History

The founding of the Roxbury Congregational Church dates back to the grandmother church, the Congregational Church of Stratford, Connecticut.

In 1672, a group from that church was granted by the General Court of Connecticut, “liberty to erect a plantation at Pomperoage.” Fifteen families came up the Housatonic River and then the  Shepaug River, having missed the entrance to the Pomperaug River. They exited the river about the present day, Weller’s Bridge Road area. They traveled through what is now  the center of Roxbury and spent their first night on the ridge just west of Good Hill. This is about in the area of Lower County  and Old Roxbury Roads. They then continued on into the valley of the Pomperaug. The following year, it was made a town and called Woodbury. Woodbury included what is now Bethlehem, Washington, Roxbury, Southbury, and parts of Middlebury.

What is now known as Roxbury was a part of Woodbury called the Shippaug district until 1796 when it became the Town of Roxbury.

In 1731, the inhabitants of this district petitioned the General Assembly for liberty to have a preacher in the difficult times of the year because they were four to seven miles from the Congregational meetinghouse (church sanctuary) in Woodbury.

Their petition for “winter privileges” was granted for the four months and in 1732, a small meetinghouse was erected on the crest of the first ridge west of the present Roxbury-Woodbury town line. For many years after that the inhabitants petitioned for a separate parish but these petitions were opposed by people living near the Woodbury meetinghouse.

 

It was on May 27, 1743, that the General Assembly of Connecticut said, “Inhabitants are hereby made one distinct Ecclesiastical Society and it shall be called Roxbury.” There are several theories why this name was chosen, but it is known that many of the original Stratford settlers came from Roxbury, Massachusetts.

On April 16, 1744, a call was given to the church’s first minister, The Reverend Thomas Canfield, at a salary of £251/2 per annum. He accepted and his ordination in the meetinghouse took place on August 22, 1744.

In 1746, a larger meetinghouse was built at the same site.

Rev. Canfield served as minister 51 years until his death in 1795. The grave of his wife and two of his children are beside him in the old church burial ground. The inscription on his tombstone reads:  “O what is man, poor feeble man whose life is but a narrow span. Here lies entombed in earth and dust the reverend meek, the mild, the just.”

Colonel Seth Warner of Revolutionary War fame was a member of the church, a neighbor, and a friend of Rev. Canfield. In ill health, he returned to Roxbury from the war in 1781 and died on December 26, 1784. The Reverend Canfield conducted the service. His following remarks were taken from 2 Samuel 1:27: “How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” He was buried in the Old Roxbury Cemetery. In 1795, he was joined in the next grave by the Reverend Canfield.

By 1795, most of the inhabitants of Roxbury were down in the valley at what is the present town center, so a new meetinghouse was built on Church Street in the center. This was located approx. at what is now 12 Church Street.

 

In 1838, the present meetinghouse was built a few rods east of the building of 1795. At a cost of about $2500.

 

And in 1843, a building was erected to serve the needs of the church and community. It was called the “Chapel.” It served as a a town school building, as well for church school and as a boy scout hall.

In the 1940 the Roxbury Congregational Church became yoked with the Bridgewater Congregational Church. This meant that we shared ministerial leadership, but remained separate congregations. Rev. Charles Sebold became the first joint minister. This was the result of what was happening in many small Connecticut towns during that time. The population of Roxbury decreased from 1,210 in 1810 to 660 in 1949.

With the post-war expansion, Roxbury started to grow again. In 1965 with the population back to where it was 150 years previously, and with a strong and vigorous church, the members called the Reverend George Wright as their pastor only. This accomplished by the wise leadership and counsel of the last minister of the yoked churches, the Rev. Charles Gerlinger who remained as minister of the  Bridgewater church.

It was during Rev. Gerlinger’s ministry here that two significant events occured which had a large effect on the congregation.  In the early 1950’s the church voted to approve the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. This was affirmed again in 1955. However, in the following years and with requests for the vote of the church by the Conference, opposition developed. Many meetings were held and many voices were heard until finally on May 15, 1962, the final vote was taken for us to be a part of the new merged denomination, the United Church of Christ.

Secondly, with rapid growth of the church, the chapel was outgrown for the use of the Sunday School. In the late 1950s, plans were made for an addition to the meetinghouse for Sunday School rooms. The plans provided for a wing on the church similar to the wing on the Congregational Church in Litchfield. The wing would be on the east side of the meetinghouse where horse sheds had stood 30 years before.

Some members of the church felt that this wing would destroy the beauty of the meetinghouse and steps were taken to prevent this  addition from being built. Quit claim deeds to the land where the horse sheds had stood were passed by some of the original owner’s descendants to other hands and action was taken in the Superior Court of Connecticut contesting the ownership of this land by the church.

On the west side of the meetinghouse stood a house call the “Farmer residence” which was for sale. Some members of the church felt that the purchase of this property would buy the church a parsonage ( the earlier parsonage west of the former chapel was sold in the 1950’s) and a Sunday school. The land directly next to the church would provide parking space.

After many meetings and many votes, a compromise was worked out in 1959. All court action would cease. The church would buy the Farmer house and would agree not to build a wing on the east side of the meetinghouse for at least 15 years.

The first minister to reside in this new parsonage, was also the first minister to serve only the Roxbury Church in 25 years. The Rev. George Wright came from a pastorate in Montana in 1965, serving until December 1970. During this time a number of ecumenical activities were started including the Roxbury InterParish Bulletin, which continues as the Roxbury Church’s newsletter until this day. He resigned to give full time to pastoral counseling, but continued to an active member of the church.

His successor, The Rev. Harry Peatt, came from an Stamford, where he was an Assistant Minister, in August 1971 and was installed as Pastor on January 30, 1972. The Rev. Peatt served until March 1973.

From March 1973 until June 1, 1974, the church was served by several supply ministers. On June 1, 1974, The Rev. Donald Westerberg, a recent Yale University Divinity School graduate, was called as pastor.  During his ten years of ministry, the church continued to grow and space needs became more apparent. Rev. Westerberg resigned to become a pastoral counselor full-time in November 1984.

On September 7, 1986, The Rev. David Peters was called as Minister, after serving as Associate Minister at the First Congregational Church in Danbury.  As Rev. Peters began his ministry in Roxbury, one of the first tasks to be accomplished by the congregation was the fund-raising for and construction of a Parish House addition.

This was supported enthusiastically by the congregation . The Chapel building was moved down the street in January of 1989 to the east side of the meetinghouse and an addition constructed between the two. The new Parish House was dedicated on April 29, 1990. The church has seen a surge in attendance and membership in recent years as a great number of young active families have moved into Roxbury.

During 1992 and 1993, the church meetinghouse interior and exterior were renovated in time to celebrate the church celebration of 250 years as a Distinct Ecclesiastical Society. During this year, a new emphasis was initiated to minister to and with our regional city center, nearby Danbury. In 1996 a complete renovation was done of the Parsonage at 28 Church Street.

Recently, our congregation has found itself in the midst of societial and demographic changes and challenges. While strong in spirit, the Roxbury community has had less children than in years past and this is reflected in our church school and youth programs. Our congregation has been actively seeking ways to serve God in the future. We see that it is important to help those who gather to make connections and support a community where we find ourselves. There is a new interest in finding ways for church members to join with community members to seek to share God's love in our daily lives and in special and unique ways. The future is rich with possibilities!

         The future holds great promise with plenty of talent, faith and love. As John Robinson said as the pilgrims left the shores for America, “The Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of  his Holy Word.”
                           Ministers of the Roxbury Congregational Church

                                                      Served   From:    To:

1.  The Reverend Thomas Canfield                  1743           1795

2.  The Reverend Zephaniah Swift                   1797           1812

3.  The Reverend Fosdic Harrison                   1813           1835

4.  The Reverend Austin Isham                       1839           1863

5.  The Reverend Oliver Stone Dean               1864           1867

6.  The Reverend J. Howe Vorce                     1868           1869

7.  The Reverend Arthur Goodenough             1869           1870

8.  The Reverend David Evan Jones                1871           1886

9.  The Reverend Henry H. Morse                    1887           1887

10. The Reverend  George H. Burgess            1888           1890

11. The Reverend M. Ross Fishburn                1891           1892

12. The Reverend Edward Fairbank                 1892           1883

13. The Reverend John Jones Vaugn               1893           1895

14. The Reverend George A. Bushee               1896           1898

15. The Reverend Burt Leon Yorke                  1899           1901

16. The Reverend  Alfred E. Thistleton             1901           1903

17. The Reverend E. A. Bloomfield                  1904           1904

18. The Reverend Clay Dent Chunn                1905           1908

19. The Reverend James O. Emerson             1909           1928

20. The Reverend Oviatt E. Desmond              1928           1929

21. The Reverend Paul W. Sprague                 1929           1936

22. The Reverend Charlton Bates Strayer        1938           1940

23.* The Reverend Charles E. Sebold              1940           1941

24.* The Reverend Charles Libby Ives              1942           1948

25.* The Reverend Kelsie Martin                      1949           1950

26.* The Reverend Kenneth W. Steers             1951           1953

27.* The Reverend  C. Robert Knittle               1953           1957

28.* The Reverend Charles Gerlinger              1957           1964

* also served as Minister at the Bridgewater Congregational Church.

29.  The Reverend George T. Wright               1965           1970

30.  The Reverend Harry L. Peatt                    1971           1973

31.  The Reverend Donald H. Westerberg      1974           1984

32.  The Reverend David F. Peters                 1986           present

 

Ministers who either were interims or supplied the pulpit for a significant period:

The Reverend Charles Dinsmore                     1936           1937

The Reverend Charles E. Benedict                  1937           1938

The Reverend Sumner Johnson                       1950           1951

The Reverend Robert Martin                           1985           1986

The Reverend Alan Hundevad                        1986           1986


Associate Ministers

1. The Rev. Diane Monti-Catania                     2005            2010

 

1974  by the late Elmer Worthington, Church Historian

 updated 1993

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