Stratford Free Will Baptist is a small church with only about 200 members in their congregation. The service here is very traditional, however the worship music combines both traditional hymns and contemporary worship songs. Their worship team consists of a guitarist, bassist, keyboard player, drummer and a group of about 5 singers. They use the worship team for most of the music, however there is also a separate pianist who accompanies the singers when traditional worship songs are performed. The service takes place in a small auditorium with three different sections of pews. The stage is small and has a Baptism tub in the back center. The floors are carpeted which prevents a lot of the sound from reverberating and there were no echoes whenever people spoke. The room doesn’t have very good acoustics, but since it is such a small space it does not negatively affect the sound of the service.
One of the songs the band plays most often is “All the People Said Amen” by Matt Maher. This song begins with just acoustic guitar and singing, before this is joined by the full band. The keyboard player in this song uses an organ setting on her keyboard, which provides a traditional sound which blends well in this song. I thought that using the organ setting was a good way to use a more traditional sound in a more contemporary setting. Even though this is a contemporary worship song, the band arranged it in a way that lends itself well to a traditional church service. This song is a great representation of this church trying to progress forward, while also keeping the traditions that the service members love. Unlike some churches, where they have two separate services for both traditional and contemporary worship, it was refreshing to see both happening at the same time.
Most of the members of this congregation are older and have been attending Stratford Free Will Baptist for many years. However, in recent years there have been more and more young people attending church, which is what led to adding a worship band to their service. Until recent years, this church only sang traditional hymns accompanied by the Piano. During the traditional moments of the service the crowd sings together with the performers in whatever octave is comfortable for them. There is also very little harmony and most of the crowd sings together in unison, while the worship leaders add harmony in some cases.
I also attended a Baptism ceremony at Stratford Free Will Baptist which was very interesting. The Pastor only spoke for about 15 minutes at the beginning of the service and after the Baptisms occurred, the worship team led the rest of the service. The Baptisms themselves were surprisingly loud. They always began with the pastor standing in the baptism tub with whomever was being baptized. The pastor then spoke “I baptize this my brother/sister in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, before submerging them underwater. As soon as the baptized member rose from the water, the congregation burst out clapping and on a few occasions, whistling and cheering. I loved witnessing this moment, because it broke the formalities that normal religious ceremonies have and showed a common connection between the members of the congregation.
The pastor at this church sounded very genuine and passionate when he spoke. The sermon he gave was over the thief that hung on the cross next to Jesus in the book of Luke. As he spoke about the thief and the story of his redemption, he began to speak louder and his voice was shaky from his emotions. The congregation was absorbed in what he was saying and many seemed to be just as passionate about this parable as the pastor. After the pastor was finished speaking, he asked everyone to pray together and then the band began playing a down-tempo song which kept the mood nicely.
Overall, Stratford Free Will Baptist is a unique church. Although they have recently added a contemporary worship band, the service itself is still very traditional. This seems to work perfectly for the congregation and the church at bringing people from different age groups together and representing more people in their community. Without the contemporary worship band, I think it is likely that the young people in the congregation would look for a church that they felt represented them better.
By Brayden Stonecipher