Ridge Church Ownership Transferred
By Ken Akers
In 2005, Master’s Men Director Ken Akers was approached regarding the deteriorating condition of the Ridge Church in New Durham, New Hampshire. As a result of the conversation, a national committee was appointed to talk with Jim Nason, pastor of the First Free Will Baptist Church in New Durham, (and owners of the Ridge Church), to see what might be done.
The committee included Executive Secretary Keith Burden; Moderator Tim York; Historical Commission and Home Missions representative David Crowe; Randy Riggs, representative from the Cumberland Association; and Ken Akers. That fall, the committee traveled to New Durham and visited the church with Pastor Jim Nason.
Construction on the Ridge Church began in 1818 and was completed in 1819. Though he died several years before it was built, this is the church started and attended by Benjamin Randall, founder of the northern movement of Free Will Baptists. Over the decades (not to mention centuries), the church has gone through multiple changes. Chimneys were added. A bell tower was built (to house a bell cast in Paul Revere’s forge). At one time, the congregation even turned the church to face another direction. Decorative metal sheets were added to the walls and ceiling and electricity eventually replaced the lamps in the sanctuary chandelier. The structure is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and is such a vital part of the town history that it appears in the Town Seal.
After months of planning and fund raising, a group of volunteers from Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee spent two weeks working on the roof. Inside, the structures were reinforced, and outside the existing shingles were removed and replaced. Over the next several years, volunteers removed the old, flaking paint and repainted both interior and exterior, including the pews.
Structural work secured the weak foundation and new boards were installed to replace the flooring cut away when gas furnaces were added to the building. Windows were re-glazed and other smaller projects completed.
During these years of working on the church, Pastor Nason and I frequently discussed the need to secure the ownership of the building so it would remain a Free Will Baptist historical landmark. Following the 1911 merger, the First Church in New Durham joined the American Baptists for a time, and the Ridge Church was nearly lost to Free Will Baptists.
Over the years, First Church has done a great job maintaining the building, but as the church aged, more extensive (and expensive) repairs were required. After many conversations, and with great excitement, the First Church voted to transfer ownership of the Ridge Church to North American Ministries, along with the cemetery where the Randall family is buried, located not far from the church. In December 2016, David Crowe and I met with Pastor Nason and the trustees and deacons of First Church to sign the documents to begin the ownership transfer.
It was a historic day as Free Will Baptists secured ownership of this historic landmark. The denomination owes gratitude to Jim Nason and the members of First Free Will Baptist Church for this selfless gesture that will allow future generations of Free Will Baptists to experience firsthand this important link to their past.
While the Ridge Church has undergone a great deal of renovation, thanks to volunteers from across the denomination, much remains to be done. In addition to ongoing, regular maintenance, the bell tower has sustained many years of water damage and needs to be repaired. Estimates range from $67,000 to $200,000. In 2017, Master’s men will coordinate volunteers to repaint the outside of the building and deal with the bell tower. This project needs both volunteers and funding.
Learn more at www.www.fwbmastersmen.org or by calling 931-265-2333.
About the Writer: Ken Akers is director of Free Will Baptist Master’s Men. Learn more about Master’s Men, Free Will Baptist Disaster Response, and other ministries of the organization at www.fwbmastersmen.org.