| Chris Goudreau
WILBRAHAM – A little more than 100 years ago, the parishioners of two churches came together as Wilbraham United Church. This year, the Congregationalist half celebrates its 275th anniversary, while the Methodist side observes its 225th anniversary.
Susan Gibson, interim pastor of Wilbraham United Church, told Reminder Publications although when the church was founded in 1912 the two different group of worshipers were distinct, over the decades the group blended together to create one unified church.
“There was a fire at the congregational church and they started worshipping together and when the church was finally rebuilt they just decided to stay together,” she explained.
According to an official history of the church, it is Wilbraham’s oldest organization, beginning as the First Congregational Church 275 years ago.
“The fourth Congregational Church was dedicated May 11, 1913,” it reads. “This church was a gray shingled building with white trim and a slate roof. A two-manual Steer pipe organ was installed. Mrs. Lucia S. Foskit and Mrs. Laura H. Bruuer gave a gift of a new bell, containing metal from the old bell that had survived the fire of 1911. In spite of the opportunity for separate worship, the Congregationalists and Methodists decided to continue joint worship under the inspired leadership of Rev. Legg. Until 1935, the united group used the Methodists’ cool stone building six months of the year, from May 1 to Nov. 1. The furnace-heated Congregational building was used from November to May. ‘Onward and upward for Christ, for Wilbraham, and the kingdom,’ was the call that Rev. Legg gave as a challenge for the church. Under his leadership, the church grew in membership from 90 to 200 people.”
Gibson said the church has been recognizing historical moments of organization during its services by having members share stories about their personal histories in regards to being a member of the church over the course of decades.
“One of our members is a Merrick, whose [ancestor] figures prominently in the story of the church and so he shared some of the family history related to the church,” she added. “And then, some others have related their experience of being members here – their memories. One of them was the wife of the most recent past for 35 years, Paul Zeckhausen, so his wife, Suzanne Zeckhausen, shared some of his memories too of being here.”
Gibson said she believes looking back on history allows one to “pause and think upon God’s faithfulness over the years.”
The church will host guest preacher Rev. John McCullough, president and CEO of global humanitarian agency Church World Service, on Nov. 20, she noted. The organization is based in New York City.
“He was an associate pastor here many years ago,” Gibson said.
According to Church World Service, the organization has worked for 69 years to end hunger and poverty “among the world’s most vulnerable” by responding to disaster, helping people recover and rebuild in ways to reduce the impact of future disasters, supports sustainable food security, and economic development programs, provides refugee assistance and immigration services, and advocates for social justice nationally and internationally.
For more information about Wilbraham United Church visit www.wilbrahamunitedchurch.org.