Notes on 200 Years and More

Notes on Two Hundred Years (and More)

by Douglas H. Parkhurst

This writer, while reviewing church archives, came across an old order of service. It is from First Universalist-Unitarian Church of Danbury (now Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury) and dated Sunday, March 14, 1965. Few orders of service have been preserved over the years and why this one from almost sixty years ago was saved is not obvious. It appears to be from an ordinary late winter Sunday morning with no particularly memorable activities associated with it.

First Universalist-Unitarian Church was located at 347 Main Street though its days in that venerable building were numbered. The years 1964-65 were largely “in-between” years for the congregation as far as ministerial leadership was concerned. Rev. Byron Kelham was called to Danbury in 1962 but moved on to a church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after only two years. Rev. William Horton came as interim minister in 1964-1965. In September 1965 Rev. Horton was succeeded by settled minister Rev. Ralph Bailey, who stayed in Danbury for what became a transitional five years.

Let’s take a look at this old order of service and see what might be similar or different to what is familiar today on Sunday mornings at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury (UUCD). The service leader that long-ago March 14 was Rev. Horton. Jack Rowland was organist. Flowers were given in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Pierce. Harriette and Charles Velie were ushers and coffee hour hosts were Gretchen and Fred Carpenter.

The service began at 11 am with a Prelude, music not specified. Opening Sentences were followed by a Hymn, Heav’n and Earth, and Sea and Air, no. 34 in the hymnal and service book used at that time in the Danbury church. This resource, Hymns of the Spirit, first published in 1937, was a joint effort by the then two denominations, and used for decades in both Universalist and Unitarian churches. It is sometimes called ‘the old red hymnal’ and copies can be found even today in some UU congregations.

A Responsive Reading, no. 54 on page 107, and titled ‘Fellowship’ followed. A Choral Introit was next. Then the Affirmation, as printed in the order of service, was recited:

‘We unite in the efforts of faith:

‘Faith in truth, in the growth of knowledge and of understanding;

‘Faith in love, in the labors and rewards of friendly living;

‘Faith in people, in the power of man to build the kingdom of God on earth;

‘Faith in life, the life of all things that is the life of God, whose service is     

  perfect freedom, whose presence is fullness of joy.’

A Reading, unspecified, preceded the Offertory and Announcements. Hymn no. 76 was next, It Sounds Along the Ages.

Rev. Horton’s sermon was titled “Climb A Tree and Holler.” The title is intriguing; unfortunately we do not have the text.

A final Hymn, O Life that Maketh all Things New, no. 416, brought the service to its Closing Words and Postlude.

The congregation was asked to stand for the three hymns and closing words. Interestingly, the second and third hymns in the service above are included in the UUA’s present-day gray hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, published in 1993.

Printed on the page opposite the order of service were “Notes of the Week,” a listing of church-related activities planned for March 14 to 21. On Sunday evening the Danbury Film Society [meeting at the church] was presenting “Antigone.” The Religious Education Committee would meet Monday evening. Two activities were scheduled for Tuesday. At 7 pm there was Men’s Bowling at Bowlarama. At 8 pm there was an Easter program rehearsal. The Wednesday evening Forum [this group met to consider philosophical ideas] discussion would be Sartre’s play, “Dirty Hands.” On Thursday evening Women’s Bowling was scheduled at Holiday Bowl. Friday was open. On Saturday the LRY [Liberal Religious Youth] group was sponsoring a Cake Sale at North Street Shopping Center in Danbury to raise funds for their newly “adopted” Vietnamese child. Donations and purchases were solicited. And, on Sunday morning, March 21, the guest speaker at the service would be Rev. Alan Deale.

Some additional insights can be offered here. In 1965 the Danbury Universalist-Unitarian Church had 120 members, forty children enrolled in the church school, and an operating budget of $14,000. “Unitarian” had been added to the church name five or so years earlier in anticipation of the 1961 consolidation of the two denominations. Note the order of the two denominational names and the hyphen. As detailed in previous “Notes…” articles the Ridgefield Unitarian Fellowship was organized in 1964 and merged with the Danbury U-Us in 1966 under the new name Unitarian Universalist Society of Northern Fairfield County (UUSNFC). Moving from Main Street in the latter part of 1966, the UUSNFC met in rented quarters through 1969. In 1970 the group moved to West Redding.

Rev. William G. Horton graduated from Columbia College (1950) and Meadville Theological School (1954). Before coming to Danbury as interim minister he was settled in New Jersey and Alberta, Canada. After his brief stay in Danbury Rev. Horton pastored a church in Springfield, Massachusetts. Later he moved to Alfred, New York, and worked as an administrator for the State University there.

The Danbury U-U church was home to the Danbury Film Society which screened movies on a monthly basis. Bowlarama and Holiday Bowl were popular local bowling alleys of that era. Liberal Religious Youth or LRY was the denominational high school youth group, formed in 1953 by merger of American Unitarian Youth and the Universalist Youth Fellowship (a successor organization to the Young People’s Christian Union or YPCU). In 1965-66 the continental president of LRY was William Sinkford, much later to become president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Barbara Ratchford was for several years adult advisor to the local LRY group. Rev. Alan Deale, scheduled guest speaker for March 21, was at the time minister of Church of the Christian Union (Unitarian) in Rockford, Illinois.

It should be noted, too, that in 1965 Rev. Dr. Raymond Hopkins, a Danbury native who grew up in the Universalist church and who in his youth was active in YPCU, was executive vice president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the first person to hold this office. Also, Robert Jeffries, president of Data-Control Systems, Inc., a local electronics instrumentation firm, who joined the Danbury church in 1958, was elected at the 1965 denominational General Assembly to a four year term as a trustee of the UUA.

At the bottom of the order of service were printed these words: “We welcome all guests and visitors to our Church and ask that you sign our Guest Book which our hostess will present. Please come back soon — and often.”