Sunday, July 01, 2007

Baptist history celebration next month

On August 1 next month, a Baptist history celebration will kick off in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of the Baptist association in America.

Philadelphia Baptist Association, organized in 1707, is considered the first and oldest "association" in America. The celebration coincides with the 300th year of the Philadelphia Association. But the General Six-Principle Baptist Rhode Island Yearly Meeting was possibly formed circa 1670. Certainly Regular Baptists were by far the more numerous and influential, and they and the Philadelphia Association have the greater influence on the continuing history of Baptists in America. But as far as I can tell, despite calling it a "yearly meeting" rather than an "association", the Six-Principle Baptists in Rhode Island had organized over 30 years before the Regular Baptists. It then would be the oldest gathering of Baptists beyond the church level, predating the Philadelphia Association by about 37 years. If we look at "association" as a formal organizing beyond the local level rather than just the name itself, is it possible that we have skewed our history by not recognizing the Rhode Island Yearly Meeting as the oldest?

In the Six-Principle Baptist article entry in Dictionary of Baptists in America, J. T. Spivey says the Rhode Island Yearly Meeting was formed "in the 1670s". I have several years of annual reports. The 1983 report (then called the General Six-Principle Baptist Conference of Rhode Island) lists that meeting as the 313th annual conference. Assuming this counting is done as most associations do, it would have been organized in 1671 (subtract the annual number and then add one). If an "association" is a formal organizing beyond the local level (more important than the specific term "association"), the Rhode Island Yearly Meeting rather than the Philadelphia Association is probably the oldest in America. But the Philadelphia Association has a clearly established history back to 1707, while the 1670 Rhode Island Meeting date is based mostly on tradition.

Nevertheless, the Baptist history celebration itself appears to be a history lover's dream.

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