THE BRIDGEWATER CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH/UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
HISTORY FROM 1793 TO PRESENT
January 1, 1793 marks the official date of the beginning of the Congregational Society in Bridgewater. Services were held in the North Bridgewater Schoolhouse. “The North Bridgewater Congregationalists were noted for unity and peace.” John Ransom was ordained pastor in 1795. Tithing men were elected at Town meetings prior to 1800. It is felt that many of the North Bridgewater parishioners are buried in the North Bridgewater cemetery.
Between 1816 and 1897, despite the lack of pastors, services were conducted. A survey in 1844, suggested the Society establish the gospel in the Village. The North Bridgewater congregation opposed outside interference, not many in the Corners were interested; but in the Village a dozen people responded positively. The North Bridgewater Congregational Society moved to the Village. Meetings were thought held during this period at the Meeting House.
The Congregational Church was built in 1879 by William C. Bugbee, contractor. The dedication occurred September 2, 1880. Later in the year, the 650-pound bell was placed in the belfry. The bell is still ringing 136-years later.
In the 1889, the Church hosted the Windsor County Conference. Plymouth joined with the Church increasing the membership. The Bridgewater Woolen Mill had shut down and the hope was it would start up again and sustain keeping a minister.
Periods in church history we were without a minister; and a time when the building was not used. In 1924, a group discussed a need for renovations, which were achieved.
In 1943, Harold Perkins reported in the “Congregational Vermont” “In the one hundred and forty-eight years the church had thirty-five ministers; and an aggregate of seventy-eight years showed there had been no pastor.”
In 1944, Burnside Holt did the reconstruction work on the foundation. A young Bill Geno worked along side of him. It was noted that Mr. Holt did not charge for any of his time.
World War II (WWII) created a need for supplies. The Bridgewater Woolen Mill began working to capacity attracting families to Bridgewater. Membership increased. In 1944, improvements were achieved with a hall and kitchen. Following WWII the church retained resident ministers. After 1965, there were lay preachers and temporary clergy. A long serving pastor, Pam Lucas resigned in 2000. Our current pastor, Beverly Anderson, has been with us since 2003. Her services are shared with the Sherburne United Church of Christ.
The Original name was the Bridgewater Community Congregational Church. In 1957, the Church merged with the Evangelical Reformed Church becoming a part of that denomination. In December 1997, a vote to officially accept the name, “The Bridgewater Congregational Church/United Church of Christ” was accepted.
The Church has struggled for years to meet expenses. Major problems addressed need of a furnace, oil tank, replacement of the well pump, interior/exterior painting, and enlargement of the kitchen. Loans were taken to help defray costs. Church members devoted their time to manual labor. Horace Carr and Jack Dix knocked down the concrete wall to make way for a bigger kitchen. Jack built the cabinets. Rick Parkhurst painted. Dick Brackett worked on gas connections. Ruth Needham donated the Formica counters. Jay Hickory laid flooring and hung ceiling tiles.
By 2013, due to an aging population, higher expenses, and less income it was obvious the church was facing tough decisions. A consultant, Reverend James Thomas from the Vermont Conference United Church of Christ was invited to discuss possible options. Close. Sell. Involve the community. He suggested community would rally around for a year but support would not last. Following the annual meeting of 2013, “It was decided and warned to hold a church meeting to include the Bridgewater community to discuss the future options of the church.” Pastor Anderson and the moderator, Joan Tarleton submitted a letter to the Vermont Standard notifying parties interested of the upcoming meeting April 6, 2014. Community members attended including from Bethany Mennonite and Oak Chapel. The community wanted the Church to remain open.
Suggestions were made to send a letter to the community asking for advice and ideas. Place a barometer to assess progress. A dinner was planned with members of the community who devoted time and energy to help out. A pledge letter was sent out. Members and non-members rallied to help the church.
In the past, the Ladies of the church had been instrumental in helping the church meet expenses, including helping with pastor’s salary, buying pew cushions, and the water heater. The ladies published a cookbook in 1989.
In 2014, members and friends came together again rallying to help the church in this year of crisis. The group met weekly to look at ways to make the church more relevant to the community. It was decided to update the cookbook. Bridgewater businesses advertised, helping to defray publishing costs. Gloria Martin and Alice Paglia suggested having three foliage breakfasts. These were so well-received the Church decided to have one breakfast a month from September through May. Suppers were restarted. The Fire Department hosts a ham and bean supper in the church hall. Nancy Robinson suggested that we participate in Bridgewater Celebration Days. For the past two years, Sandra Russ has donated a quilt to be raffled. The Olmstead family donated a jug of maple syrup to the raffle. The Christmas bazaar is back on track.
One loan has been paid off; but there is still much to do. Building-wise we mirror where we were in 1999 regarding painting of the roof/building. The walkway is deteriorating, the second bathroom needs updating; and the furnace is 22-years old.
Pastor Anderson’s leadership has provided Bible Study groups, home/hospital visitations, Vespers at the Homestead and Merten’s House. In the past year, the Pastor conducted 12 baptisms, four new members joined, and there have been weddings performed, along with funerals and graveside services.
One goal of the church was to give back to the community that had been instrumental in helping the church to move forward. The church donated to the Veteran’s Flag Fund honoring those giving their lives so we can freely worship as we choose. The Church donated to a benefit to help a resident. Fruit and cookie trays are delivered to those who cannot leave their homes.
In an article by Walter E. Houghton, he said it best, “When my Mom and Dad died I came to realize even more what a special place Bridgewater was. It was hard to distinguish between family and community.” We see this camaraderie at Sunday services, breakfast buffets, and the suppers where four generations of a family will sit down together. Old friends greeting friends, and making new friends.
I attended Sunday school and Vacation Bible School in the 1940s in this Church. As youngsters, Lorraine Knudsen and I performed a piano duet on stage in the church hall. I share this because people say you can never go back; but I beg to differ. My family left Bridgewater to seek employment elsewhere. After several years, we came back as often as possible as there is no other place we would rather be. In 1994 and in 2003 when my parents passed away, it was this Church that saw us through our losses, just as they had when other family members had passed on before. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at the Bridgewater Congregational Church/UCC.”
Respectfully submitted by,
Karole A. (Thompson) Messier
Adams, Gladys S. Bridgewater Vermont 1779-1976 pgs. 27-30.
Taylor, Doris, Secretary. Reading at Rededication Program, July 14, 1946.
Church Newsletter Notes from the Belfry. 1989-2000.