Since the early 1700's, Baptists have been in the Pioneer Valley area. They were part of the Separatist movement, groups that separated from the Church of England and later from the Puritan movement. In 1729 a minister came out from Boston in response to an appeal from Westfield residents. He baptized seven people. On April 17, 1753, Jonathan Fowler granted some land to a group of Baptists near Little River as long as it was used for worship. The First Baptist Church of Westfield was formed in 1784 when twenty-one Westfield residents signed the organizational covenant. They built a church in the center of Westfield somewhere between the locations of the two bridges on East Main Street.
By 1790 a group living in the Agawam area, but attending First Baptist in Westfield, had decided to form its own church there. It is now the First Baptist Church of West Springfield. The Westfield church struggled for survival. In 1806 several members of this first church tried organizing another, which became known as the Baptist Church of Christ or First Baptist Church Reorganized. The Reverend Andrew Smith became the first pastor of Central Baptist Church. The church grew and by Fall they had 29 members. The church joined the state association, sent contributions for the Burma mission (Judson) and organized a Sabbath School with six teachers, 25 students, and 100 volumes in the library. They met in the town meeting house.
Members in 1816 left to form a church in Russell and 74 members left in 1830 to form the Second Baptist Church in Wyben (West Farms). The Wyben church was disbanded during the Civil War and the site was later purchased by the Wyben Union Chapel Society. In 1833 a group led by a former pastor, Andrew Smith, split from the church over the issue of supporting missions; they were for it, the others were not. They applied to the Westfield Baptist Association (of Churches) for recognition as a Baptist church and on May 23, 1833, Central Baptist Church was organized. Within a short time, most of the members of the First Baptist Church were absorbed into Central Baptist. In April 1836, David Wright was called as pastor and in the fall they laid plans to build a church. The meeting house was framed on August 10, 1837, and completed on August 29, 1838. It was located on the corner of Elm and Church Streets. By 1840, the church had 115 members.
Around this time, a visiting pastor convinced a large number of the members to become Mormons, and the church was considerably weakened. But it bounced back and by 1848 it had 210 members on the rolls. In June of 1863 under the leadership of its new pastor, John Jennings, the church laid plans for a new sanctuary. The Chapel (now Hays Hall) was completed first and the sanctuary followed a year later in 1868. The cost was $32,000. A new organ was purchased and horse sheds were built on the corner of the property. In 1871, the church split over an issue (no records on what) and the pastor and many active members left. Pressures over enough financial support led the congregation to rent pews (prices are still to be seen under the pew cushions). Electric lights were added in 1889. In 1888, the organizational meeting of the Westfield YMCA was held at Central Baptist Church.
Leonard Campbell was pastor from 1938 to 1950 and left to become editor of the Secret Place, our denomination’s meditation magazine. Under Russell Wallace (1951-1971) a Christian Education building was added in 1959 to our facilities and the sanctuary was renovated (1963). Youth activities were an integral part of church life and expressed Reverend Wallace’s genuine interest in and love of children and youth. Participation was strongly encouraged, and the congregation responded. Senior and Junior BYFs were very active during Reverend Wallace’s ministry. Youth participated in youth conferences at Camp Moses in Russell. Church picnics were big events during which Reverend Wallace pitched the softball games and joined in the swimming events. Another summer event was Daily Vacation Bible School which started during Reverend Wallace’s ministry and which was well attended by children, teachers, and parents. Some of the memorable fellowship activities established during Reverend Wallace's tenure that we continue to enjoy at Central Baptist Church are the annual Mother and Daughter banquet, Men's Palm Sunday breakfast, Boy Scout Troop 102 and youth camperships.
During Rev. Richard Painchaud's term, 1972-1990, the congregation participated in a number of mission projects such as sponsoring Vietnamese and Russian families and youth work visits to Bacone College in Oklahoma. In 1979, handbells were purchased and a choir was formed. Central Baptist Church was also very involved, and continues to be, with the TABCOM camping experience at Grotonwood and Oceanwood by attending youth and family summer camps and retreat weekends. Spiritual enrichment was enhanced through participating in the Billy Graham Crusades and Macedonian Ministries.
Bruce Pullen served from 1990-2002. During that time, Central Baptist Church continued its mission experience with a booth at the Taste of the World, in Westfield, and various skits by the Mission committee during Sunday morning worship services. The Caring Circle and Bible Book of the Month became popular study groups. Central Baptist Church also celebrated with the purchase and dedication of a grand piano for the sanctuary.
Associate Pastor Marise Tuttle joined Central Baptist Church in the fall of 1999-2002. Her work with the youth included a trip to the National Youth Conference in Colorado in the summer of 2000, Bowl-A-Thons for One Great Hour of Sharing, annual church proms, and youth lock-ins. Central Baptist Church was proud to host the ordination of Pastor Tuttle in October 2001.
Pastor Linda Shaw came to us in 2005 and renewed Central Baptist Church’s historic commitment to the church's mission, beginning with a missions trip to Honduras. Education, community involvement and a presence at Westfield State College are common priorities for the congregation and the pastor. Working with the Development Committee, Pastor Linda has oversaw progress in a team approach to ministry. Membership increased, worship was enriched and service projects are plentiful.
In August 2016 a new era started with the arrival of Pastor Nick Toroni. His focus on preaching directly from the Bible has again renewed the future of Central Baptist Church. A new program was recently begun titled "Rites of Passage" focuses on the young adult church community. In the Fall of 2017 Central Baptist Church and Pastor Toroni mutually agreed to part ways and the church began a new pastor search.
Central Baptist Church has taken pride in the maintenance of its building over the years. Some of the major projects have included: refurbishing the sanctuary (including a sound system and new lighting), Hays Hall (including the replacement of the roof) and the Sunday School wing (including replacement windows); and the purchase of new furniture for Hays Hall and the Social Room, as well as the rebuilding of the steeple.