OUR CHURCH HISTORY


On May 16, 1811, a number of residents of Greene and vicinity met with a committee of ministers and deacons from distant communities "for the purpose of being examined and if thought proper, constituted into a church." The hand-written minutes of this meeting were kept in our church building until 1985 when the building burned and all historical records were lost. Having passed the exam, the new church met on June 13, 1811, and formed a corporate Society named The Congregational Society of Greene and Smithville. In the early days, the church had nothing to do with business matters which were handled by the Society. From then until the middle of the 20th century the Congregational Society owned and administered the property while the Congregational Church was responsible for the spiritual welfare of the members.

The First Congregational Church was the first church in Greene. It met in private homes until a meeting house was built in 1820 on the same site we presently occupy. That same year the Rev. John Hoyt came to the Church, the first of 34 pastors to serve here. During those early years of the church the conduct of members and the standards for membership were very high. Many of the people who attended church were not members- and not invited to be members. Also there were many meetings where conduct of church members was reviewed and action taken by the church board. This included complaints of honesty, working on the Sabbath and disorderly behavior. In those days, not so unlike today, the church had difficulty meeting the expense of a pastor and one resigned because of unpaid salary. Renting of pews was the means by which the church maintained itself early on. This practice continued for more than 100 years. When members rented a pew they were theirs for the rental period. Usually the last few rows of pews were open to the general public. The concept of stewardship and giving of our bounty rather than paying for pew space, is a 20th Century concept.

In 1851 major renovations were made to the church building including new windows and pews, and again in 1871 extensive alterations were made including more sanctuary space and central heating. The picture (above left, taken by member Gordon Tyler) shows the building in 1985 a few months before the fire. The steeple on the left was at one time the tallest, rising over 100 feet high. While a number of changes were made during the next 114 years, including the addition of the chapel and Sunday school rooms, the main building remained the same until it burned on May 30, 1985.

The early Church records include many deliberations as members worked "to watch over each other according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ." In 1834 a standing committee was appointed to care for such problems, and the many public condemnations of members resulting from these deliberations ceased. During the years around the Civil War there were several ministers who had very short terms of pastorship. Whether this was due to the strife of the times or the people of the church is unknown. Local history includes many references to church activities including dinners, plays, music, Scouts, and the use of the church building for many non church sponsored activities for the community. In 1957, our congregation was one of the first 100 churches to ratify and join the newly formed United Church of Christ.

At about 2:00 A.M. on the morning of May 30, 1985, the church building was found to be burning. Fire companies from a number of comunities fought the blaze which could not be controlled before the building was fully destroyed. On Sunday, June 1, a final worship was held beside the charred remains of the 175-year old building. As scheduled, several new families joined the congregation that day. The following week the site was leveled and a nearly two year project was begun to design and construct a new building. The church met in buildings of the Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, and Methodist churches while this enormous project was in progress. The first building of this church cost less than $2000. The new building, when completed, was a $1,888,000 project. An excellent insurance policy paid for $1,370,000; the balance had to be raised by donations and work of church members and friends. At the time we held our first worship service in our new building, we had an outstanding mortgage of $15,000 which was paid off a few months later.


In 1986, the Church celebrated its 175th anniversary (in a borrowed building). The new building (above right, a pen & ink drawing by the late Rev. Mario Cestaro the 32nd pastor of our church) was first used for worship Sunday, May 24, 1987, six days short of two years following the fire. It was consecrated June 21, 1987, and dedicated on October 4th of that year.

In the church photo directory of 1987 the then pastor, Rev. Emile Jacquet wrote of the members pictured therein:

"Between the covers of this picture directory are the dear faces of people who belong to one another and to God. Some are quite old, and some are very young, but the vast majority are in the prime of their life. Each face tells a story of sadness, anger, pain, love, happiness and contentment. But above all, these are the faces of people who have been tested by fire in their own lives as well as their life together as a church. The amazing thing about this is that the testing has not left ugly marks in their faces. Instead, one sees marks of joy, love, and certain pride and a sense of accomplishment.

These are the faces of people who are faithful in serving God and determined to give of their strength and life in the service of God's church into the unknown future. May God continue to give us all the strength we need."

In the years since the fire the spirit of love, joy, and pride that Rev. Jacquet wrote about, continues to abide within our church family as we continue our call to do God's will.

Today we find ourselves with a new pastor, a growing congregation, and high level of enthusiasm. Standing on the threshold of a new century, we can look back to almost 200 years of service to God and this community. We remember the thousands of saints whose service in this place have given us a beautiful building and a strong proud heritage in faith. To this we give thanks to God and those who gave of themselves to make our church what it is today and we pray that we will be deserving of this legacy entrusted to us.




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Hymn Selection playing: "Amazing Grace"