Hurricane, Fire and the “Methoversalists”

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In May of 1938, the First Universalist Society of Wakefield celebrated its 125th anniversary. Shortly thereafter, the minister of the congregation, the Reverend John Ratcliff, left to take another position.

The next fall, the Hurricane of 1938 swept through eastern Massachusetts. The 99 year old Universalist Church fortunately was not damaged by the hurricane. The Wakefield Methodist church was not so lucky, however. Their church, then located on Albion Street, suffered major damage when its chimney fell on it, weakening it enough that it was condemned.

The Methodists, lacking a church, and the Universalists, lacking a minister, joined forces. The Reverend Revilo M. Standish of the Methodist church acted, in effect, as an interim minister for the Universalist Church. Each week he conducted a joint worship service. The church schools, young people's groups and other church organizations met separately. The Universalists were also served by their Young People's Director, J. Murray Gay, a future Universalist Minister.

But in July of 1939, the arrangement became complicated when the Universalists lost the use of their building. On the evening of July 13, 1939 four neighborhood boys ages 10-14 took a burning ember from a nearby incinerator and pushed it under the church. The resulting four alarm fire did major damage to the church.

The combined Universalists and Methodists then moved their worship services to the town owned Lafayette Building. The Selectmen agreed to rent them the space for $3 per week.

In the fall of 1939 the YPCU, the young people's group of the Universalist Church, began a newsletter called “The Gleam”. With two congregations, the fire, the rebuilding of the church and all the doings of their active group, “The Gleam” was a very lively publication. It eventually became the church newsletter and is still published today.

The Universalists were able to rebuild their church quickly. In addition to the necessary repairs, many improvements were made. The major change was an addition to the back of the church, “to provide a permanent stage”, as “The Gleam” reported.

The newly restored church was rededicated on Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1940. The event began with a silver tea followed by an organ recital, rededication service and banquet. A number of ministers participated in the rededication, including Rev. Mr. Standish and the former Universalist minister, Rev. Mr. Ratcliff.

In June of 1940 another enhancement was added when a new stained glass window was presented to the church by Mrs. Hubbard B. Mansfield. “The Good Shepherd” window was designed by stained glass artists, Wilbur H. Burnham Studios of Wakefield and Boston.

The “Methoversalists”, as “The Gleam” called the combined congregations, continued to meet at the Universalist Church into the fall of 1941. In September of that year the Methodists purchased an historic building on Foster Street to serve as their church.

On November 9, 1941, the two churches held separate services in their own buildings with their own ministers. Rev. Standish led the Methodists in worship in their new church. And the Reverend Leroy Congdon, the newly called minister of the Universalist Church, led his first worship service in that role.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 10:00pm