“Christianity is dying here . . .” That was spoken of one church planter we visited with here in Hartford, CT, our last stop on our Northeast Vision Trip. Of all the cities that we visited, Hartford is considered the least reached. Just like across all of New England, the number of evangelical Christians is at 2% or less, and the areas where there is a need for a faithful Gospel-centered church to be planted only increase.
We had the joy and privilege of being hosted by Russell and Cynthia Atherton, who are a church planting couple in Storrs, CT. Russell planted The Bridge church right on the University of Connecticut campus, a little over three years ago. They toured us around three different campuses on Thursday – University of Hartford; St. Joe’s College – located in the same area of West Hartford, as the University of Hartford; and Trinity College, located in the Southern area of downtown Hartford. All three of these schools, ranging from 2,000-5,000 students have no campus ministry reaching the students and no church reaching onto the campus and into the residential community. On Friday, we also toured three different schools- Central Connecticut State, located in New Britain (southwest of downtown Hartford); Eastern Connecticut State, in Willimantic, CT (east of Hartford); and the UConn main campus, in Storrs/Mansfield. Each of these three schools are larger in size, and neither Eastern or Central Connecticut have any presence of a church, and very little campus ministry activity going on.
As you can see the need is huge in Hartford. The five schools I listed above with no Gospel witness on campus or in the community, would be like theUniversity of Arkansas having little to no campus ministry involvement, and Fayetteville having no evangelical church. Simply put, New England and Hartford needs a Great Awakening, and that awakening is only going to come through us seeing that “the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few and praying that for the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to this field!”
It is encouraging to see the work that Russell is doing at The Bridge, amidst a very secular and pluralistic campus. They are averaging about 30 every week, on Sunday nights, in addition to a Sunday morning Bible Study in the Student Union. It’s encouraging to have even heard from some of their members talk about opportunities they have had at work or on campus to engage lost friends, classmates and colleagues with the Gospel. One member told us the need to be intentional, as a church planter, but also as a Christian in such a hard-soiled area. Persistence is key and ready to be engaged for the long haul, knowing that a faithful Gospel witness, and church planting may not see fruit for years.
We were also blessed to have shared a meal with Joe Fisher, who has planted the only English speaking work going on in Hartford, among the Baptist Convention of New England. He is reaching the young professional community that lives and works in the downtown and outlying areas. He was encouraged by our team’s presence in the area and a desire to see UBC plant a church in New England, particularly in a place like Hartford, as the Lord leads.
I come away from this trip blown away by the vast lostness that sweeps across our own country, particularly in the Northeast. This is an unengaged and unreached people, and they look, smell, eat, dress and talk like us! What will we do about it? Prayerfully, and by God’s grace, I hope we answer the call to come here and be light in darkness, and reclaim the renown of Christ in an area that once sensed and savored revival.
Written by Ryan Martin