Notes on 200 Years & More

Notes on Two Hundred Years (and More)

by Douglas H. Parkhurst

Continued from June 2024…

Late winter 1956 saw a new minister at First Universalist Church (now Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury or UUCD). Ordained in 1949, the Rev. Frederick L. Harrison came to Danbury from serving two congregations, the Orange Universalist Church in Orange, and the North Orange Community Church in North Orange, Massachusetts. As it happened, his time in Danbury would be brief, about a year. In the spring of 1957 Mr. Harrison assumed the full-time position of superintendent of Universalist churches in Massachusetts and Connecticut, following the retirement of Rev. Dr. Clinton Lee Scott.

Nonetheless, 1956-57 was busy and fruitful for First Universalist. It was the start of a half-decade long period of growth in and vitalization of the congregation, under the guidance of Rev. Harrison and his successor, the Rev. Gaston M. Carrier.

Rev. Harrison’s formal installation service and reception were planned for early May. A minister will customarily present ideas for a local church’s development and improvement as he or she begins a new pastorate there. So it was with Mr. Harrison. Among his first suggestions to the Danbury church officers and trustees was adoption of what is noted in church records as the “Hanson Fund Raising Plan,” apparently an organized and effective method of financial stewardship. A two part canvass was scheduled for early April 1956, with a special gifts canvass to be followed by the regular yearly campaign. A budget proposal for the 1956-57 church year would be presented at First Universalist’s annual meeting on April 26. Among offices needing to be filled for the coming year were two three-year trustee positions; treasurer and assistant treasurer; clerk; agent; head usher; superintendent of the church school; and weekly offering collector.

Among First Universalist’s officers and trustees, and committee and other active members during this period were the following [note – this list is not all-inclusive]: Frank Keaney, board chairman; Carol Stage, clerk; Richard Thompson, collector; Edith Ritton; Albin Voegele; Wilbur Olmstead; Walter Sweet; Arthur Wilson; Jack Rowland; Francis Albert; Louis Morgan; Wallace Parkhurst; Bessie Jackson; Paul Hull; Donald Stone; Arlene Bazarian; Louise Parkhurst; Pauline Olmstead; Clifford Taylor; Ralph Jackson; Charlene Shepard; Elizabeth Stannard; Irene Clark; Sallie Rollins; Frank Rollins. Rev. Harrison regularly attended board meetings.

Organist and choir director Adelaide Grabert continued her now sixty year tenure at First Universalist. Roger Taylor would substitute for her if and when needed.

Reorganization of the church’s religious education program was undertaken. A chairperson would lead a five member RE committee which would in turn oversee the church school superintendent and an RE clerk. Francis Albert was chair of this committee; Vinson Bronson was appointed superintendent; and Marion Keaney was clerk. Teachers included Judy Genest; Louise Parkhurst; and Tisha Walton. Time would be added to Sunday school sessions (10:15 to 11:45 am) and children would occasionally participate in Sunday morning worship services. Improvements were made to existing classroom space. First Universalist’s most recent youth group had evidently run out of steam and a new youth group with six members was formed with Arlene Bazarian as advisor. An All Day Institute for Religious Education was planned for January 1957. And, adult religious education study groups were instituted which proved popular. A half-dozen or so of these groups met that church year. Most of their topics are lost now to history, but two mentioned in board minutes of March 11, 1957, are The Old Testament and the Life of Jesus.

Maintenance work was done on the church heating system and organ. The front vestibule was redecorated. Repairs were required in some ceiling plaster. A fire escape was needed at the rear of the building. Already underway by early 1956 were repairs and renovations to the parsonage at 17 Homestead Avenue, in preparation for putting this house on the market. Archie Olmstead was accorded special recognition for his work on this project. A larger house at 37 Pleasant Street in Danbury had been under consideration as a new parsonage. This house was purchased (price $19,500) in time to become the home of Rev. Harrison and his family, which included wife Gladys and their three children. It would be home to First Universalist’s clergy through the end of Rev. Ralph C. Bailey’s pastorate in 1970.

To be continued in August 2024…