Notes on 200 Years and More

Notes on Two Hundred Years (and More)
by Douglas H. Parkhurst

New lay leaders, whether serving Unitarian Universalist groups styled churches, congregations, fellowships, or societies, quickly become aware of the weekly and monthly challenges, problems, and opportunities facing their organizations. Such issues might involve preaching and worship services, religious education, building maintenance and repair, clergy and employee relations, music, denominational affairs, identifying volunteers for offices and committees, finances, fundraising, membership, and public relations (hopefully not all at once!). And, this is nothing new. Let’s take a look back to 1873-74, one hundred fifty years ago, and see what issues the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury’s (UUCD) lay leaders were addressing at that time. Denominational records indicate fourteen active Universalist societies in Connecticut with about eighty-nine members in the Danbury group and a Sunday school in existence since 1838. [Note – There were two active Unitarian societies in Connecticut in 1873-74, in Brooklyn and Hartford.] Rev. Dwight M. Hodge, then in his late twenties, was in the midst of his decade-long pastorate in Danbury. The church’s home, a traditional wooden structure about twenty years old, was on Liberty St., off Main. The following excerpts are from First Universalist Society of Danbury meeting minutes beginning in October 1873.

“Notice, The First Universalist Society of Danbury will hold their Annual Meeting, on Wednesday Oct. 15 [1873], to elect Officers for the year ensuing, and to do any other business, that may be brought before said meeting….

“Met in accordance with the above notice. Bro. Stephen Bates as Moderator….The following persons were admitted, (by vote), members of the Society, viz. Alfred Husk, Mrs. L.L. Hubbell, Mrs. Joseph T. Bates, Mrs. Mercy A. Foot, Mrs. Cynthia Norton….The following were elected officers for the year ensuing, viz. Executive Committee [Trustees], Timothy H. Foster, Lewis A. Ward and Luman L. Hubbell. Treasurer, Alfred A. Heath. Clerk, Luman L. Hubbell. Collector, Ammon T. Peck. Agent of the Society, Alfred A. Heath. Voted, That the Executive Committee be empowered to make the necessary repairs upon the Church Building….”

No meeting minutes are recorded until the following entry dated March 23, 1874.

“Notice. The members of the First Universalist Society…are hereby warned to attend a Special Meeting of said Society…on Monday March 30, 1874, at 7:30 o’clock P.M. to take action in regard to the settling of a Pastor over said Society & to arrange for the payment of the indebtedness of the Society….
“Met in accordance with the above notice. Bro A.T. Peck appointed, Moderator….Voted, that Amos L. Hoyt and Catholine [sic] F. Hoyt, his wife, be admitted members of this Society. Voted, That we pay Bro. Hodge, the amount due him, tomorrow. Voted, That the Executive Committee give their note for $220 for two months, and that the Subscriptions now due, as collected, be reserved as a fund to pay the same when it becomes due. Voted, That we hire Bro. Hodge by the month at the rate of $1,000 a year, from April 1, 1874. Voted, That the Society’s Committee, transmit to Bro. Hodge, a copy of the vote extending a Call, and to get his reply in writing, and report at future meeting. Voted, That the Society’s Committee pass over to the Treasurer, the mortgage and note securing the loan of the Andrews Legacy….” [Note – The Andrews Legacy was a bequest of $400 made in 1870 to the Society by the will of the late John L. Andrews of Bethel. The Society invested the money in one or more first mortgages. Today the purchasing power of $400 would be about $10,000.]

The meeting adjourned to Thursday evening, April 2. 1874.

“April 2, 1874….Bro. T.H. Foster, reported that a draft for $100 had been received from the Missionary Board….Voted, That the Pastor be allowed four (4) weeks vacation, during the year to be taken at his option. Voted, That his contract can be annulled by either party, on giving thirty (30) days notice….

“Notice, The members of the First Universalist Society of Danbury, are hereby warned to attend a Special meeting of said Society…on Saturday, May 23, 1874, at 7:30 P.M. for the purpose of instructing the Society’s Committee in regard to repairing the church building, and putting the fences and outbuildings in proper and necessary condition, also to take the necessary steps or action for the payment of the debt incurred thereby….”

The Society met and adjourned on May 23 and the same on May 24.

“Sunday, May 31, 1874. Met pursuant to adjournment. Bro. A.T. Peck, presided. Voted, That the Society’s Committee make the necessary repairs and the addition to the church premises. Voted, That the Committee procure plans and specifications of the work to be done, and receive proposals for the same….

“Saturday, June 13, 1874….[The Society met and] Voted, That the Ex. Committee be authorized to draw up plans and specifications for raising the Church building [ ] feet, so as to provide three rooms in the Basement 9 1/2 feet in the clear, – to be floored all over and finished, and said committee to receive bids and estimates for completing the same…

“June 20, 1874, The Society met…Bro. Stephen Bates as Moderator….Voted, That we build an addition in rear of the Church, size 20 feet by 35 feet, and also all necessary repairs. Voted, that the work shall not be commenced until 33 1/3 of the estimated expense shall have been subscribed. Voted, That Luman L. Hubbell be appointed a Special Agent, to mortgage the Church property for 2/3 of the actual expense of the repairs and addition….”

At a meeting on July 6, 1874, it was reported that $485 had been subscribed for the repairs and work on the church. The Executive Committee was also empowered to employ Messrs. Boughton and Short to do the stone work at the rate of 12 1/2 cents per foot.

July 10, 1874….[Stephen Bates wrote in a letter to the Clerk] You will please take notice that I cease to be a member of [this] Society from this date. You will please erase my name from the same….[Note – We do not know what prompted the resignation of this prominent member. In any event Stephen Bates was readmitted to the Society by vote on October 24, 1875.]

“July 16, 1874…Voted, that the Society’s Committee give their note for $500 for two months, to be used in paying on church repairs….

“August 17, 1874…Voted, That we procure eight Settees for the new Sunday School Room. Voted, That the matter of having an ornamental window over the pulpit be left to the discretion of the Ex. Committee….

“August 31, 1874…Bro. T.H. Foster as Moderator. Voted, That we rescind the vote…instructing the Special Agent ‘to mortgage the Church property for two thirds of the actual expense of the repairs and addition.’ Voted, That the Special Agent be authorized to ask for, and, if possible, to obtain Five Hundred Dollars ($500) in addition to the amount already asked for, from the Savings Bank, making Fourteen Hundred ($1400) Dollars in all….”

Three brief meetings were held in September. The Society’s 1874 annual meeting was conducted on the evening of Wednesday, October 21. Officers for 1874-75 were chosen. Discussion and action regarding church property and finances continued. Rev. Hodge’s next rehiring, salary, and conditions of employment dominated Society meetings into the first part of 1875.

Corrections to a recent article – In the third paragraph of the November 2023 article the sentence “The main entrance…opened into the large auditorium (sanctuary)….” should read “The main entrance…opened into a small lobby leading to the large auditorium (sanctuary)….” Also, in the last paragraph of the November 2023 article the word “precededed” should be spelled “preceded.”