Harrisville church marks 150 years, with October 20 named ‘Berean Baptist Church Day’

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With Rep. David Place, second from right, are Rev. Darin Collins, in back, and Berean board members Sandy Easterbrooks, Donna Landry and Don Waterman.

PROVIDENCE – A church operating on Chapel Street since its inception in 1874 is celebrating its 150th year in Harrisville, with the Rhode Island General Assembly naming October 20 of this year Berean Baptist Church Day.

Minority Leader Sen. Jessica de la Cruz and Minority Whip Rep. David Place each sponsored resolutions documenting the history of the church and its long committed of community involvement.

The mission to establish what would become the Berean congregation began in 1867, when Emeline Steere established a Sabbath School on Main Street in Harrisville, “in order to help heal the grievous wounds of the Civil War.” Soon after, Steere was among a group of ladies to establish a working group known as the Harrisville Union Sewing Circle. Over the next several years, the sewing circle worked to raise funds for a meeting space by sewing, knitting, quilting and hosting community dinners, also donating some of the clothes they made to those in need in the community.

In 1874, Rev. William Fitz was called in to serve as acting pastor. Meetings and services were initially held in a rented second story room in a hall on Chapel Street, with 13 original members. The name they choose, “Berean,” was taken from scripture, in reference to the people of Berea in Macedonia, who were said to be receptive to the preaching of Christianity.

The church received its first permanent pastor in 1879, and soon began planning for a permanent building. The white, two and a half story structure that now stands at 474 Chapel St. was officially dedicated in 1881, and has served as Berean’s home since.

The General Assembly resolution points to Berean’s strong bonds with the community, and its long history of sharing church resources and space. The church’s bells were used to sound the alarm for the Harrisville Fire District for more than 30 years until the district acquired its own equipment in 1949. Those same bells rang 500 times along with the bells at neighboring First Universalist Church in February of 2021 in remembrance of the 500,000 American lives lost in Covid-19-related deaths in the previous year.

In the 1970s, the church offered space to the Burrillville School District for classrooms, and over the years it provided meeting space for organizations from the Boy and Girl Scouts, to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Led by Rev. Darin Collins since 2004, Berean deems itself, “an inclusive community-oriented congregation,” worshipping one God who, “is revealed and accessible to each and every one of us regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, social standing or all other abilities.” Collins received the Rosa O. Hall Rural and Small Town Award for exceptional effectiveness in rural or small town ministry from the American Baptist Churches in 2017.

In recent years, the church has run a clothing exchange, offering free garments to all residents of Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield, Scituate and Foster. Also open on the first and third Saturday of every month from 8:30 to 11 a.m. is Berean’s Helping Hands Food Pantry, open exclusively to Burrillville residents.

“A lot of people would be in worse circumstances if it weren’t for these good people,” said Place, speaking of church members in attendance during a House session on Tuesday, April 30.

The resolution naming October 20, 2024 Berean Baptist Church Day was passed unanimously.

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