As the 20th century entered its final quarter, Warwick Central Baptist Church became more active than ever before. In addition the Geriatric Care Center prompted in 1973 by the interest and enthusiasm of Adeline Very, a part-time assistant to Rev. Covell, a senior citizens nutrition program, Retired Senior Volunteers, a senior transportation system, and a nursery school and day care center were added.
As the needs of the church expanded, new additions and buildings were added. To everyone’s satisfaction, a carillon was added on Christmas Eve 1973, bringing a musical presence to the village and made Warwick citizens aware of the close relation of the church with the community. Because of all the activity an associate pastor, Reverend David C. O’Brien, was hired at the 1975 annual meeting. In 1996 Reverend Patricia Liberty joined the church as an associate pastor and worked closely with Reverend Covell in bringing about a number of much-desired programs. Revered Liberty served in that capacity until 1991.
In the following year, the church was saddened by the retirement of Pastor Bishop Covell. He had served as pastor for nearly a quarter of a century and led the way to much of the church’s growth, spiritually enriching both church members and the community. A number of events were staged to honor the Rev. and Mrs. Covell in 1992 and the reverend was made pastor emeritus, a well-deserved honor for a wonderful man. After a number of interim pastors, Reverend Bruce Greer was appointed in 1994 to carry on the work started by Rev. Bishop Covell.
In addition to reaching out to help the old, disabled and others in need in the community, Rev. Covell joined the pastors of St. Catharine’s and St. Barnabas churches in an ecumenical movement that has done much to bring about a “Love Your Neighbor” spirit promoted by Warwick Central Baptist Church as it celebrated its 15 year anniversary in 1985.
On Jan.19, 1994 an ecumenical service was held at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church to reaffirm the covenant between the three Apponaug churches on Post Road. The ecumenical spirit extended to other local churches through Lenten services, the Easter Sunday service at Warwick Neck Lighthouse, and to an Ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve service as St. Francis Church in Hillsgrove. Rev. Greer was the guest speaker at that service.
In 1998 the spirit was continued with other Apponaug churches as Lenten Wednesday evening services, and a Palm Sunday parade around Apponaug Circle were held in addition there was a Sunrise Service at the Warwick Neck Lighthouse. Adult forums on religion were offered, given by a rabbi and a member of the Greek Orthodox Church among others.
Reverend Greer was called upon to be the guest speaker at the Easter Sunrise Service at Warwick Neck Light and large numbers of the congregation of several churches attended.
In keeping with the belief in bringing religious education to all, 1997 saw the introduction of an Ecumenical Vacation Bible School in conjunction with St. Catharine’s and St. Barnabas. In addition to church services, at various times of the year members of Warwick Central Baptist Church took part in Youth Sunday, Laywomen’s and Laymen’s Sundays, as well as a number of informational seminars.
On a light note, some of Apponaug’s residents have deemed Warwick Central Baptist Church as the “eating church” as it sponsors May Breakfast, Mother Daughter Banquets, Adult Fellowship Banquets, Men’s Communion Breakfast and Women’s Council Eat-Out and Dine-Out Club.
During Rev. Greer’s pastorate many practical problems of maintenance and repair had to be addressed to keep the church buildings functional. Steeple repairs and vinyl siding had to be considered. The painting of the sanctuary and a number of other problems arose as well. Because the church is in a historical district, permission to use vinyl siding had to be granted by the Historical District Committee. This was granted on March 5, 1998, and the church now has vinyl siding.
By the end of the century, Warwick Central Baptist Church was able to look with pride at its many accomplishments and made special note of the Care Giving Ministry, which provided service to senior citizens and of members of the congregation who joined with other Rhode Island Baptists to go to Nicaragua to help build homes after the destruction caused by torrential floods. Those who went were Dale Greer, Jonathan Greer and Al Martin.
As Warwick Central Baptist Church celebrated its 165th year of continuing worship and service to the community in the summer of 2000, it saw a number of changes. They witnessed the retirements of Doris Abbott, their hard-working bookkeeper, Dwight Petterson, who had been superintendent of buildings since 1980, and church president Don Skuce.
Once again, Pastor Bruce Greer added new activities to those of the past. He provided lay worship leaders and provided courses on worship leadership and basic preaching. In addition, a men’s group called “Good Guys” conducted such varied activities as holding breakfast meetings and helping South Providence Neighborhood Ministries in a number of tasks.
As Warwick Central Baptist Church is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, it sent many members to the ABC Biennial Meeting that was held in Providence in June 2001. The church also began a “Focus for the Future,” as they began searching for a youth minister for the church. Following the tragic attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001, Warwick Central Baptist Church sent Pastor Greer to New York City to render support for the firefighters there. In the following September, the Warwick Fire Department recognized his work in New York and made him one of the three clergy installed as Warwick Fire Department chaplains.
In its continuing commitment to the people of other missions, members of the congregation Lori Bergman, Tony Caniglia, Dale Rogoff Greer and Al Martin went on a mission trip to El Salvador to build a house for a family that lost its home when an earthquake struck the area. In 2003 volunteers Caniglia and Martin were joined by Bruce and Jeff Greer, Ken and Lori Bergman, Nina Dunn, David Maine, Shawn and Hank Pepin and Judy Smith to construct a home for needy families there.
In 2004 the congregation bade farewell to its much respected and loved pastor and his family, as Rev. Greer resigned to continue his ministry elsewhere. Following the interim pastors, Dr. Dan Ivins, Rev. Thomas Conboy Jr. and Rev. Henry Pedersen, the Rev. John F. Houlker was appointed pastor on May 1, 2006. On May 7, 2006 a service for remembrance was held for Rev. Bishop Covell, pastor emeritus who died Dec. 3, 2005 after a long illness.
Rev. Houlker brought with him a variety of experience that bodes well for the future of Warwick Central Baptist Church. His background since being ordained in 1993 includes work as Director of Christian Education in Central Baptist Church in Westerly, Pastor of Baptist Church in Newton Junction, N.H. and a member of the field staff of the American Baptist Churches USA. While Warwick Central Baptist Church is autonomous, it continues to work closely with ABC, as do other Warwick Baptist churches Shawomet, Lakewood, Spring Green and Norwood.
Pastor Houlker believes his duty is to be a shepherd to help the congregation to work through their ministry. He believes he is just one of the congregation and feels that each member is capable of understanding scriptures. In much the same manner of his predecessors in the 20th century, he wishes to continue the work already begun by the church in mission areas and at home. He feels the problem of the 21st century is “How do we bring God’s love within the community.” He sees work has to be done locally, but also recognizes that “there is a big world” out there and encourages foreign missions, especially to El Salvador. The church not only recognizes that, historically, there has been trouble allowing women to fully exercise their gift for ministry and applauds the idea of women being ordained in the Baptist community. He also feels children should be given the opportunity to preach and exercise their gifts.
Pastor John has great optimism in the role of ecumenism in Warwick and is looking forward to working with ministers from other denominations. As always, Warwick Central Baptist Church reaches out to the community bringing spirituality and help to all in encounters.