Our story is not our own. We are connected to a 300 year old history of believers in Christ.
Brief History of Second Congregational Church In 1674 the tract of land, now Greenwich, was purchased from the Indians. The boundary line was the Mianus river (now Mianus), and the first settlers in Greenwich had to forge the river to attend the First Congregational Church (gathered 1660 in Old Greenwich). It was not called the First Congregational Church then, but more on that later in this reading. In 1701 the inhabitants of Greenwich built a meeting house so the visiting minister (each third Sunday) from First church in Old Greenwich would no longer need to hold mission services in homes. It was built between the houses of John Reynolds and Angell Husted, Jr., and was 32 feet long by 26 feet wide. Drawing and pictures of the three churches that preceded our present church are on display in the vestibule by Waterman Chapel.
By 1704 the settlements of Old Greenwich and Greenwich had grown to such a size that one minister could no longer properly serve them both. In May 1705 the Colonial Governor (this was 71 years before the Declaration of Independence) and the General Court in Hartford gave consent to dividing the town into two ecclesiastical societies and defined their parish line – the First Society being on “Ye East sid of so Myanoa River.” So came our Second Church into being in May of 1705.
Our church was used for town meetings when it was first founded as were all churches. In fact the church and towns had the same boundaries as they were created by the Colonial Governor. Remember our church was founded 86 years before the Bill of Rights, separating state and church.
After the departure of the first pastor, Reverend Joseph Morgan, in 1708, for some reason there were only visiting pastors until 1716 when Reverend Richard Sackett was installed. Reverend Sackett served until he died in 1730. The first recorded baptism was on May 24, 1728 of Deliverance, the son of Ebenezer Mead.
The second meeting house (that’s what they were called in those days) was erected in 1732 to provide for the expanding West Society. It had 50 pews. The Reverend Abraham Todd, the 4th pastor arrived the same year. He served for 40 years! There is no record as to whether he ever repeated a sermon in all that period.
One of the most difficult times for our church was the Revolutionary war. For four years the town was between the British and American lines. The sixth pastor, Reverend Johnathan Murdock, who served from 1774 to 1786, was able to continue by being a paroled prisoner of the British. After the war, the accumulated debt of the church seemed hopeless, but was repaid by efforts led by Abraham Mead to bake a boatload of pottery and selling it on both sides of the Sound. In the 86 years from 1732 until 1818, the church had only 3 ministers! Reverend Todd served for 40 years, until 1772. Rev. Murdock served 14 years until 1786 including the Revolutionary War period, and was succeeded by Reverend Isaac Lewis who served for 32 years from 1786 until 1818. He retired at 72 and lived on in Greenwich for 33 more years, until 1851. During his tenure the third church building was started 1799. Services were held in the church while under construction until its completion in 1802. This means three churches were constructed during the first century of existence.
The basic affiliation of our church has not changed in 300 years, but the name has changed 8 times:
1705 – The Church of Christ in the West Society of Greenwich
1774 – The Church of Christ in West Greenwich
1819 – The Church and West Ecclesiastical Society in Greenwich
1820 – The Second Presbyterian or Congregational Society in Greenwich
1821 – The Second Consociated Society
1824 – The Second Presbyterian or Consociated Society in Greenwich
1830 – The Second Consociated Congregational Society
1843 – The Second Congregational Society
1900 – The Second Congregational Church of Greenwich
The last change in 1900 to our present name recognized a change from a Society to a Corporation (non-profit, at least in a material sense).
Our first Sunday School came into being in the spring of 1818, one of the first in Connecticut. The idea of a Sunday School met with resistance because some thought the teaching of children was secular work and should not be done on the Sabbath. Some were in favor because they thought it would keep boys out of their orchards while they were in church.
A son succeeded the father when Reverend Isaac Lewis, Jr. became pastor in 1818 after his father had served for the previous 32 years. Reverend Lewis, Jr. served until 1828 when an exchange was made with the church in Bristol, R.I. for the Reverend Joel Mann. Reverend Isaac Lewis, Jr. was active in the founding of the Greenwich Academy in 1827, which was sponsored by our church.
The recent “bits of history” recounted how in the 98 years from 1732 until 1830, our church had only 4 pastors, showing a great continuity and strength. After the Reverend Joel Mann arrived in 1830 the so-called, “White Parsonage” still standing next to the church was constructed. Reverend Joel Mann was succeeded by the Reverend Noh Coe in 1837. Rev. Coe served until 1845 and at that time over 200 members were added to the membership. Then came the Reverend Joe Linsley in 1847. Rev. Linsley was a pastor who left a major effect on our church. He lies buried in the cemetery next to our church. Take a look at his tombstone which is near the south end in the third row. It is a very large monument.
What do you suppose inspired the congregation to make it so large and chisel on it the words “Erected by his congregation”?
The building of our present church, an awesome project for its time, difficult even today, was a decision not made lightly. A committee was first appointed on December 7, 1852 to consider a new church building. The final plans were not accepted until four years later on April 11, 1856.
When the final vote was taken on April 11, 1856, to decide on building the church, the vote was 28 for and 6 against. They had the vision to employ as architect, Leopold Eidlitz, who had come to New York City from Prague. His great talent is shown in this early work. He went on to achieve great renown all over the United States for his designs, including the Capital buildings in Albany. Robert W. Mead accepted the contract to erect the structure. Reportedly, his motivation was to positively see that it got done and when the building was dedicated on December 8, 1858, several prior subscription efforts caused it to be free of debt. What a striking example of New England attitude and determination. Some final squibs on the creation of our great stone church on the hill. (It was said at the time that no such building existed outside of large cities in the United States). The granite stone came from the quarry in the woods of Frederick Mead on Davis Road. On October 38, 1858 the committee voted on, “the propriety of permitting an organ in the new meeting house.” They voted to do so, “providing it be done without expense to the congregation”?! The cornerstone contains a bible, a hymn book, a history of the church, a Confession of Faith, and, then current newspapers. Anyone know which corner has the stone?