A new church has been formed in Sandy Hook. Pastor Chris Camp, formerly of River Valley Baptist Church in Ansonia, has been leading services for Sandy Hook Baptist Church since the fall. The small, but already devoted, group meets at 31 Riverside Road, in the home of Ana and Paul Schriever.
Sunday services are at 11 am, and Thursday evening bible studies begin at 7.
The Schriever residence is the temporary home for Sandy Hook Baptist Church. Three families, about 15 people, gather regularly for the weekly services.
“We fit 15 in here, with room for more,” Mr Schriever said of the front room where he, his wife, and Pastor and Mrs Camp hosted The Newtown Bee for an interview. An attached room, with a picture window and large stone fireplace, serves as the music room during services. Additional seating can be found in there if needed.
“All are welcome,” Mr Schriever said.
The core group of Sandy Hook Baptist Church (SHBC) began meeting for Bible studies once weekly in early September.
“We wanted to get things rolling, so we started with the Thursday night bible study,” said Pastor Camp, who had been pastoring in Ansonia until the church found its new leader. River Valley Baptist Church was already in the process of getting a new pastor at the time. “So we invited folks to join us here as well,” he said. “We had a few people come.”
Dave Barker has been ordained as the new pastor of River Valley Baptist. Pastor Camp was sent out from the Ansonia church on Sunday, October 20. He hosted the official first gathering in Sandy Hook the following week, on October 27.
It has been about a decade since Newtown had a Baptist church. Bible Baptist Church, formed in 1962, became Newtown Bible Church in early 2005. The town has been without a church openly declaring itself to be Baptistic since that time.
“We feel every town needs a Baptist church,” Pastor Camp said of the decision to plant a church seed in Newtown. “We are attempting to follow the Lord’s great commission, which is ‘Go Ye, and teach all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever the Lord commands of you, and Lo I am with you always, even at the end of the world.’
“In the Book of Acts,” he continued, “there are the disciples, and the apostles, that were obeying that commission that Jesus gave His people before he ascended into Heaven. You see that those who were trying to obey the Lord’s great commission ended up going from city to city to city, planting churches.
“The model for what we are doing is right there in the Book of Acts,” he said. Churches, Pastor Camp and his followers believe, started in homes.
It is that collection of verses that SHBC members continue to study in their Thursday Night Bible Study. Pastor Camp’s Sunday sermons have concerned Nehemiah, who was instrumental in the rebuilding and reestablishment of Jerusalem in Fifth Century BC following the Babylonian exile.
Pastor Camp has not been exiled, of course, but it is ideal that the man sent forth from one location to another with the charge of building a new church should choose to preach on someone who worked to restore a city and rededicate its people to God.
The 52-year-old is a Pennsylvania native. He graduated high school in 1979. Three years later, he says, at age 25, he was born again.
In 1982, Mr Camp joined the US Navy. He and his wife, Jayne, were married in 1986. They lived in Sarasota, Fla., for a few years, but then headed north again, moving to Warren, Penn. The couple has four children: Anna, 18; Olivia, 13; Grace, 11; and Sarah, 9.
“It was right around 1992, when we were in Sarasota, that I felt that the Lord wanted me in the ministry of some sorts,” he said.
Pastor Camp began his formal training for the ministry in 1999. He attended Ambassador Baptist College in Lattimore, N.C., graduating in 2003. That same year, the Camps moved to Ansonia.
After moving, Pastor Camp attended and graduated from “what is now Bible Baptist Seminary in Cromwell,” he said. It was there that Pastor Camp received his bachelor’s degree in divinity.
“The preaching of the word of God has had the most impact in my decisionmaking in my life,” said Pastor Camp. “Had I not ever been under the preaching of the Bible, I certainly would not be here. The Bible is very key in my personal life, in my family life, and of course in the church the Bible is the center.
“I believe the Bible to be the absolute church, and as applicable today as the day it was written,” he said.
A listing for Sandy Hook Baptist Church has begun appearing in The Newtown Bee’s weekly Worship Notes. The church is described as “a brand-new church that teaches and preaches the good news of salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. We, just as the historic Baptist people, hold to a literal interpretation of the inspired and preserved words of God, the Holy Bible. We believe the Bible is a solid and trustworthy foundation that provides hope and direction for our lives. We hold to the ‘old-fashioned’ way because we believe the principles of Scripture are timeless and never change.”
Pastor Camp considers the Bible relevant, he said.
“I think there’s a tendency to make the Bible irrelevant because of its age, but I think the truth that it’s still around even after all these years, and it’s still a number one best-seller, speaks of itself, that it is still very relevant,” he said.
No Additional Leadership
There is no signage for the church at its temporary location, but those looking for the Schriever home have an easy landmark to watch for. The house is diagonally across from the former Sandy Hook Athletic Club, or SAC, field. Because it is a residential area, it is imperative that parking does not become an issue for those using Riverside Road.
“Our neighbor is graciously allowing us use of the field for parking for the time being,” said Pastor Camp.
If traveling from Sandy Hook Center, the Schriever home is on the left, one lot beyond Riverside Road’s intersection with Johnson Drive. The house shares a driveway with a red barn.
The church is not overly concerned with where it meets, however.
“Churches, we believe, started in homes,” said Mr Schriever. “The first church was in a home.”
The bigger concern is sharing the word of the Bible.
“We offer truth,” said Pastor Camp. “We believe we have that for those who are looking.”
Sandy Hook Baptist Church is completely autonomous.
“We are Baptistic in heritage and doctrine, and not affiliated with American or Southern conventions,” Mrs Schriever said.
The new church has no affiliation with River Valley Baptist either, nor even with White Oak Baptist Church in Stratford, from which a seed was sent in 1987 to form the Ansonia church.
“We believe in the autonomy. That’s one of the distinctives of the Baptists: once a church is planted, they’re autonomous, they’re self-supporting,” he said. “They’re self-governing, all under the authority of the word of God and the Great Shepherd, which is Jesus.”
SHBC plans to keep things as simple as possible, even eschewing leaders within its ministry.
“Baptists are different than denominations where there’s a denominational hierarchy,” said Pastor Camp. “We don’t see that in the Scriptures. We see in the Bible that there were pastors and deacons. Of course, the deacons didn’t come along until the Church of Jerusalem had grown to tens of thousands. The need for the deacon at that point was more of a logistical, materialistic need, to take care of the widows of the church that were being slighted.”
Right now, he said, SHBC does not see the need for any additional leadership.
SHBC is self-supporting, and self-governing, “all under the word of God,” said Pastor Camp.
“We don’t feel our church is large enough to even need deacons,” said Pastor Camp.
“With leadership comes extreme responsibility,” he added.
Pastor Camp and his family still live in Ansonia. The family plans to move into the town where their church is based, however.
“We are intending on, as the Lord permits, on selling our home and finding a home closer. Our desire is to live right in Sandy Hook,” he said. “We’re here to help, to comfort people. I would hope that people know I have a heart for their souls, for their well-being.
“People can call me,” he continued. “I want to be available to the people of Sandy Hook. I want to concentrate on Sandy Hook first, for the size of our church.”
Sandy Hook Baptist Church had already received its federal ID number by February. The church has also received recognition from the State of Connecticut as a religious society, Pastor Camp said March 18. This will, among other things, allow the church to have a bank account.
“Biblically, we are our own church. But we also want to be legitimate in sight of the community,” said the church leader. Pastor Camp and his followers want to be viewed as a legitimate, recognized church by the state, and legally by the federal government, he said. At the same time, they feel they are already a church.
“The biblical definition of a church is ‘a called out assembly,’” said Pastor Camp. “In other words, people called out of the world and assembled together. We are a church when we are assembled right here in this room.”
Special Services & Meetings Planned
In an effort to let more residents of Sandy Hook know that the new Baptist church has arrived, members have often gone the traditional route of walking door to door on weekends.
Pastor Camp and Mr Schriever are the two who primarily visit private homes, although they are sometimes accompanied by their children. They said the response has been encouraging, generally welcoming.
“Some people don’t want people knocking on their doors on Saturday,” said Mr Schriever. “We understand that.”
“We’re planning a big push for members in May,” said Pastor Camp. “It would be nice for people to look for our invitations in May. We’ll try to do a mass mailing, and we hope to have our website up by then.”
A series of special worship services and meetings have been planned by Sandy Hook Baptist Church. Members hope the public will join them when they offer afternoon services in the basement of St John’s Episcopal Church, 5 Washington Avenue, on Sundays, May 11, 18 and 25, and June 1. Those gatherings will begin at 2 pm. These services will replace the morning services on those Sundays.
Evening meeting, “what we’re calling ‘Get Acquainted Meetings,” beginning at 7 pm, will be held at the same location on Monday, May 19; and Wednesday through Friday, May 21-23.
The plan, says Pastor Camp, is for Sandy Hook Baptist Church to meet at St John’s for a few months. “We’re going to try to meet there through the summer, if they would allow us,” he said.
For additional information call Pastor Chris Camp at 203-231-1821 or Paul and Ana Schriever at 203-426-9041.