The story of Cornerstone began over a hundred years ago. In 1893, two churches, First Baptist and Calvary Baptist, started a Sunday School program as an outreach ministry to the Lowell community. Immanuel Baptist Church was officially founded at 53 Blossom Street in 1896. In 1970, that church moved to Billerica Rd (Ma-129) in Chelmsford.
A few years previous, in 1960, several pastors graduated from a seminary in Oklahoma and headed to the New England area to plant churches. Pastor George Johnson felt called to Massachusetts but didn’t know where. As Pastor Johnson was driving Interstate 495 his car broke down at the Westford exit. A local police officer stopped to help and told Pastor Johnson about the Thistle family. They lived in Westford and were known for the frequent prayer meetings in their home. The police officer gave Pastor Johnson the Thistle’s address and helped get the car going enough to pull into their driveway. Their prayer group had been praying and planning for a new church in Westford. God was answering their prayers.
Pastor Johnson and several families began meeting at the Roudenbush Community Center. Eventually Mrs. Thistle donated 5 acres of land and in 1972 they built a church and named themselves Westford Baptist Temple (WBT). In 1980, under Pastor Maguire, the church changed its name to Westford Baptist Church (WBC). In 1983, Immanuel Church purchased new property off of route 4 in Chelmsford and built a new building about 15 minutes from WBC. Around this time WBC was forced to make some hard decisions.
In 1990, after the departure of Pastor Maguire, WBC’s leadership closed the doors and handed over the keys to the Merrimack Valley Baptist Church (MVBC), Nashua, NH and their pastor Larry Clouse. They took over the provisional operations of the church and Kenneth D. Keele helped pastor them under the oversight of Pastor Clouse. During that time Pastor Clouse’s church changed its name to the Nashoba Valley Baptist Church (NVBC). Eventually WBC called Pastor Keele to become their pastor.
During Pastor Keele’s pastorate the church renamed themselves once more, this time to their final name, Westford Bible Church. In the 90s, 60-70 people attended their Sunday service, and another 30-40 came out for their Wednesday evening gathering. Although they experienced times of fruitful ministry, the church’s attendance began to decrease as the Westford community changed from a rural farming community to a suburb of Boston. The average age of their congregation also grew older as the Westford community grew younger.
In 2001, the whole roof and most of the building collapsed several hours after their Sunday morning worship service. Massachusetts had experienced heavy snowfall and the weight uncovered design flaws in the church’s roof. It was built by southern architects and was incapable of bearing heavy New England snow. But even in the midst of trial, God was with this church as the insurance company rebuilt a new building. Despite the reconstruction, they were still unable to attract new people to the church, and so in 2007, with an official membership of 12 people, they voted to officially join the 4Cs (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference). Immanuel had also joined the 4Cs several years earlier in 2003.
In the late 2000s, the 4C’s Conference Minister, Ron Hamilton, approached Westford Bible Church and their current Pastor, Bruce Lee White about legacy gifting the church and property. This could be an opportunity to start anew by giving their resources to the denomination or a new church plant. WBC was not yet ready.
In 2010, Jonathan Romig and Monica Rabadjija began attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, MA. They got engaged in 2011 and in the summer of 2012 before their wedding took a church-planting class as a way to get out of the evangelism and discipleship class. In this class they learned how to research a local community and had to write two actual proposals. They knew they had to do a lot of demographics research on a town, and wanted to make a difference for the gospel if possible, so they asked Monica’s high-school and college mentor, Pastor Dana Smith, what town he might suggest. He lived in Westford and had recently been hired at Immanuel Church in Chelmsford, the next town over, as their new Senior Pastor. He suggested Westford since it was close by and didn’t have many evangelical churches.
Jonathan and Monica researched the town of Westford that summer, driving around the community, studying census data, interviewing local community leaders, and catching a glimpse of what God might be doing there. They heard about Westford Bible Church and wondered if God would somehow connect all the pieces. At the end of their project, they took their community data and presented it to the leadership of Immanuel Church at their summer retreat. Although they had a fruitful discussion, nothing seemed to come of it. Jonathan and Monica entered their final year of seminary and began looking for a pastoral position.
In early 2013, Jonathan attended the 4Cs Church Planting conference in Revere MA and met the Conference Minister, Ron Hamilton. When Ron met Jonathan, he told him that he had been praying that someone would come in and replant Westford Bible Church. He had heard about their church-plant proposals and was sure this was a work of God. A short while later, when Jonathan was still looking for pastoral work before graduation, Monica and he drove by Westford Bible Church to see what they thought of the place. Wondering if maybe God was calling them to help replant this church, Jonathan emailed Ron about contacting WBC on their behalf. The email must have gotten lost because Ron never replied. A few months later, Immanuel Church called Jonathan as their new Associate Pastor.
Six months after Immanuel hired Jonathan, Westford Bible Church approached Immanuel about taking over their building to start a new church. Over the course of the next year, Immanuel and WBC negotiated a closing, the Immanuel congregation voted to take over the building for the purpose of church planting, and the leadership of Immanuel asked Jonathan to pastor the new church. That winter 30-40 Immanuel volunteers committed to the plant. All at once the plant had a pastor, a building, financial backing, and a team committed to launching a new church in Westford. This was clearly God’s will in his perfect timing.
On Sunday, December 21st 2014 Westford Bible Church held its final service under the leadership of Pastor Bruce White. Pastor Bruce preached Revelation 2 and they symbolically gave a candle holder to Pastor Jonathan Romig as a reminder to keep the gospel lamp-stand burning bright in Westford. The Immanuel Church leadership laid their hands on them in prayer and their church closed for the very last time.
The church plant team and their families spent the next nine months preparing for the launch the new church in Westford. They decided on the name Cornerstone Congregational Church. Cornerstone and Immanuel are both names for Jesus and New England is full of congregational churches. They wanted to appeal to that congregational heritage and trusted tradition. They officially launched on October 3rd, 2015 with a 5:00pm Saturday service.
119 years after its birth, Immanuel Church gave birth to a new church in Westford, Cornerstone Congregational Church. This new church, in many ways, is also the adopted descendant of Westford Bible Church, and their desire to have a gospel-believing church in Westford. Most of all, Cornerstone, like all churches, belongs to God. This is God’s story and Cornerstone in his church
Compiled and written by Pastor Jonathan Romig. Sources include Pastor Bruce White, Mary Ethier, Jeff Wilcox, Jonathan and Monica Romig, Mike Christiana, and others.