I. “Planting the Seeds”
In January1980, Rev. Barry J. Brown and his family moved to Connecticut with the purpose of beginning an independent, fundamental Baptist church in the Stratford area. The decision to come was reached after several trips to New England and with the prayers and financial support of eighteen like-minded Baptist churches across America. The financial commitments varied, but generally speaking, they were to ensure that the moving expenses for Pastor Brown and his first six months living expenses were met while White Oak Baptist Church was being formally organized. At the end of the planned commitment period, assistance from these sister churches ceased. It is the biblical conviction of White Oak Baptist Church that she should remain a local church, independent of all other ecclesiastical groups or formal denominations.
In February 1980, the first “get acquainted” meetings were held at the Stratford YMCA, and as a result of these meetings, the church was formally organized with five core family units. The church name was derived from the state tree of Connecticut, the white oak. The first Sunday service was held on April 6, 1980, with thirty-six in attendance. The facility, which was used for that initial service and for the first nine years, was a secretarial school on Broad Street in Stratford. Sunday school classes, morning worship and evening worship services were conducted each Sunday, and other ministries were centered in homes during the week.
Pastor Brown held a position as an engineer with the Bridgeport Machine Company from August 1980 until January 1983, when the church began his support as a full-time pastor. Attendance at White Oak Baptist Church grew steadily, and the congregation sought a larger church property to allow for expanding ministries.
II. “Spreading its Roots”
In October 1988, contracts for purchase of property at 5344 Main Street, Stratford, were signed. Zoning approval was granted in January 1989, and the church property was secured in May of the same year. After extensive renovations, the building was dedicated to the Lord’s service on January 7, 1990. The church experienced steady growth, and in March 1999 the congregation received approval to build a new sanctuary and to expand the parking capacity. The construction was completed in the spring of 2001 after hundreds of man-hours of volunteer effort. Sunday attendance reached an average of 175.
Throughout its history, the programs of the church have been completely self-supporting through the free will offerings of the congregation.
Legally speaking, White Oak Baptist Church was incorporated in the State of Connecticut as a religious organization in March 1980. She was granted tax-exempt status under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code in September 1980 and received approval by the State of Connecticut for tax exemption in October 1980.
In February 2004, Pastor Brown announced his resignation with the intention of moving to Southington, CT, to serve at the Central Baptist Church through their New England Baptist College ministry.
III. “Yielding Much Fruit”
In March 2004, Pastor Brown led the deacons and congregation to consider Missionary Michael Peslak, a former member and Stratford native, as a pastoral candidate. After the pastoral candidate process, a ballot vote was cast on March 21 with Missionary Michael Peslak receiving a 92% favorable vote. Missionary Michael Peslak, his wife Patty, and children Josiah and Emily arrived on June 19, 2004, assuming the pastorate.
Since that time, Pastor Peslak began to share his vision of taking the gospel to the “greater Bridgeport area” (Bridgeport, Stratford, Shelton, etc.) with its estimated population of over 250,000 people. The church responded wonderfully to the vision and has supported the addition of several new outreach ministries, which include weekly soul winning, the bus ministry, and Reformers Unanimous (a Christ-centered addiction- breaking ministry).
In addition to the new ministries, Pastor Peslak led the congregation to do some extensive remodeling to its interior with laying new tile floors and carpeting, and adding central air-conditioning. With the use of movable floor-to-ceiling partitions, the old auditorium was turned into a multi-purpose room, adding more classroom space.
Since 2004, the church has enjoyed steady growth. In 2007, the average Sunday school attendance was 134, with a morning service average of 233 and an evening average of 98. At the end of 2008’s first quarter, White Oak Baptist Church averaged 264 in its morning service, with several high days over 300!
IV. “Going Forward”
In June of 2016, Pastor Peslak ‘passed the baton’ of leading the church to Pastor Richard LeJeune.We look forward to seeing what the Lord will do at White Oak Baptist Church as we grow in the next chapter of history here at White Oak.