Through a Pentecostal work in Winchendon in the 1940’s, one person was saved. Although this may not appear to have been a successful work to our eyes, it did pave the way for what was to become Cornerstone Church many years later. During the 1970’s, through the hand of God, most of the would-be founders of the Winchendon Assembly of God were saved. There being no Pentecostal Church in Winchendon, they all attended different churches in the area; the Gardner, Athol, and Fitchburg Assemblies of God.
On January 1, 1981, with the consent of the Pastor of the Fitchburg Assembly, a thirty-seven-member meeting was held to determine whether a Pentecostal Church should be established in Winchendon. The members agreed there should be a new church and became the founders of the then Winchendon Assembly of God.
For several years, services were held at the United Parish Church in Winchendon. Pastor Charles Fraser became our first Pastor, staying with us for a little over a year. His focus was to establish a strong body for this young ministry, knowing that a durable base would be necessary for a successful church.
God then sent Pastor Norice Gallop, who was not only concerned with the growth of the Church, Home and foreign missions, but who also had experience in directing a church building program. We were able to obtain land on Route 140 for our church building and through a lot of hard work and rough weather, a building was erected. It was during this time that the name of the Church was changed to Cornerstone Church of the Assemblies of God. The church building was dedicated to the Lord on September 7, 1985.
During this time Rev. Shane Ball came to us from Valley Forge Christian College upon graduation. He was a convert and friend of the Gallops. He became our first Assistant Pastor and eventually Interim Pastor when Pastor Gallop and his wife Bert moved on to the mission field.
Also, during this time Cornerstone School was formed with Ken Knowlton as principal and ran for several years.
In God’s timing, He sent us Pastor Don Goldsmith to continue moving the Church forward. Pastor Ball then moved on to establish a new church in Littleton, New Hampshire. In May of 1991, we had the privilege of attending Pastor Goldsmith’s ordination at the Leominster, MA, Assembly of God. Cornerstone Church continued to grow from that early group of thirty-seven and we thank God for that. Needing to have an Assistant Pastor again, Randy Harris was appointed to the position.
In 1993, we spent a good deal of time preparing for the summer mission trip to Mexico. Money had to be raised, clothes collected, and shoes bought for the children in the squatter’s camps where our group would be ministering. Through a generous donation of 500 pairs of shoes by L.B. Evan Co. of Fitchburg, MA, the money raised for the purchase of shoes was used for food instead. It took a trailer truck to transport all the supplies to Mexico. Pastor Goldsmith led a group of 23 people of all ages on this first mission outreach to Mexico. We continued to be a missions-minded church with additional trips to Mexico and a trip to Cuba in 1998. Our missions giving increased as God blessed us and we were able to support more missionaries, foreign and home, as well as ministering locally.
In 1996, THE FAMILY CENTER was launched on Sunday evenings, providing classes for all ages. Jay Lillie was now our Assistant Pastor to help Pastor Goldsmith with our growing congregation. We saw our Sunday morning attendance continue to climb upward in 1997, but more importantly than numbers was the powerful presence of the Lord that we sensed in our services. We began the year with a week of Revival Services with the theme, “LORD, TAKE US WHERE WE’VE NEVER BEEN BEFORE!” with Pastor Goldsmith preaching. It was a very special way of starting a new year.
A special business meeting was held in March of 1998, and we voted to expand our facilities. The sanctuary was extended to seat approximately 500 people. New chairs and carpeting were also added. The foyer was expanded and additional classrooms were built in the basement. God helped us to save money by doing the work ourselves. We also received help from a Christian start-up school (The Master’s Christian Academy), who wanted to lease room in the church. They helped to get the classrooms ready, old and new, to start the school in September of that year.
After many months of challenging work, we were finally ready for our Dedication Service, which was held May 22, 1999. We were blessed to have our first Pastor
Charles Fraser and his wife, Jenny, with us for the dedication. Bert Gallop joined us representing Pastor Gallop’s time as Pastor. Pastor Gallop went home to be with the Lord before he had the chance to see all that God has done at Cornerstone Church.
In 1999, our focus became “We Build People” with much time being spent planning our new ministry structure, developing our mission statement, and determining our vision and goals for the next five years. To facilitate this new ministry structure, Joan Legros, Bill Chadbourne, George Walters, and Jay Lillie were appointed as staff members to assist Pastor Goldsmith. Much time was spent by all in planning and developing the new purpose and vision for the church. We were committed to caring for people by:
- Leading people to experience New Birth in Christ’s life and Membership in His family
- Motivating people to grow in Christ-like Maturity
- Equipping people to continue in Christ-led Ministry
- Challenging people to continue in Christ’s Mission to the world
- Encouraging people to bring glory to Christ by magnifying God through prayer, praise and worship
In the next five years, we envision our church to have:
- 400 members who have experienced new birth in Christ and are committed to membership in His family.
- 20 small groups ministering to the various needs of the people in the church and community with five of these ministering to the needs of the elderly.
- 300 people who have completed and received a diploma through the Life Enrichment Process.
- 50 people actively involved in intercessory prayer meetings – participating in the planting of one new home missions church.
- 200 people actively involved in ministry after the “We Build People” philosophy of ministry
- Impact the integrity of marriages and families in our community by providing support and encouragement through periodic seminars and programs.
In the year 2000, the “We Build People” classes began with many new people participating. God blessed us, but we knew we had much work ahead of us as the 2001 neared. The Lord sent additional laborers including, Eric Lewis, as a staff member, to
help with the vision set before us. Over the years, the investment we made in time and energy, planning and studying the dynamics of a healthy church caused us in to reap a great Harvest for the Lord. The Harvest was on its way as the Lord provided Master’s Christian Academy with a beautiful building for their growing school, leaving all our church space for growth in our body. Praise the Lord!
In 2001, the “We Build People” classes had remarkable success under Pastor Goldsmith’s leadership and dedicated and faithful teachers. On May 27, 2001, Pastor Goldsmith submitted his resignation to the church body as he felt a calling to continue in ministry on the mission field.
A Pulpit Committee was formed with Jody Clapp, Paul Hackett, Chad Lorion and John Moylan and Chairman Randy Harris. They immediately met with Pastor Otis Stanley, our District Superintendent and worked closely with him throughout the process of selecting a new Pastor. The District provided 16 resumes that included men from several states and one from Canada. After two telephone interviews, four visits were made to the applicants’ home churches, followed by formal interviews with three applicants. They then traveled to a foreign land to search for God’s man to lead our Church.
The Church body then held a Special Business meeting in October and elected Pastor Barry W. Risto from Cobourg, Ontario, Canada, as our Senior Pastor. He was elected with 97% of the vote. It took six months to nominate a candidate. The entire process took nine months until Pastors Barry and Debbie Risto arrived in Winchendon, January 20, 2002. Praise the Lord!
In the interim, we were blessed to have Pastor Calvin Miller and his wife Valorie guide us while waiting for the new pastor. Pastor Miller was a loving, gentle shepherd during the transition.
Finally, our new pastor and his wife arrived and after getting their home settled began to learn about the church and its people and to offer innovative ideas and a vision for Cornerstone. To help accomplish all that God had for this active and growing church, Pastor Joan Legros and Pastor Bill Chadbourne joined the staff.
Pastor Risto brought forth a vision for a healthy church listing the eight quality characteristics:
- Empowering Leadership
- Gift-Oriented Ministry
- Passionate Spirituality
- Functional Structures
- Inspiring Worship Service
- Holistic Small Groups
- Need-Oriented Evangelism
- Loving Relationships
In addition, the Church began to structure and focus around God’s five purposes for the church: Connecting (in a relationship with God and His family), Growing (into Christ-like maturity), Serving (discovering your unique SHAPE and where to serve in ministry) and Going (in mission to our local communities, nation and around the world).
During the years of Pastor Risto’s tenure, Cornerstone continued to change and grow. Staff changes continued to take place. Pastor Jay Lillie, Pastor Seth Dodge and Pastor Brad Hackett all served as Youth Pastors. Pastor Deb Risto assumed the role of Children’s Pastor and Pastor Donna Slocum joined the staff as the Growth Groups Pastor and then as our Compassion Pastor. One of our administrators, Brenda Lillie, obtained her credentials and was sent out from among us to become a missionary in the Netherlands.
Congregational growth led us to start a second service on Sunday mornings and the prayer life of the church was greatly encouraged through an annual 21-day time of fasting and prayer. Weekly prayer sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings and a monthly Sunday evening prayer session called Fresh Fire were instituted.
As lead pastor, Pastor Risto encouraged missions both through giving to our Missions Fund, as well as through personal missionary trips including: Mexico, Haiti and mission outreaches to the disabled through the Special Touch Ministries Disabilities Camps.
As part of our evangelistic efforts and through a generous grant from Cecil B. Day Foundation, we offered the Financial Peace University class to our community free of charge and equipped other local churches to do a similar outreach in their communities. Successful Vacation Bible School programs were held each summer that led to many children accepting Christ as their Savior. We also held successful Family Fall Festivals and Christmas Movie Outreaches.
Pastor Risto also worked with local churches and those within the AG fellowship to provide oversight and resources to the Pastors and churches bodies to promote church health and growth.