In the Beginning …
Shiloh Baptist Church was founded by Reverend Folk and Mrs. Mary Coleman. Mrs. Coleman was a Mother of the church. It was first known as Friendship Mission. Friendship Mission was a split from the Mt. Aery Baptist Church. It was originally located on North Main Street. A building on the south end of Bridgeport was acquired to hold services until a fire destroyed the building.
After the fire, Reverend Folk released the responsibility of the continuance of Friendship Mission. Mother Coleman leased space at 483 Broad Street. Records show that sometime in October 1938, Reverend John Saunders was called to be the Interim Minister. He served until early 1939. In 1939, Friendship Mission became a fully organized Baptist church and called Reverend Frederick A. LaGarde. During the re-organization period, it was agreed upon to change the name to the Shiloh Baptist Church.
There were two clergymen who served the congregation before Reverend LaGarde. They were the Founder Reverend Folk and Reverend John Saunders. Both of whom served in 1938. Following the retirement of Reverend LaGarde, the following clergyman served the Shiloh congregation:
- Reverend Robert N. Doss: 1943
- Reverend John Thomas: 1944 – 1945
- Reverend Wyatt C. Minton: 1947 – 1951
- Reverend John Maxwell: 1951 – 1955
- Reverend Charles W. Hall: 1955 – 1956
- Reverend William D. Kenney: 1956 – 1991
Shiloh Baptist Church owes its gratitude to first and foremost, the Lord and to these manservants and the pioneer church officers, Deacon Walter Holland, Deacon Stephen Nelson, Trustee Willie Brown, and others.
Reverend William D. Kenney who was serving as Associate Minister of the Mt. Aery Baptist Church, under the late Reverend Arthur C. Bass, was called to Shiloh Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1956.
Reverend Kenney served faithfully as Interim Minister until January 13, 1957, when he was installed as Pastor. With a philosophy of “Plan your Work, then Work your Plan” and the prayers of many, the congregation outgrew its house of worship at 483 Broad Street. Plans were discussed to rebuild on adjacent property. In May of 1965 the groundbreaking for the new and present structure took place. On November 28, 1965 the congregation marched next door into their new building, which continues to be its present home of 477 Broad Street.
In 1970, Shiloh, together with the First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield, under the Pastorate of Reverend Frederick Allsup, developed the first Day Care Center in the South End. As the Day Care outgrew the original facility, it became a part of the Day Care Center of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Park Avenue, until it opened its new home on Lafayette Street.
Through the dedication of the church members, new furniture for the church was purchased in June 1979. Shiloh also acquired adjacent property on the corner of Broad Street and Railroad Avenue for its parking lot. Under the direction and leadership of Reverend Kenney, the church grew physically, numerically, and most of all, spiritually.
Sometime later, Reverend Kenney became ill. His ability to oversee the affairs of the church decreased. Although he was not physically able to perform all of his duties as Pastor as he had in the past, with a portable oxygen tank and breathing tube he continued to attend the church services as often and he could. He was an inspiration to the congregation. Working in trenches alongside of Reverend Kenney were three diligent, zealous, and on-fire warriors for the Lord, Assistant to the Pastor Reverend S. Yvonne Hall, Associate Minister Reverend Jeffrey Ingraham, and Associate Minister Reverend Maxine Foster-Durham. Sadly, Reverend Kenney was called home to be with the Lord. While the congregation mourned the loss of this great pioneer, they rejoiced in knowing that Reverend Kenney is resting in peace with the Lord.
After the passing of Reverend Kenney, Shiloh was without a Pastor for many years. The Assistant to the Pastor and Associate Ministers, along with the Deacons and Trustees helped the church to continue serving its members and the community at large.
In 1994, Reverend Carl McCluster became the Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church and began his tenure. Under this new leadership, Shiloh carried on the torch that was passed on from Reverend Kenney to Reverend McCluster and Shiloh’s bar was raised higher in the community. Reverend McCluster did not let any grass grow under his feet. From the time he stepped into his new position of Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, he allowed the Lord to use him. God’s vision for Shiloh was continued through this manservant.
Pastor McCluster established a CDC under Shiloh Baptist called the Shiloh Baptist Community Development Company (SBCDC) to serve the needs of the community. Many members, along with residents of the south end served as Board members. SBCDC’s headquarters was located on ___ Lafayette St in Bpt. The facility housed a computer lab and gave free computer classes to the community. It also had a music department which provided music lessons to the community. Many seminars, classes, and community meetings were also held there.
SBCBC also introduced a program called SACA ‘Shiloh Academy of Creative Arts’. During the summer months, after school, and during school vacations, there were programs in place for children to attend. After only a few months of opening the doors on Lafayette St., another property became available and was acquired at ___ Main St. in Bpt. SBCDC launched the opening of the Shiloh Senior Day Center at that location. A march was organized and people gathered at the Lafayette St. site and marched to the Main St. site. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held, the Senior Day Center was unveiled, and a celebration took place. This site provided meals for seniors, day activities, and programs.
In 1996 Rev. McCluster brought men together from different churches and organized a ‘100 Men for Christ’ Rally and March. The men gathered at the SBCDC headquarters and marched to the Seaside Park Band Shell. There the community celebrated with live music and food.
In 1997 SACA Records and the Children and Youth Choir of Shiloh Baptist Church went into the studio and recorded a cassette entitled “Fire”, which included 10 songs. It also featured the Combined Choir. The cassette was produced by the Shiloh Baptist Community Development Corporation and Shiloh Baptist Church.
Years later after much dispute and being voted upon by the other community leaders and south-end residents, the SBCDC Board was revamped, new members were added, a new CDC was birthed, and the name was changed to Shiloh Community Development Corporation (SCDC). Both SBCDC and SCDC continued to support the community. With the split of the original SBCDC, both Boards collapsed years later.
As part of the ____ Anniversary celebration, Shiloh produced a Cookbook and a Book of Poetry. The cookbook included recipes from the church members, along with family and friends. The book of poetry was comprised mostly of original writings of many of Shiloh’s church members, with some produced material from other established and famous authors. The youth also included their poems.
In 2002 Shiloh’s Young Voices of Praise choir took a road trip to Baltimore, MD to go into a recording studio to record a single cd. This experience proved to be very enlightening and beneficial to both those who participating in the recording, as well as Shiloh as a whole.
Over the years Shiloh Baptist Church, under the leadership of Rev. Carl McCluster, has gone on many church trips. Some of the places visited were: Baltimore, MD; Washington, DC; Glorietta, NM; San Dieago, CA; Ridgecrest, NC; Phoenix, AZ; Colorado Springs, CO; Grand Canyon, AZ; along with so many more. The Youth Ministry also went on separate trips. Their trips includes places; such as, Baltimore, MD; Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Camp Wightman just to name a few.
Shiloh has gone out into the community on many occasions to ministry and witness through evangelism, singing, and dancing. We have gone to neighborhood projects – like, Marina Village, Marina Apartments, and Pequonnock Apartments, as well as Seaside Park to give witness to God and what He can do and has done. Shiloh has held numerous daily, nightly, and overnight prayer vigils to lift up to the Lord the concerns of the community at large.
There has been yearly Tent Revivals held both inside of the church and outside in the parking lot that welcome all to come in and share in God’s word. In 2012 Shiloh organized a Tent Revival and Clothes Giveaway at Marina Village. The residents of Marina were invited to come to the nightly services. The Revival concluded with a cookout which provided free food and beverages, along with free clothing to anyone who came out. The Bpt. community and others were also invited to attend and participate in the service.
Although it was thought about prior but the process had not been completed, after the passing of Mrs. Grace Kenney in 2010 Pastor McCluster and the Shiloh Baptist Church family put in a request to have the Street Name Changed. Numerous meetings took place with the city zoning officials before the approval was granted to have the street name changed. The street name of Railroad Ave. was changed to William & Grace Kenney Blvd. On _________ Shiloh hosted a celebration and ribbon cutting in honor of the late Rev. William D. Kenney & Mrs. Grace Kenney street name change. Shiloh Baptist Church now sits on the corner of Broad St. and William & Grace Kenney Blvd.
Shiloh’s rich history will live on for many years to home. We can only add more value to it each and every day. Our forefathers laid down the foundation, carried the torch, and pass it on. The legacy and inheritance given to us by our forefathers will forever be greatly appreciated. What an honor it is to be able to continue walking in their footsteps.
All of us play a significant part in the history of Shiloh. We all have had an impact in some way, shape, or form. Without you, there would be no Shiloh. Let us continue to make the dream of our forefathers become a reality. We must finish out the race that was set out before us and raise the plateau higher.