Back in the day when churches competed

CARS LINED UP in front of the Bristol Baptist Church on Nov. 6, 1921, ready to take 62 members of the Men’s Bible Class to Middlebury during an attendance competition with the Baptist Church in that town. This was said to be “the largest delegation of men who ever left Bristol in the interest of an organization” up to that time.

Editor’s note: The First Baptist Church of Bristol — the white church on the park — will host a Bicentennial Celebration this weekend, Aug. 3 and 4. The two days of events will include:
Saturday, Aug. 3: 10–11 a.m., Historical Tours of their 200-year-old church, historical displays and a puppet show; 11 a.m.–12 noon, Best Pie Competition in the Bristol Park; to enter call 349-8383: 12 noon–1 p.m., free picnic lunch followed by old fashioned games with prizes. Music by the “Old Bones” country gospel singers. Fun for the whole family! Rain or shine.
Sunday, Aug. 4: 10 a.m. “A Celebration Tent Meeting” on the church lawn, special music, children’s skit and speakers. There will be a Finale – Concert by the Addison County Gospel Choir at 6:30 p.m. at the church.
In looking back at the long history of this church, Bristol historian Reg Dearborn dug up an interesting story from the church’s past, which we present here, with his permission.
This competition between the Bristol and Middlebury Men’s Bible Classes was started in October 1921 as “Go-to-Church Campaign” by the Bristol and Middlebury Baptist churches. A chicken dinner was going to be the reward for the Bible Class that could bring the most people to church for six consecutive Sundays. The contest was quite spirited according to the news accounts below but eventually it appeared to become pretty intense with the men from the Bristol Baptist Church calling foul and ending the competition.
The re-typed news articles below give some insight to the level of competition.
November 11, 1921, Middlebury Register
But Men’s Bible Class of Baptist Church (Middlebury) Keep Up Courage
The Men’s Bible class of the Memorial Baptist church lost their lead in the attendance contest Sunday, 94 to 81. With the member of the Men’s Bible class of Bristol as a nucleus, Bristol descended upon Middlebury Sunday, en (sic) masse, swamping the local class.
It was a rude awakening for the Middlebury men, who thinking they had a strangle hold on victory, have been enjoying happy visions of chicken pie and cranberry sauce, served in the Bristol Baptist church early in December. However, the local Bible class takes defeat with good grace and refuses to even admit the possibility of ultimate defeat. In fact the local men are really thankful to Bristol for the opposition of last Sunday. It rather worked as a tonic and during the coming week they will put in some good hard work and line up all the available men.
Interest in this unique contest has passed the confines of the two parishes, and has become, in a measure, a matter of friendly rivalry between the two communities of Middlebury and Bristol. It has developed into a movement among unchurched men, led by the Baptist church men of the two communities.
The local folks say that they still have a few tricks that they will turn before the contest closes and confidently believe that the friendly neutrals of Middlebury will rally to the support in such numbers as to make the count next Sunday.
November 25, 1921, Middlebury Register
Great concern resulted in Middlebury this week, when it was found that, despite the fine showing made at the Baptist Men’s Bible class last Sunday, Bristol still had the edge in the contest which comes to a close this week. Middlebury men turned out to the number of 165, and it was felt that the local class had safely stepped into the lead. In fact it seemed so certain that the local men stepped out in front of the church and posed for a group picture, every last man wearing a smile of a vivid victory hue. Middlebury was deceived however, for shortly word came from Bristol that they had rounded up 171, which increased their lead. The contest now stands Bristol, 354, Middlebury, 339. This Sunday the local class is determined to break up Bristol’s interference — and eat chicken in Bristol.
December 16, 1921, Middlebury Register
The Bible Class Argument
The attendance contest between the Men’s Bible Classes of Bristol and Middlebury Baptist churches and its abrupt ending has aroused great interest and caused much discussion. Yet, in spite of all discussion and publicity many folks seem somewhat hazy in their thinking on the subject. Some of our editorial friends have intimated that they were not quite clear on some of the details. One editor in particular is puzzled to know why the Bristol men should so suddenly drop out of the competition. For the benefit of those who are interested in this phase of the matter that I write.
Of course we men of Bristol have not solved all the problems presented by this contest. For instance, we do not yet know how many chickens it will take to feed six or seven hundred hungry people. Neither can we understand how a few short hours could have brought about such a change in the sentiments and policies of the Middlebury leaders. We do not understand why a minister of the Gospel should demand of another minister a sworn statement before a Notary of Public as to the attendance during the contest.
However, although we did not understand these things we did understand the terms of the contest and held them inviolate. Whether the Middlebury men understood them or not we do not know, but we do know that they did not abide by them and it was for this reason that we withdrew from the contest.
The rules of the game were of the simplest nature possible, so simple indeed that it seems impossible that anyone could misunderstand or misinterpret them. They were as follows.
First. The contest was to be on the basis of the number of men present at Bible classes to be held in the respective churches for six consecutive Sundays, beginning Sunday, October 23, and ending November 27.
Second. The collection was to play no part in the contest.
Third. Results were to be phoned during class each Sunday.
Fourth. Two joint sessions were to be held. One in Bristol October 30, and one in Middlebury November 6.
Fifth. The losing class to furnish a chicken supper without expense to the winners.
Sixth. Knowing the possibilities for Middlebury in the college, it was agreed that they were not to call on the college as such. They were, however 20 Baptist men in the college and they were to have the right to these men and a reasonable number who might not have any church preference.
These conditions were carefully considered and discussed and the contest was on. Everything went beautifully for five weeks. At the end of this time Bristol had a lead of 15 men. Enthusiasm ran high and more men were seen in church in both towns than had ever been seen in all the history of the churches. Then came the storm.
On Saturday morning, November 26, news reached me that Middlebury College had been invited to the Men’s class of the Middlebury Baptist church. I called President Moody at once and he confirmed the report. It developed that not only had the invitation been read by him in Chapel that morning before. The boys were urged to help defeat Bristol and were promised a chicken pie supper win or lose.
Of course for our men to compete with Middlebury on this basis would have been suicide. This was the very thing that I had contended that Middlebury would not do, because the men here in Bristol saying that we had no chance because the college would be used.
After much argument over the phone and several conferences with the men here, we found that the Middlebury men intended to keep the position they had taken in the matter of the college and at five o’clock Saturday afternoon the contest was called off. It is needless to say that everyone was disappointed. Of course the movement had reached such proportions that we can realize the difficulty of keeping it under control but it did seem that some restraint could have been brought to bear on the situation by the Middlebury leaders.
The conditions of the contest were drawn up by a committee which met at my home Friday night, October 24. The Middlebury committee was composed of Rev. Howard, Dr. Howard Averill, Mr. Crane and Mr. Clarence Sturtevant. The following made up the Bristol committee. Mr. Burt Clark, Mr. C. E. Lawrence, Mr. Ralph Brown and Rev. J. Joseph Fowler. Mrs. Ralph Brown and Mrs. Fowler were also present and they remember distinctly the terms of the contest as discussed, especially the point relative to the college.
I hope that this may explain our attitude here in Bristol to those who are interested and know that Mr. Howard will verify this statement of the conditions as discussed in the presence of these ladies and gentlemen.
Bristol, Vt.
Bristol’s Chicken Pie Supper
According to the December 22, 1921, Bristol Herald the Bristol Baptists celebrated their highly successful “go-to-church” campaign without Middlebury with a chicken pie supper at Holley Hall with over 460 men and their families attending.
Rev. J. J. Fowler, F. H. Palmer and R. S. Smith were in charge of the arrangements. They reported some idea of what it means to feed such a crowd by the fact that it took 500 pounds of chicken, a day and a half’s work to get the chickens ready and a half’s day work of the big truck picking up the chicken pies from the places where they were baked.
Also included in this chicken pie banquet were rolls, salads, celery, pie, cake and ice cream with coffee.
The folks attending were divided into two sections with one section being amused at the Colonial Theatre, compliments of the owner George S. Farr, where the 1916 film “God’s Country and the Woman” was shown while the other section was at supper.

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