One Hundred Years, Twenty Ministers, One Building
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In 1913, the First Universalist Society, more commonly known as the Universalist Church of Wakefield, celebrated its first 100 years of existence. As fans of Downton Abbey on PBS know, 1913 was an interesting point in history. The Victorian era of the 19th Century was officially gone, but that wasn’t always obvious. Some things seemed as they always were and links to the past were strong. Even those people who were very aware that a new world was around the corner did not know what form it would take. The Centennial Celebration reflected this reality.
An historical lecture, a “Reunion and Reminiscences of Bygone Days” and an expanded May Festival were among the events that marked the Centennial Celebration. Attending the festivities was Mrs. Hannah Cox Newcomb who was 95 years old. Mrs. Newcomb had been active in the church for decades. She could probably verify personally much of the historic lecture. At that time the church had had twenty ministers, the first hired in 1833. Mrs. Newcomb had met all twenty of them, beginning with the Reverend John Newell who served from 1833-1835.
As is obvious from having twenty ministers in 80 years, the average length of service was just four years. Many ministers of the church in both the 19th and 20th centuries went on to take positions in larger churches, having been prepared by a few years in Wakefield. In 1913, the most recent former minister was the Rev. C. Guy Robbins. Rev. Robbins had been minister of the Universalist Church in Wakefield for four years from 1904 to 1908. In 1908 he took a position at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lawrence.
Mrs. Newcomb represented a living link to the past of the church and the Reverend Warren S. Perkins, the minister who followed Rev. Robbins, was a link to the future of the church. Rev. Perkins was an exception to the pattern of short term ministers. He served as minister for 23 years, from 1908 to 1931. His tenure ended with his unexpected death.
Active in the community and noted as a speaker, the Rev. Perkins saw the church through the First World War, the social upheavals of the Roaring Twenties, and into the Great Depression. In 1918 he published an interesting article in the Emporia Gazette, the well-known Kansas newspaper edited by William Allen White. Entitled, “Close Homes, Open Churches”, it proposed a scheme by which on Sundays, churches would stay open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. each week. Programs, activities and meals would be organized. Families would be able to shut up their houses, reducing heating costs. Shared meals would reduce food costs. Families and individuals would benefit both from reduced expenses and increased fellowship.
Constantly changing ministers, the First Universalist Society was grounded in its long term members such as Mrs. Newcomb and in its building. The building, first built in 1839, began as a fairly simple structure. By the Centennial it had been enlarged, moved back on its lot, acquired a steeple and survived a major fire. As the accompanying picture postcard (© 1910) shows, electricity and telephones had also been acquired. Presumably, the post and rails for tying up horses, added in 1861, had now been removed. The building, as well as the congregation, was ready for the 20th Century.
For more information on the Bicentennial Celebration of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield, go to www.wakefielduu.org
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - 9:30pm