Our History 1846-1996
In 1844 The Rev. Charles P. Grosvenor, resident pastor of the North Scituate Congregational Church, was preaching one Sunday a month for Chepachet area residents of the Congregationalist faith at the Chepachet Meeting House, which was built in 1821. “The Proprietors of the Chepachet Meeting House” was charted in 1822. This organization still owns the building now known as Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church. Rev. Grosvenor saw a need of the community and brought to the Congregationalists a young man, Orin F. Otis, from the Yale Theological School to hold services at the Meeting House. The Baptists at the time did not hold regular services. The meeting house was occupied for two years by the group during which time the idea of building a Congregational church was conceived and Mr. Otis labored diligently to secure the funds to build.
The Glocester Evangelical Congregational Society was chartered in January 1845. Sufficient funds for a building were raised through a “Subscription Plan”. Land was purchase from the minor children of Mrs. Laura Hunt and the building was erected by Jesse Potter and Cyrus Eddy at the following costs:
Purchase of Land $200.00
Lot Preparation $340.00
Contract for the Building $2450.00
Cost of Lecture Room $245.00
Cost of Bell $230.00 (Peter Grinell & Sons)
Erection of Sheds, etc. $400.00
Total Costs $4005.00
On March 11, 1846, Mr. Otis was ordained and installed as pastor of the Chepachet Congregational Church. The meeting house was dedicated on March 12, 1846.
A Sabbath School was organized in 1847. Following Mr. Otis’ leaving in 1864, the Sabbath School was held at the Baptist Church. 1864-1870 was the period of discouragement. The church needed repair and membership was low. The Ladies Benevolent Society was organized by Mrs. Paris Irons in February 1866 and this group did what they could to raise funds for the pulpit expenses. During this six-year period the Episcopal Christ Church held services for a brief time. The Sons of Temperance met regularly in the vestry until 1886.
The church membership rebounded and in 1876, a tracker organ built by George Stevens of East Cambridge, Massachusetts, was installed with the financial help of Mr. Joseph Smith. Up to this time music had been provided by a harmonium or small ensembles of either string or woodwind instruments.
The Rho Delta Club was formed in 1935 by members of a young women’s Sunday School class. Their aim was “A Project a Month for the Church”. With the disbanding of the Martha Circle in 1975, the Rho Delta became the only women’s group and its efforts have made a significant financial contribution to Chepachet Union Church.
On September 21, 1938, the hurricane destroyed the top of the steeple tower. This has never been replaced.
1951 was a significant year for the Union Church of Chepachet. The Glocester Evangelical Congregational Society turned its land and holdings over to Union Church and Union Church of Chepachet incorporated. The Society disbanded.
In recent years, the Free Will Baptist Church has been reactivated and regular worship services and activities are being held.
Union Church was a growing congregation with increased membership and the Sunday School enrollment necessitated more space to provide this ministry. In 1956, abutting 12 acres of land and buildings were purchased from Mrs. Benjamin F. Steere, Sr. for $18,000. The large residence was used as a Christian Education Center. By 1960, that facility was overcrowded and more space was needed.
A building expansion drive for an Education Wing and Fellowship Hall was undertaken in 1961. Groundbreaking for these facilities was held in October 1962. The cost of this expansion was $180,000 and Henry H. Lewin, Inc. was to be the builder. The Christian Education Center was razed. Dedication of the new building was in November 1963.
In 1964, the Angell property, south of the church was purchased for $21,000 to become the parsonage. The former parsonage was razed.
On November 21, 1971, a new organ, replacing the tracker organ installed in 1876, was used for the first time. Dedication of the new instrument was in March of 1972. The original organ was purchased and restored by a church in New York.
A mechanical bell ringer was installed and the belfry restored with donated funds in 1974.
The Mortgage-Burning Celebration for the Education Wing and Fellowship Hall was held on October 29, 1978. The Fellowship Hall was dedicated to George D. Greenhalgh.
In 1980 it was voted to seek an associate pastor whose focus would be on the growing education program. Shoushan M. Salibian was ordained and installed as Associate Pastor in January 1982.
A life-long member of the Union Church, Ethel Corbin, was ordained in the sanctuary in 1986. Ethel was the Sunday School Superintendent and gave much time and devotion to her work in the church.
The stained glass window was given in 1884 in memory of Henry Clay White, a prominent business man, by his wife, Mary. The Whites were active members of the church.
In 1893, funds raised by subscription and donations enabled the Glocester Evangelical Congregational Society to purchase the abutting property, north of the church for a parsonage. The property was bought for $3000 from Mr. and Mrs. Edwin J. Valentine.
The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor was formed in union with the Free Will Baptist Church in 1896. The society did great work in strengthening both churches.
Prior to the turn of the century many musical programs were held in the “auditorium” and frequent social gatherings and meetings were conducted in the vestry.
In 1906 the church was closed for seven weeks due to a diphtheria epidemic in the town.
On July 1, 1914, the Great Trolley Day, a town celebration for the start of trolley service from Providence to Chepachet, was held. There was a parade of all types of transportation of the period and festivities were held on the church grounds. Over 1300 persons attended and 175 gallons of chowder, thousands of clamcakes and over 100 watermelon were consumed at an “old fashioned” clam dinner.
By 1920 there had been considerations given by the Baptist and Congregational congregations to unite, “to reach a sufficiently high plane of Christian living through religious work and worship in the community”. A recommendation for this union was approved by both congregations in November 1920 and the Union Church of Chepachet was formed. Ownership of the meeting houses and holding remained with each society. Services were held six months of the year in each building. Since the Congregational church has more efficient heat, services and activities were held here during the colder months. Officers and committees were representative of both congregations.
A ladies group, the Union Church Society, was formed in 1921 and in later years became the Martha Circle. This group functioned as a vital arm of the church.
In 1927, the Union Church members voted to support foreign missions through the two denominational (Baptist and Congregational) boards. Mission funds were to be divided equally. This practice continues today.
To provide wholesome holiday activity for the community on Independence Day, July 4th, the Christian Endeavor, under the guidance of Rev. Elden G. Bucklin, organized the Ancients and Horribles Parade in 1927. A food concession, a band concert and the awarding of parade prizes on the church grounds were part of the festivities. The parade continues today and has become a community sponsored event.
A Constitution and By Laws for Union Church was adopted in 1928.
Renovation of the sanctuary was undertaken in 1989. The walls were re-plastered and painted, a new sound system and colonial style chandeliers were installed and the memorial cross was hung. New lighting and carpet were installed in the foyer.
The Education Wing was named the Lewin Building in honor of Henry H. Lewin in 1990. Henry was the builder of the addition and has contributed greatly to the church in many ways over the years.
Our meeting house has offered over the years a comprehensive music program for worship services and other occasions. Peterson organ chimes were purchased in 1993 and in 1994 the belfry was refurbished and a Schulmerich Carillon was installed. These items were funded from memorial gifts.
As Union Church of Chepachet celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the building of the meeting house, it is once again undertaking a major renovation and expansion of the building. Growth in the church family and Sunday School with over 240 children and adults enrolled has necessitated this need to effectively continue our work for the glory of God.