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History of the church (Supplementary.)

Arthur W. Glines
Eleven months elapsed between the time that Mr. Skinner left us and Mr. Powers came. In that long, weary period the parish went through an inquisitorial experience of occasional candidates and numerous supplies. We listened to a superannuated clergyman one Sunday, with his ‘seventhlies’ and ‘eighthlies,’ his ‘lastly,’ and his ‘word to close’; to a young theological student the next Sunday, who gave us vivid descriptions of the Holy Land—which he had never visited—and interlarded his discourse with real Hebrew and Greek quotations. Another day we would have a college professor, with his one sermon, which he had preached until the manuscript was dog-eared, full of details—everything minutely explained—so that the members of the congregation had no use for brains; they only needed ears and strength of will to keep awake.

Needless to record, during this martyrdom the congregations dwindled until only the faithful few remained. In fact, all parish activities were affected by this lethargy.

On the advent of Mr. Powers, the reaction was sudden, and to some seemed sensational; it was but the turn of the tide, which, having reached its lowest ebb, began once more to rise to its flood.

Rev. L. M. Powers was preaching in Foxboro, Mass., when our parish called him to its pastorate, April 11, 1892. He accepted in a letter dated April 20, and preached his first sermon as pastor June 5 of the same year. He was officially installed October 9.

A young man of exceptional ability, full of ideas and enthusiasm, his pastorate was a notable one. Numerous [59] organizations were formed under his direction, the most prominent of which was the Men's Club. In fact, every age and both sexes were amply provided for, and the church soon became a social settlement, with suppers, entertainments, and lectures galore.

The religious side was not neglected, however, as on Easter Sunday, 1893, twenty-nine individuals joined the church, and every Easter thereafter saw many more new recruits added.

Lecture courses were conspicuous during these years, as Mr. Powers believed in that form of entertainment, and had faith in their money-raising qualities. Illustrated lectures of travel, lectures on the Bible, lectures by city officials, etc., were all more or less successful.

At the annual meeting in March, 1894, the parish, on Mr. Powers' initiative, appointed a committee to investigate the advisability, cost, etc., of building a hall on the lot in the rear of the church for the social purposes of the society and its auxiliaries. On May 14 this committee reported, and the parish voted to build. The hall was completed and opened November 23, 1894, and in less than two years it was paid for.

But what a strenuous time! In the spring of 1895, and again in the fall of the same year, we held five-night fairs—two in one year, while previous to that time we had had but one in two years. The usual entertainments and other money-making schemes, which are the preliminaries of all fairs, were worked to the fullest extent, until the church became known, with good reason, as the ‘Every Night Church.’

Physically and financially, the demands on the members of the society were never heavier, but calls for contributions to outside philanthropies were often made, and always cheerfully met. Nor did the parish ever fail to respond to any new work to which Mr. Powers called it. In all its history probably, notwithstanding, no period was more prosperous, or the society in a more [60] flourishing and thoroughly alive condition. It proved conclusively that work, and plenty of it, is good for a church, as it is for an individual.

By delivering the Memorial Day oration before the Grand Army in 1893, Mr. Powers came prominently before the whole city. He, also, by inviting the Odd Fellows, the Bicycle Club, and other organizations to attend the Sunday morning services at various times, brought many into touch with our church who had never been interested in it before.

Two notable publications were issued during Mr. Powers' administration: The Harvester, a paper published in connection with the fair of 1893, contained historical sketches of the church and all the organizations connected therewith, and in the 1897 Harvester the first directory of the parish was printed. Both of these papers were of great value to the parish, and are especially valuable as historical documents.

In 1897 Mr. Powers preached the annual sermon before the Universalist Sabbath School Union.

Deacon George W. Ireland died in the fall of 1895, and in his will was found a bequest to the parish of $1,000, which bequest it was Mr. Powers' privilege to announce.

Lenten services were held nightly during the week next preceding Easter, 1897, and although new to our church, they were well attended.

Augustus Hodgman, the parish treasurer, died suddenly in the church in February, 1898. His death caused a vacancy in the ranks of the faithful workers which was hard to fill, and it is but just his name should appear in this history of the church.

At Mr. Powers' suggestion, the church members adopted the individual communion cups in 1898. The Men's Club was also started during the same year. But 1898 will be chiefly remembered as the year in which the [61] old debt was raised, and the parish was able to realize that freedom was to be a reality, and no longer a dream, of the future. On Sunday morning, March 19, Mr. Powers called for individual pledges to pay the debt. His plan was for quarter-yearly payments, to continue over a term of three years. About $8,500 was pledged that morning, sufficient to take care of the principal and interest up to the end of the three-year period.

At the close of his sermon on the first Sunday in October, 1898, Mr. Powers read his resignation. It came without warning. The people could hardly believe their ears. Every effort was made to have him re-consider, but to no avail. Even when the unanimous votes of every organization connected with the society, testified to by the signatures of their respective officers, engrossed on parchment, were sent to Mr. Powers, he declined to change his previous determination, so, reluctantly, the parish accepted his resignation, to take effect December 1, 1898.

On the last Sunday in November, the day Mr. Powers would have preached his farewell sermon, no service was held, owing to a storm of blizzard proportions, which kept all but a few of the bravest at home. This is the only time, in the history of the church, so far as can be learned, that a regular morning service was omitted. Naturally a disappointment to Mr. Powers and all the parish, it was, perhaps, best, for, at a reception given the next night, the farewells were more appropriately said.

The parish, profiting by its previous experience, did not allow a long time to elapse before securing a new pastor. In less than two months from the time Mr. Powers left, Rev. H. D. Maxwell was called.

Mr. Maxwell, who at the time was pastor of the Universalist Church in Brattleboro, Vt., had, by request of the parish committee, preached at two morning services. Both days were stormy, and small congregations greeted [62] him, but when the parish meeting was held, on January 16, 1899, Mr. Maxwell's name led all the rest on the informal ballot, and he was at once unanimously elected to the pastorate. He began his labors in Somerville the first Sunday in March, 1899.

During the first two years of the new pastorate, the debt pledges were loyally paid by our people. On the evening of April 16, 1901, thirty years from the time the mortgage was placed on the church building, Stephen W. Fuller, who signed the original note as parish treasurer, had the honor of burning the ancient document in the presence of a large gathering of parish members. This event aroused the people, and since that time the parish has steadily grown stronger, until to-day it pays its bills from its regular income, and has no debts of any kind.

Some of the minor organizations have been given up, and the strength of the parish centred on the strongest and most necessary, like the Sunday School, the Sewing Circle, and the Men's Club. The Mission Circle, a new society, formed by Mr. Maxwell's request, has made a place for itself in the parish, and is doing good work along philanthropic lines.

Mr. Maxwell has made a feature of special Sundays. Many new people have become interested in the church by being invited to attend on Friends' Sunday, Men's Sunday, Old Home Sunday, Young People's Sunday, or Family Reunion Sunday.

He inaugurated our present system of combining all special collections into the Easter offering. Now all calls for charity, convention quotas, etc., are made at Easter, and the people give, in a lump sum, what formerly they contributed in small installments on various Sundays during the year. Thus they are saved the annoyance of special pleas and importunate pleaders.

Our present system of pew rentals—a weekly contribution on the free — will offering plan—was also introduced [63] through Mr. Maxwell's efforts. We have, by this new arrangement, succeeded in raising sufficient money to pay our regular expenses, without the necessity of fairs or other extraneous schemes which have heretofore been necessary features of our financial system.

The Gleaner, which for a number of years had been issued as a bi-weekly parish newspaper, was, with the consent of the parish, changed to a weekly by Mr. Maxwell, and entered as second-class matter at the post-office. Every one interested in the church could, by this means, be reached each week, and the news and announcements of Sunday services, entertainments, suppers, and other church activities placed in their hands. This change was of inestimable value to the society, and did much to fill the pews with new and valuable recruits, besides stimulating the former workers to renewed activities.

One of the largest offerings ever received in the church was on May 26, 1901, when Rev. G. L. Perin, D. D., preached in the interest of the twentieth century fund. The collection for this work amounted to $1,200.

In 1901 Mr. Maxwell urged the advantage of having a ‘Carnival Week’ to interest the young people, advertise the church, and, incidentally, to add something to the treasury. An operatic melange, consisting of songs, fancy dances, etc., was given for five nights, and for a first attempt passed off very well. In 1903 a second attempt was made. This time the week was devoted to a series of gatherings, which, by their variety, insured pleasure and profit to all.

To briefly mention the week's programme: A parish reception was held on Monday evening, March 2; a grand concert Wednesday night; on Friday an old-fashioned costume supper and entertainment; and on Sunday a special service, with augmented choir, instrumental music, and other special features. Religiously, socially, and financially, this was an unparalleled success. [64]

The present church year, beginning in September, 1903, has been a red-letter one in the annals of the parish. The people have again reached the point where work, and lots of it. has no terrors for them.

During the summer of 1903 the interior of the church was thoroughly renovated, and when, on September 22, the Massachusetts Universalist Convention convened within its walls, our people had the satisfaction of welcoming these visitors from all over the state to a church home of which they might well feel proud. For four days the convention was cared for, and the delegates fed and entertained in the way that Cross-street knows so well how to entertain.

Mr. Maxwell conceived another unique plan, which was carried out on Sunday, November 15, when, by his invitation, the Somerville and Cambridge congregations united in a ‘Neighborhood Rally’ at the East Cambridge church, which for the past few years has been having a hard struggle for existence. It was fitting that our parish, which, in its early days, had received encouragement from the then strong East Cambridge church, should do what it could to strengthen and help our weaker sister, now that our positions are reversed.

But to resume. One great accomplishment was not enough, for, no sooner was the convention over, than all thoughts turned to the Biennial Fair, which was to be held December 8-12. It is needless to record that when the time came, everything was ready, and one of our usual (but what other parishes consider phenomenal) successes was accomplished. Still the people were not wearied with well-doing, and the glorious fiftieth anniversary celebration, which this volume commemorates, is now an accomplished fact.

We have to-day a religious plant second to none in the city. Every facility for social life, that essential part of the work of a modern church, is here. We have a [65] large parish, the members of which are hard workers and liberal givers. We are a united people. But actions speak louder than words, and while in numbers we are one of the smallest denominations in our city, we take natural pride in the fact that all the principal philanthropies in Somerville, at the present time, were, at the beginning, either started by some one or more of our church people, or had the personal, as well as financial, support of some of its members—notably the Hospital, Day Nursery, Associated Charities, Home for the Aged, Children's Home, and Boys' Club.

It can be readily seen by this that our church occupies an important place in the community. By its works it is known, and we can be pardoned if, once in fifty years, we burst out in a little self-praise.

For a half-century it has stood an emblem of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. May its stout walls, and the hearts of its people, resist the storms of adversity for another five decades, at least, that future generations may enjoy the privileges of its teachings as have those of the past.


Deacons: John F. Nickerson, C. A. Kirkpatrick, J. Walter Sanborn, Arthur W. Glines, A. A. Wyman, Irving Smith (clerk).

Parish committee: John F. Mills (chairman), L. V. Niles, I. H. Wiley, F. W. Marden, D. W. Sanborn, H. M. Haven (clerk), R. Y. Gifford (treasurer).

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