I am trying to tie baptism records with my ancestors, and recently came across a copy of the baptist church records in the area. The name of this person is Edward Penny, born about 1742 in Harwich, Barnstable, Massachusetts, United States. There is a record of a Penny baptized on April 17, 1791, with no mention of the first name. Edward Penny was "Received into full communion" on May 29, 1791. I don't know enough about Baptists to know if baptism is a pre-requisite to full communion, and if the timetable makes sense. The later quote is:

The following Persons were Received in full Communion Viz. Cornelius Wiltse, Edward Penny, Samuel Carter, Jerusha Wiltse, Mary Wiltsie, & Mary Wiltse Junr.

  • Do you have any information about the name of the church? What is the source of your source?
    – Jan Murphy
    Jan 6, 2015 at 1:16
  • 1
    @JanMurphy: The source is the records found from pittstown.us/historical_society/merchandise.htm . Transcription by Glenn Rouse of two volumes of original records of the Pittstown Baptist Church Jan 6, 2015 at 1:17

2 Answers 2


In the Online edition of the Encylopedia Britannica, their article on the Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper) says:

Furthermore, different denominations disagree on whether access to the Eucharist should be open to all Christians or restricted to members who have fulfilled initiation requirements and thus are in full communion with a particular church. Among Baptists, for example, the practice of “close communion” has restricted the ordinance to those who are baptized properly—i.e., as adults upon a profession of faith. As a result of such variations, the Eucharist has been a central issue in the discussions and deliberations of the ecumenical movement.

Searching Google itself shows that the basic principle remains today in many churches -- while a church may recognize the Baptism of a person, that does not automatically mean that you are entitled to take communion in any other Christian Church. For instance, someone confirmed in the Episcopal Church will not automatically be entitled to take communion while visiting a Catholic congregation; each denomination has its own requirements for what a candidate has to meet before they can take communion with that church.

For an overview of the issues involved where the Baptist church differs from other Christian denominations, see the article Believer's Baptism at baptisthistory.org. Author William H. Brackney says:

Like their brothers and sisters elsewhere, Baptists in the United States also perfected the practice of believer’s baptism by immersion. Early colonial Baptists in New England followed English and Welsh Baptist precedents by baptizing only believers, while ensuring that it was a voluntary act of faith and not a routine of church membership. ... Later in the United States, Baptists used the ordinance of baptism to demonstrate their faith publicly. Some churches baptized candidates as conversions occurred or a catechetical class was finished. After revival meetings or special evangelistic outreach, many candidates were often baptized together. Some churches followed the ancient practice of holding baptismal services at Easter to identify with Resurrection Day, while in other cases several congregations joined together for combined baptisms.

Brackney also says:

Another recent issue that has energized some Baptists is whether baptism should be required before a congregation approves full membership. Traditionally, this has been the understanding of most Baptists. However, in the late 1700s, some British Baptists began to argue for "open communion," by which they meant that they invited all who followed Christ to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Later in the 1800s, British and American Baptists were influenced by participation in the ecumenical movement, and some congregations began to practice "open membership." These churches allow persons who are professing Christians to be given all the rights and privileges of church membership without having been baptized as believers (assuming they were baptized as infants).

Brackney also says that "Baptists have written more books on this subject [i.e. Baptism] than on any other topic." and a search of Google Books bears him out. A search for the phrase "full communion" and "Baptists" in Google Books turns up many histories and publications of the early Baptist Church in the USA where the requirements for being in "full communion" with the church were hotly debated.

Finding out the precise requirements of the Pittstown Baptist Church may take a little digging (the answer might be in some of the other records on the CD-ROM you linked to). But I think it's pretty safe to assume that a Baptist church of that era would not have practiced infant baptism. To be considered a full member of the community, entitled to take communion, would probably have required a profession of faith and an immersion baptism. The question remains -- at what age would the candidate have been considered old enough to give a confession of faith?

If the two references you cite by name are the same person, then Edward Penny would have been in his late forties -- almost fifty years old -- when he was admitted into full communion with the church.

I would gather any other clues that I could about other members of this congregation, including the ones who were named in that same entry, to see if I could find a pattern for the practices of this particular church. Searching for a history of the church might yield other clues.


"Received into full Communion" is a formal way of saying the person was Confirmed in the church or "joined" the church. An infant Christening (Baptism) is a commitment made by the Baptismal sponsors (usually the child's parents) to follow the teachings of Christ when raising the child. Later, as an adult, the Confirmation process and ceremony re-affirms this commitment. The Confirmation is usually required by the church in order for the person to partake of the Eucharist, the taking of the bread and wine that takes place during worship. The Eucharist is called Communion in some denominations because it was open only to those "in full Communion" with the church. Also, some churches require a Confirmation process to be completed before they will allow a marriage to be solemnized by their clergy, so Confirmations are sometimes seen in church records very close to or even on the same day as a marriage (this can often be a clue to age). Some Christian denominations do not require infant baptism as a prerequisite to Confirmation or even combine Confirmation with Baptism as in the Baptist church.

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