by Douglas H. Parkhurst April, 2022
The 1896 History of Danbury by James M. Bailey and Susan B. Hill includes a chapter on early churches in town. The Rev. James Vincent, then pastoring the Danbury Universalists, contributed a four-page history of his church to this book. Rev. Vincent began his article by saying that in September 1807 Rev. Hosea Ballou preached at the courthouse the first Universalist sermon ever heard in Danbury. The New England Convention of Universalists was meeting nearby in Newtown and Ballou, a rising star in the denomination, attended this gathering. There is little doubt that Hosea Ballou did visit Danbury during this time. Whether his late summer appearance at the courthouse was the first time Universalism was preached in Danbury bears further investigation.
Universalism came to Connecticut around the time of and following the Revolutionary War. John Murray, known to history as the founder of American Universalism, arrived in New Jersey from England in 1770. Before long, Murray began a career of itinerant preaching along the coast from the Middle Atlantic colonies to New England. Universalist stirrings were also being felt inland. In Connecticut Universalist societies were formed in Norwich, Stafford, Windsor (Poquonock), and possibly Southington before 1800. In 1801, the New England Convention ordained an Episcopalian named Solomon Glover, from an old Newtown family, as “a minister of the gospel and pastor of the church of Universalists in said Newtown.” It is hard to imagine that Rev. Glover did not soon spread the good tidings of Universalism into Danbury, only a short distance away. In 1821, a Danburian named Josiah Dikeman was fellowshipped and ordained by the General Convention of Universalists meeting in Hudson, New York.
Then, on December 9, 1822, a group of twelve men in Danbury formed a Universalist Society. It met at first in the Great Plain area of town, lay-led and meeting in private homes and a nearby schoolhouse. The group later moved to the central village and used meeting space in the courthouse. By 1824 this new Society was part of a circuit of Universalists served by the Rev. Thomas F. King of New York City, then in his 20s and at the beginning of what proved to be a relatively short but significant ministerial career (one of his sons was the eminent Thomas Starr King). Other preachers came and went during the first decade, too, and Danbury’s Universalist Society grew large enough by the 1830’s to construct a building on the northwest corner of present day Main and Wooster Streets and to sponsor a Sunday school. Today this Society is the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (UUCD), in continuous existence under a variety of names and at different locations since 1822. It is among the oldest churches in Danbury. Those which pre-date UUCD, with their present names, are First Congregational Church (1696); St. James Episcopal Church (1762); Baptist Church of Danbury (1790); United Methodist Church (1812); Central Christian Church (1817); and Long Ridge United Methodist Church (1820). A Sandemanian Church was organized in Danbury in 1765 but is long extinct. Also, Congregational Church of Brookfield (1754 when Newbury parish was created from parts of Danbury, New Milford, and Newtown) and First Congregational Church of Bethel (1759 when Bethel parish was created from the southeast part of Danbury) both pre-date UUCD.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury stands in good and venerable company.
by Douglas H. Parkhurst April, 2022