NEWINGTON – A church community of over 600 people recognized that God is capable of the impossible Sunday as they rededicated their New Britain Avenue house of worship.
Emmanuel Baptist Church was on the brink of collapse when Pastor Cary Schmidt arrived, moving his family from California to Newington in 2012. Five years later, the congregation has more than quadrupled in size and just completed an $800,000 renovation, adding new lighting and sound systems, heating and air conditioning, stone and woodwork, and a new stage in the main auditorium.
Church members were joined by local officials at Sunday’s service, as well as dozens of contractors who donated labor and materials to the construction project.
“The emphasis is not on the new signs and stonework,” Schmidt told the large crowd. “The emphasis is on the grace of God and why we are gathered here today. What was once wounded has healed and what was once dead made alive again in Christ.”
A video summarized the church’s journey, showing Schmidt baptizing many new members over the years. The first featured was Cromwell resident Karl Mitchell, who recalled welcoming faith during a difficult personal struggle.
“When they found the brain tumor, I was a junior in college,” he explained. “They told me I had six months to live. That was 17 years ago.”
Mitchell was baptized in June 2015 and is learning to walk again.
Administrative Pastor John Riopel oversaw the scope of the renovation as construction manager.
“I think it turned out better than we could have ever imagined,” he said. “God put people in the right place at the right time. None of this would be possible without our giving church family.”
Worship continued inside the building throughout construction. One of the final stages occurred just two weeks ago, when volunteers moved 1600 linear feet of pews out of the hall to make way for new seating.
Yvonne Doyle has been with the church since 2010, so she remembers when it was in poor shape.
“Our family really needed this,” the Burlington resident said Sunday. “It’s inspiring and refreshing.”
Wayne and Carol Lessard, who live in Vernon, joined a short time after the Schmidts arrived.
“The Lord has just worked a miracle here,” Carol said. “Bringing this pastor was the best thing he could have done.”
Newington Mayor Roy Zartarian, state Rep. Gary Byron and several town councilors sat in the front row during Sunday’s worship. Having visited in the past, Councilor Diana Serra was awed by the building’s transformation.
“The change from last year to this year is just unbelievable,” she said.
“It’s a positive message and a testament to Newington,” Councilor Gail Budrejko added.
The pastor’s message focused on another restoration story told in 2nd Chronicles, Chapter 29, in the New Testament, of Hezekiah and the cleansing of the temple in Israel. Schmidt said he came across this particular verse on his first plane ride to visit his new church in Newington.
“Little did I know my life and our collective lives over the next five years were going to unfold in this chapter,” he said. “It really parallels our story here.”
Greeting church members after the service, Schmidt noted the sanctity of the occasion.
“Today means to me that God can still do the impossible. He still very much changes lives.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.