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Uniquely Medfield: Guiding the Flock, Medfield's UCC Church

Town Historian and Patch columnist Richard DeSorgher highlights aspects of the town of Medfield that make it unique.

 

The United Church of Christ’s history begins with that of the First Parish Church, located on North Street. 

In 1828, the first 11 members had broken away from the original church, organized in 1651. The break followed a controversy of more than a decade concerning the Trinitarian-Unitarian Doctrine, which was a major issue in eastern Massachusetts at that time.

The painful decision was intensified by the raging controversy of the day between the traditional Christian thought and the new Unitarian thinking that supported the individual spirit as the ultimate true reality which equaled the spirit of God. Sides were drawn and stands taken. 

A radical break with this concept of underemphasizing man in the God-man relationship was made resulting in a division of beliefs between Trinitarians and Unitarians. Those who sought change eventually moved towards acceptance of Unitarianism.

The struggles of conscience became so intolerable that a petition asking for dismissal was entered on June 9, 1827. It was denied. A second petition was submitted with a favorable acceptance on October 3, 1827. The church then divided with those members accepting Unitarianism staying in the old church (what was then called the First Parish or First Congregational Church), and others holding to the beliefs of Trinitarians forming the Second Congregational or Orthodox Church. Six new members joined the 11 dissenters and on February 6, 1828 the Orthodox Church was officially founded.

The first service was held with Rev. Edward Beecher of Boston preaching. He was the brother of the author Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame.

Seventeen persons were present at the service held in the parlor of Mary Derby’s home on 6 Frairy Street, today known as the Dwight-Derby House. Members continued to meet in private homes and then in the hall above Isaac Fiske’s store (located where the Mobil gas station is today) until 1832 when the first church building, paid for by the sale of pews, was dedicated. It stood on the site of the present church on Main Street.

That first church was modeled after the Meeting House in the town of Mendon.  It was 50 feet by 40 feet and cost $2,500.  Rev. Granger had become the first minister. His salary was $500. Services were held both morning and evening on Sunday. Membership continued to grow annually by about 10 people and included Medfield native and famed author Hannah Adams. 

During the year 1873, a chapel was built next to the meeting house. On the night of September 20, 1876, the Church, with all its contents and the chapel, were destroyed by fire. Within the following year, a new church was built and furnished at the cost of $9,800.  

In 1879, a parsonage was also erected on adjoining land. It was later moved to Brook Street during the 1988 renovations. 

In 1897, the congregation voted to join the National Congregational Church of 1833. The church was re-organized and officially named the 2nd Congregational Church of Medfield.

In 1898, during a major lightning storm, the church was damaged by a lightning bolt that struck the north side of the spire, some 10 feet below the weathervane and tore away the entire north side of the spire.

During that storm, many of the finest trees in town were destroyed by the high winds. Telegraph and telephone lines fell, chimneys were blown down, and the washouts upon the streets were numerous. The church was repaired at the expense of $1500.

By 1900, membership in the church totaled 120 active members.

In 1927, Rev. Jason Miller was minister and the following year the church celebrated its 100th anniversary with a special service on February 12, 1928. 

In the summer of 1928, the auditorium was completely redecorated and a new carpet was laid. During the Great Depression, average Sunday morning attendance was 61 (43 adults and 18 youth). At this time, the Unitarian Church proposed to unite the two churches. It was seriously considered but finally defeated by 31 votes.

On December 7, 1941, during the funeral of naval airman Ocran Knehr (whose plane had crashed into the cliffs of Reykjavik, Iceland), it was announced that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

Medfield’s population expanded greatly in the 1950s and a major renovation was done to the church under the direction of Rev. John Nelson. The steeple was removed, a new educational wing was added and an addition to the front of the church was built. The former parsonage became the church office.

Activities included food sales, rummage sales and a church-wide fair called the King Philip Fair. Church membership increased markedly during the 1960s.

Rev. Dr. Robert Wood became the new minister in December of 1965 and continued with the renovations, purchasing a new organ, installing carpeting, painting the entrance and stairs leading to the second floor and renovating the large first floor vestry. He then began providing professional counseling for the changing community.

Rev. Wood was quickly accepted and became a beloved and very active member in the larger Medfield community, serving the spiritual needs of all in town, no matter their faith.

The church officially became the United Church of Christ in March of 1969.  Medfield’s continued growth was reflected in the church’s membership which by 1978 totaled 624.

In the late 1980s, under Rev. Wood, a major renovation and addition project was undertaken, the largest in church history, expanded the church westward along Main Street as far as Miller Street, creating the current church. The addition almost doubled the size of the church and was assisted by a million dollar fundraiser campaign by the parishioners.

In order to complete the expansion, the parsonage on that location, was moved in 1988 to its current site on 15 Brook Street. The new church opened in time for Christmas Eve Service on December 24, 1989.  

In 1996, Rev. Philip Bauman was installed as the new minister. Rev. Baumann appealed to the younger generation to make the congregation grow, working to attract Baby Boomers and Generation Xers while at the same time honoring the tradition of the church.  Today, Rev. Philip Bauman continues to administer to the spiritual needs of the church with the assistance of associate pastor, Karen Munn. The U.C.C. currently has 450 members with an average weekly attendance of 270. There are 273 children enrolled in the church school.

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