Notes on 200 Years (and More)

by Douglas H. Parkhurst 

This month’s article is adapted from the “Welcome” given by this writer at the bicentennial celebration service of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury, Connecticut, (UUCD) on
Sunday morning, October 16, 2022.

We are here on a very special Sunday. Today we formally mark the 200th anniversary of this church, organized in the Great Plain district of Danbury on December 9, 1822, as the First Universalist Society. This means two centuries of continuous service to the Danbury and for a time the Ridgefield and West Redding communities. In fact we are celebrating 200 years of us, you and me and all those members and friends who came before. We are fortunate to have two talented and energetic members of the clergy now serving us, Rev. Kathleen Rudoff, our consulting minister, and Rev. Sierra-Marie Gerfao, our director of religious education. Prior to their coming approximately sixty clergy have been associated with this congregation. This means an average ministerial tenure of three to four years. There are exceptions but three to four years has been the average. Many were settled ministers. There was at least one circuit rider and others have been part-time. We have had supply, interim, extension, and consulting ministers, a community minister, and a minister as director of religious education. 

As members of the clergy have come and gone faithful lay people have persisted through ups and downs, through times good and not so good. Among those faithful members today are Keith and Marie Dupree who signed our membership book 52 years ago, in 1970, and are still active today. 

Michael and Barbara Searing signed the book in 1973, both were active members until they moved south a few years ago. 

There are those who have been here approximately four decades. Some are with us today in person, perhaps others are present online. Gale Alexander. Members of the Alexander family have been associated with this church since the late 1960s. Bob Bollinger. Donna Lawrence. Janet Swift. Joanne Davidson. Jane Leff. Barbara Myers. 

We remember long-time members who have passed on in recent years. Jean Renjilian. Bill McWilliams. Jack and Kathy Charles. Ross Fenster. George and June Volckhausen. Seabury and Eleanor Lyon. Ann Thorpe. Sally Flatau. Henry and Betty Lewis. Philip Hadley. Mejt Glean. Wayne and Rosemary Raulerson. 

As I was growing up there were other “pillars” of our church. The Olmstead family. The Taylor family. Francis “Spike” Albert. Frank and Sallie Rollins. Edith Ritton. The Voegele family. Arthur Olson. The Parkhurst family. William Wood. Helen Wood. Harry Lincoln and family. The Don Stone family. 

There was Bessie Jackson who with her husband Ralph lived on Hoyt Street near the firehouse. Bessie signed the book in 1908 and was still active in the 1960s. I believe Bessie went with the church when it first moved to West Redding in the early 1970s.

Adelaide Grabert holds a place of honor in our memories, associated with this church for about seventy years, first as assistant organist, then starting in 1897 as organist and choir director. Miss Grabert held these positions for sixty-four years until 1961 when she retired at age ninety. 

There were those who went back earlier in the 20th century and to the 19th. Their last names were familiar in both Danbury and the Universalist society and church. Hubbell. Stuckey. Scott. Fanton. Bates. Foster. Dibble. Hurlburt. Ambler. Peck. Andrews. Clark. Ryder. Hopkins. Heath. Treadwell. 

There are other members and friends from all eras who are too numerous to name here. Some came and went, others stayed for the long haul. They have been an integral part of our heritage and our memories, the backbone and great strength of this and any free church, the lay people.