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Union Congregational Church.

[Read before the Medford Historical Society by Henry B. Doland, May 15, 1911.]

IT is a privilege to be able to say a few words relating to the beginnings of any organization that belongs to those constructive forces that make for righteousness and progress in any community. Although the narrative may have little that is picturesque in it, still it is proper and fitting that such facts as can be collected from the brief records that have been kept should be brought together. They may not only interest those who are now concerned, but they may assist some one who in the future may have the privilege of writing the history of the good work yet to be done, under greater opportunities, in the larger field that opens more and more widely as the years glide onward.

Then, too, one takes pleasure in giving testimony of the simple faith and sacrifice of those who were the pioneers in any movement, whose purpose was wholly altruistic, who labored that others might enjoy the fruit of their labors, and that people yet to be might enjoy greater civil or religious privileges. This was made possible by the sacrifice of those whose convictions led them to believe that some way, somehow, they were fulfilling the will of God, and thereby blessing their fellowmen.

Some churches spring into existence out of controversy, and some are evolved out of persecution, or more often are the product of some great religious movement or awakening. In any such case, where men are strongly stirred, and where deep zeal or passion is a factor, the narrative takes on tone and color, and excites interest and attention almost without effort; but the story that is to be briefly told in this account is that of a church [p. 34] whose life began in the quietest, most prosaic manner, with no excitement, no upheaval, and which owed its origin to no such causes, but rather to the consciousness on the part of its founders that a place convenient for the public worship of God was a necessity in the community, and that the duty of providing and maintaining such a place rested upon them. It will be the story of the feeble beginning of a modest little enterprise, whose originators had no vision of the future, nor anticipated the busy thoroughfares and the teeming life that was yet to cross the quiet fields in the neighborhood where they erected their first altar and opened the doors of their first house of prayer. Although scarce twenty-five years have passed since then, most of those who organized Union Church have finished their labors and passed on to the greater church in Heaven. So far as I can learn, only two families of those who formed her early congregations now worship within her walls.

Five and twenty years ago that section of Medford, now known as South Medford, had very little in common with the rest of the town, and was occupied by about one hundred and twenty families, three-fourths of whom were Protestants. A few of these were associated with the two churches then on Winter Hill in Somerville, and a few others attended the churches in Medford Center. The long, lonely walk to Medford, cold and bleak in winter and hot in summer, and the wearisome climb up Winter Hill, tended to keep many away from church, who would have been glad to attend had there been a more convenient place of worship.

In 1887 the Home Missionary Society of the Congregational Churches engaged Rev. F. I. Kelley (a student in Boston University) to hold preaching services in the chapel at the corner of Broadway and Alfred street. He found quite a company of men and women glad to assemble together for regular worship, and the movement gained such headway that the question of organizing a church soon began to be discussed. The decision was [p. 35] reached that it would be wise and proper to organize. The Presbyterians had a larger number of adherents than any other denomination among those interested, and Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians and Congregationalists also were well represented. So it became a question of much importance as to what denomination the new church should ally itself with. After much deliberation they decided that the Congregational form of church government would best satisfy their needs and desires, and somewhat to the surprise of the Congregational pastors in the vicinity, on the 29th of October, 1887, the Union Congregational made a formal beginning as a religious enterprise. It organized with a membership of fifty, twenty-eight of whom were received by letter, and twenty-two upon confession of their faith in Christ. On November 5, 1887, the Articles of Faith and Covenant were adopted by the church, and on the 12th of the same month, Alexander Robertson, Thomas Patterson and Nathaniel P. Richardson were chosen deacons. At the same meeting John G. Thompson was elected as the first clerk. On December 1, 1887, a council was held in the chapel on Broadway, which recognized the new society under the name of the Union Congregational Church of Medford. A large number of delegates from sister churches were present, and Rev. W. S. Alexander preached a sermon at the public recognition services in the evening. In organizing, the church made what was then rather a new departure in Congregational procedure. It provided that the society in whom the title to the property was vested, should consist exclusively of adult members of the church, either male or female. The old custom had been to have the society consist, not of church members alone, but of such adult males as owned or hired sittings in the meeting house. That was a custom which had resulted in the loss of many churches and property to the Congregational body. The Union Church, by vesting the title to all property in the hands of church members only, wisely provided against any future loss to the denomination. [p. 36]

All sittings in the church are free, and always have been so, the expenses being met by voluntary contributions. The chapel on Broadway where they worshiped was owned by private parties, who were not fully in sympathy with the idea of forming a new church. As they did not wish to sell the chapel to the new organization, that body decided to seek other quarters, and succeeded in renting the vacant store at the corner of Main and Harvard streets. After a few weeks' stay in this store, it became evident to the congregation that its new quarters were not adapted to its needs. The larger portion of the worshipers were residents of Medford, and it was their decision that the church should be located within the bounds of Medford to accommodate the community that was growing up in the vicinity of Tufts square. On February 24, 1888, the church voted to buy a lot of land on Marion street, where its present home is located. The Prudential Committee, consisting of Alexander Robertson, N. P. Richardson, Thomas Patterson, Joseph F. Hosford, Samuel Armstrong, J. C. Davidson and J. G. Thompson purchased the lot for $425. They were authorized to act as a building committee, with full power to make contract for a house of worship. On April 20, 1888, this committee reported that it had contracted to build a church edifice fifty feet by thirty feet, to be constructed of wood, on Marion street, during the summer of 1888. The church ratified the action of its committee and work was at once begun on the building.

This decision to build was not arrived at hastily. It was a brave venture to undertake to support public worship, and at the same time raise more than three thousand dollars for a new church edifice. None of the congregation could be called wealthy, and no one of them had an income from which much could be spared without a sacrifice, but they took hold courageously, and by the following November the building was framed and boarded in. Then the work had to pause, for the people had arrived at what seemed to be the limit of their resources. [p. 37]

The house was unclapboarded and only partly shingled, and it appeared as if the congregation could not occupy it that winter. Fortunately, friends in other churches came to the rescue, one of whom offered to give the needed shingles and clapboards if the church people would see that they were put on. They gladly accepted the offer, and the building was shingled and clapboarded.

This friendly assistance from without so inspired the local workers that they succeeded in finishing the vestry so as to make it suitable as a meeting place for the winter, and it was thus used until the main audience room was completed and the church dedicated in November, 1890.

From its starting, sister churches on Winter Hill and those in the Woburn Conference gave friendly counsel and substantial financial aid, and acting under advice and assistance of these friends the church soon completed the new edifice. The sister churches contributed the sum needed to make last payments for the same, and the house, costing $3,000, was dedicated free from debt.

The Massachusetts Home Missionary Society assisted the church in the support of a pastor from the beginning, and has continued its aid up to the present time, although the church at present comes very near to self-support, and contributes liberally toward the various missionary and benevolent organizations of the denomination. The Congregational Church Building Society has assisted towards the expense of the church building when occasion has required such aid. The Mystic Church of Medford presented the first Communion Service, and a member of that church1 gave fifty settees for the first house of worship, and also provided a fine furnace and secured the bell that has for so many years called to worship.

Too much praise can hardly be bestowed upon the sacrifice and endeavor of the people themselves. As has been stated, few of the members could contribute very largely, and the continuous demand and strain upon [p. 38] their resources discouraged the less earnest ones, causing some to withdraw, and leaving only the more devoted ones to continue the work. Among those to whose zeal and faithfulness the continued existence of the church in those early trying days is due, should be remembered Miss Janet Brown, in whose home on Marion street the church organization was first agreed upon; the Fraser sisters; the members of the Robertson, Patterson, Hosford, Richardson, Davidson and Donovan families.

To the first pastor, the Rev. Frederick I. Kelley, and to his devoted wife, are due the lasting gratitude of the members of his flock. Largely through his efforts and courage came the measure of success that marked the first two years of the church's existence. He did excellent work during the organization and building period of the church life. It was his first pastorate, and he threw himself into his trying labors with all the energy of his young manhood. His sermons were earnest and excellent, and he was faithful in his pastoral calling. He resigned July 16, 1889, to accept the call to the Congregational Church at Pigeon Cove, Mass., and his parish soon realized that it would be fortunate indeed if it could secure a successor who would be his equal. He is now pastor of the Old First Church in Derry, N. H., where he has been settled for several years.

On October 27, 1889, Rev. C. C. Bruce, a resident of Medford, came to preach as a supply, and November 3, 1889, was chosen pastor for six months, and continued to serve in that capacity until May 29, 1891. He was a scholarly man and a student, but his physical condition was such that he was not able to do the work needful in a new parish, and as a consequence the church steadily lost ground. Shortly after resigning his pastorate a stroke of apoplexy caused a complete breakdown, and after a few months of suffering he passed away.

The church had no settled pastor after Mr. Bruce's departure until August 14, 1891, when Rev. Benjamin A. Dean came to fill that office. He was a man of intense activity and extended experience. He labored [p. 39] zealously to upbuild the church, in which endeavor he was faithfully seconded by his wife. During his ministry and through his suggestion and efforts the lot of land next west of the church was purchased and paid for. This proved a wise investment, and a tribute to his enterprise and foresight. The continued growth of the community encouraged the Baptists of South Medford to institute services and organize a church of that order. This drew away quite a number of valued helpers from Union Church and lessened the attendance of both congregation and Sabbath School, and thereby somewhat discouraged both pastor and people. The outlook had then so little of promise that the Home Missionary Society decided that it was inadvisable to any longer assist the enterprise. It withdrew its financial assistance, and matters continued in an unsatisfactory condition until the close of Mr. Dean's pastorate in August, 1895, when he became pastor in Coldbrook, Conn. So far as numerical or financial advance was concerned, the church made little progress during this pastorate. At its close there was much anxiety as to the future, for although the neighborhood was making a substantial growth the church was not. But with the coming of Rev. Isaac Pierson to the pastorate, December 6, 1895, new life and interest began to be manifested. The congregations and contributions were largely increased, new members were added at almost every communion season. An unusually large proportion of them were young men and young women, who made their presence and energy felt in the Endeavor Society and the Sabbath School. There was probably no church in the city that had so large a proportion of young people in its membership. All seemed to feel that a better day was at hand, and several hundred dollars were raised and expended in improving the house of worship. At no time in its history had the church seen such evidences of prosperity. The work glowed and the situation was so full of promise in 1901 that a committee was appointed to consider ways and means of [p. 40] so increasing the capacity of the building as to meet the requirements of the rapidly growing Sabbath School.

This committee, consisting of Messrs. H. B. Doland, H. L. Jones, W. H. Hodgman, G. S. Whitehead and P. H. Hodgman, studied the situation and reported at the annual meeting of the church, October 18, 1901. Its recommendations were adopted, and the society voted to authorize the expenditure of $2,125 to make the proposed alterations and enlargement.

An effort to raise the required sum began at once, and met with such success that by the following April the sum of $1,300 was conditionally pledged, with excellent prospects of raising the entire amount before fall. But in April, 1902, when the church was in a state of revival and all interests seemed progressing favorably, conditions were unhappily changed by one of those unfortunate and uncalled — for incidents that sometimes interrupt and hinder the progress of churches as well as of individuals. This incident so unsettled affairs that the pledges were largely withdrawn, and the plans for enlargement were held in abeyance until difficulties might be cleared away and prosperity return again.

Mr. Pierson was the first pastor of Union Church to be installed or dismissed by council, and continued in his office until October 3, 1903, a period of almost eight years. To him more than to any other was due the cessation of pool selling at the race tracks in South Medford, an accomplishment greatly to his credit, and to which, as to all his duties, he gave his best energies.

After his resignation he removed to Wellesley Hills where he now resides. He left the church much stronger than it was at his coming, with a membership of about one hundred and a Sabbath School of more than two hundred members. Although there was a serious division at the time of his departure, the trouble that overshadowed the work began to pass away soon after the arrival of his successor, the Rev. John Wild, formerly of Hanover, Mass., who began his pastorate May 1, 1904. [p. 41]

Mr. Wild's ministry has been one of reconciliation and upbuilding. He found a rapidly growing community, with new families needing and seeking a church home and religious influences, and he has striven to the limit of his powers to meet the demands that the situation presented. Seven years of his pastorate have just been completed, and the results are very creditable to the efforts both of himself and of the faithful corps of men and women who have rallied under his leadership.

During the first year of his pastorate it became necessary to expend several hundred dollars for improvements, but it was realized that no temporary or minor changes would be sufficient. Evidently the church building itself was not and could not be made commodious enough to meet the increasing demands of the neighborhood, and the question of how best to provide sufficient accommodations was earnestly considered. The decision was reached that a larger and more modern house of worship was absolutely necessary, and a building committee was chosen and authorized to take action looking thereto.

The committee consisted of the pastor, with William H. Hodgman chairman, N. P. Richardson, George W. Pitts, P. H. Hodgman, D. W. Lawson, Wallace Campbell, Mrs. E. E. Armstrong and Mrs. Perkins to represent the church, and Charles H. Rutan and F. S. Norton to represent the Congregational Church Union. Architects and friends were brought into consultation and plans were finally accepted that called for a total expenditure of $12,500. The contract was awarded to George H. Archibald, builder, of Medford. The architects were Messrs. Brainerd and Leeds of Boston.

All friends now rallied to the labor of raising funds to pay for the new temple, for it was determined, if it were possible, to dedicate it free from debt. The people of Medford assisted generously; the Congregational Church Union of Boston gave $2,700; the Old South Church of that city, $5,000; the sister churches of Woburn Conference, $1,150; and the added efforts of the faithful [p. 42] pastor and his zealous people completed the amount required.

The former house of worship was torn down, and the hall of Lincoln School on Harvard street was secured for a meeting place until the new church was finished. On September 25, 1909, the corner-stone of the new edifice was laid with impressive exercises, which were participated in by the clergy and laymen of the various Protestant churches, and by our mayor, Clifford M. Brewer, who represented the City of Medford.

The work progressed favorably, and the completed house was dedicated February 20, 1910, in the presence of a large and happy assemblage. The church has cause for rejoicing, not only for the completion of the house, but for the display of friendship, and substantial aid extended to them by Christian brethren and the public in general.

The total cost of building and furnishings was $13,700, and the total value of the entire property is rated at $17,000, all clear of any encumbrance.

The edifice is a framed wooden building, one hundred feet by sixty feet, with a large square tower at the southeast corner. The audience room on the second floor has a seating capacity of three hundred and fifty, with class rooms and study in the rear. The vestries and parlors on the ground floor furnish the much-needed and long-desired appliances for the Sabbath School, and for the devotional and social meetings of the church.

During Mr. Wild's pastorate one hundred and twenty-four members have been added to the church roll, making the present number two hundred and two. The complete list of the deacons as per records is, Alexander Robertson, Thomas Patterson, N. P. Richardson, Joseph F. Hosford, George L. Daniels, Walter Nelson, Henry B. Doland, C. A. Van Winkle, William F. Kilton, Harry L. Jones, Israel H. Slocum, Albert Carson, P. H. Hodgman, D. W. Lawson and William R. Faulkner. The Sabbath School, including the Home Department and Cradle [p. 43] Roll, has three hundred and seventy-one members. The membership of both church and school shows a steady and gratifying increase, and progress is evident along every line.

There have been some very earnest men and women who have very greatly aided in the work of the Sabbath School, and those who have there served as superintendents are recorded as follows:—

John G. Thompson.

N. P. Richardson.

C. A. Van Winkle.

Mrs. E. J. Fuller, Superintendent of Primary Department.

Mrs. Armstrong, Superintendent of Primary Department.

Rev. F. I. Kelley.

James Donovan.

Percy H. Hodgman.

In no department of its activities does the church better serve the needs of the community than in its school. The vicinity is rich in children, and the school has ministered to them with marked success. To no party should more credit be given for this success than to him who for fifteen years or more has faithfully and with untiring zeal acted as the superintendent of the Senior Department of the school. Mrs. Ella J. Fuller, who served as superintendent of the Primary Department for several years, did most excellent and effective work there, and her successors have well followed her lead.

Although many names have been referred to as among the faithful and efficient members, those who know the inner history of Union Church will feel that the lasting gratitude of the church is due to Deacon Harry L. Jones, formerly of Medford (now of Newton, Mass.) for his financial assistance in trying times. But time would fail me to tell of all those faithful souls, both men and women, whose faith and labors have brought the undertaking from a beginning so feeble, so frail, worthy not so much of admiration as of pity, to an expansion so ample, a progress so steady, a promise, yet to be fulfilled, that will, we trust, be glorious.

In the year 1810 Eaton S. Barrett, in his poem entitled ‘Woman,’ writes, [p. 44]

Not she with trait'rous kiss her Saviour stung,
Not she denied Him with unholy tongue;
She, while apostles shrank, could danger brave,
Last at His cross, and earliest at His grave.

And his words, dedicated to the women of the early church, are not altogether inapplicable to many of the noble company of consecrated women of Union Church who, throughout its entire history, in season and out of season, through heat or cold, have never failed to inspire and assist at each and every time of need.

And it is altogether fitting and proper to here affirm that, had it not been for the steadfast allegiance and continued financial support of the ladies, acting through their earlier organization, the Ladies' Aid Society, and its successor, the Ladies' Christian League, the subject of this story could never have attained to more than a small measure of its present achievement.

In all lines of activity and sacrifice their devotion and service have been foremost factors in continuing and expanding the usefulness of their beloved church.

As one looks back over the quarter of a century and recalls face after face of that devoted band of women, some still a part of the church on earth and others numbered with the greater company of the redeemed in Heaven, there comes a deep feeling of regret that the scope of this article permits of only a general rather than an individual tribute of praise to be given here and now.

The Master praises: what are men?

Among the pleasing facts to state about this organization is that it has been blessed in having had a succession of pastors who strove to preach the Gospel; men who have not been infected with the fever of doubt and radicalism that has disturbed and helped to decimate too many Congregational churches. Whatever any of them may have failed in, not one has failed to give an evangelical note to his preaching. And the people, too, are as strongly evangelical in faith and practice as their [p. 45] pastors have been, and have little toleration and less respect for that imported gospel that now and then comes to us from some German theological toy shop.

It is time to draw this article to a close, but before doing so a word of tribute will be permitted to the last of this group of pastors, the Rev. John Wild, who passed away, October 25, 1911. It is a valuable asset to any religious society to have as its leader one whom the whole community respects for his manly and ministerial qualities, and one whom the somewhat narrower circle of intimates loves and esteems as a pastor or friend. Such a man was the one whom I have just named. He came to this city seven years ago to a parish presenting many problems that he realized would tax all his powers and faculties, and he has more than fulfilled all that could be asked of him. His works bear ample testimony to his sterling worth as an organizer and a Christian leader and pastor.

His life was gentle; and the elements
So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”

In closing this brief review of the past, with its detail of successful struggle and endeavor, we proffer this to the church as a guiding principle for the future:—

Give to the winds thy fears;
     Hope, and be undismayed;
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
     God shall lift up thy head.

1 The author of this paper.—[Ed.]

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