wilton Baptist Church has been located there for the last 50 years, it was established in 1864 by the Episcopal church. Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church occupied the property before relocating in 1971 to the WEPCO complex on New Canaan Avenue in Wilton.
The church has also served as a longtime location for AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings for women’s groups.
According to Rev. Smith, a number of other faith and cultural groups have regularly utilized the property over the years. Even Walter Schalk has held dance classes in the property’s facilities.
Strong Interfaith Connections
St. Matthew’s connection to the church on Danbury Road did not end when the congregation moved to WEPCO.
Rev. White told GMW, “The faith community is a very close-knit group in this town. It’s very unique. And Wilton Baptist Church has been a longtime advocate of interfaith relationships. This [upcoming interfaith event] is a way to honor our relationship.”
The outdoor event is being called a “Service of Thanksgiving and Blessing for Wilton Baptist Church.” It will be held in the church’s courtyard on Sunday, March 28 at 3 p.m.
Today’s statement from the two pastors also said, “The Wilton Interfaith Clergy Association is gathering to offer support/prayer and offering the broader community an opportunity to come and offer thanks for this important community of faith.”
The statement emphasized, “All are welcome to come and offer well wishes, prayers and blessings.”
Rev. White noted the feelings of loss that are so prevalent over the last several months. “When we’re grieving, we need to give thanks as well,” she told GMW.
Other Baptist churches are hardly nearby in Waterbury and New London. Rev. Smith said she was working with the remaining church members individually to help them find a faith community for the future.
* Historical Significance
Documents on the Wilton Historical Society website reveal just some of the church’s history.
According to the “Historic Resource Inventory – Buildings and Structures” from the Historic Preservation Office (part of Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the church is “one of the finest ecclesiastical structures” in the area.
“The distinctive English Tudor fieldstone and brick church… is an excellent example of the picturesque ecclesiastical structures that were promoted by the Episcopal church during the second half of the 19th century. Superbly massed and detailed with a steep roof, flat buttresses and a rose window at the end of the nave, the church is very well preserved.”
A fire in 1971 destroyed the original windows. The parish hall was added on the north side of the church in 1940. A two-story wing intended for Sunday school was completed in 1954.