First Congregational Church of Westfield To
Celebrate 140th Anniversary
By HEIDI HYLAN-MOTYCZKA
WESTFIELD — On Friday, May 22, 2020, the First Congregational Church of Westfield, located at 125 Elmer Street, will mark the 140th anniversary of the first gathering of its founders.
It was on a Saturday evening, May 22, 1880, that 20 people gathered in the library of Lyceum Hall (on the southeast corner of Prospect and East Broad Streets) to consider the advisability of forming a new church society.
The following text was taken from “A Centennial History of the First Congregational Church of Westfield, New Jersey” written by the late Robert C. Hylan in 1979, for the occasion of the church’s 100th anniversary in 1980.
“Westfield was a primitive country town in 1880. People moved around by horse and buggy on dirt roads. Sidewalks, where they existed, were a single board and, since there was no town water system, each home had its own well and pump. The Westfield Public Library was two years old and the telephone was only a toy, having been exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kerosene and gas were the principal illuminants, with electric lights just beginning to appear in public places. The eight hundred and seventy-five residents were about evenly divided in opinion as to whether to retain this simple country character or to grasp the new inventions representing the progress and rush into the 20th century, thus becoming a suburb of New York City. (The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was yet 38 years away).
It was into this community that a new religious Society was introduced in the spring of 1880. From this point on, the new Society and the town grew hand in hand and both prospered, with the pastors and members of the new Society having a significant influence on events and issues involving the development of the town.
The ‘gathering’ of a Congregational Church in Westfield, in 1880, was an outgrowth of certain conditions then existing in the Presbyterian Church of Westfield. These conditions, fermenting for some time, surfaced during the pastorate of Reverend W. H. Gill (1878-1882) and caused several members, together with a number of ‘believers’ in town, to become associated with a Congregational Church. Specifically, this schism was inspired by the consciousness that with the growth of the Presbyterian Church there had developed a dissimilarity of tastes, a marked difference in view as to church polity and an impatience with an ‘overabundance of empty faith’ to the extent that some members deemed it necessary to organize a church with whose government they would be in hearty sympathy and agreement. This dispute recalls the unresolved historical difference of congregational control versus control from the top by clergy and elders.
Thus it was that 20 people met in the library of Lyceum Hall on Saturday evening, May 22, 1880, to consider the advisability of forming a new church society. Mr. Henry Hosford was elected chairman of the meeting and Mr. Henry F. Alpers was elected secretary. Mr. Alpers, who had been elected a ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church on January 17, 1880, but had declined to serve, offered the prayer. The following motions were made and carried unanimously at this meeting:
1. That a new Religious Society be formed
2. That the persons present be considered members of this new Society
3. That the new denomination of the new Society be Congregational
4. That a Committee of Five be appointed to obtain subscriptions for the support of a Congregational Church (note: during this meeting $930 was subscribed for the support of the new church and $50 for the support of the Sunday School)
5. That a Committee of Three on Organization be appointed
Persons attending this founding meeting were: Mr. William J. Alpers, Mr. Henry F. Alpers, Mrs. Henry F. Alpers (Elnora), Mrs. Albert Bridges (Elizabeth A.), Miss Emma Bridges, Mrs. William W. Baker (Julia), Mr. L.V. Clark, Mr. Effingham Embree, Mr. George Embree, Miss Louise Embree, Mr. Henry Hosford, Mrs. Henry Hosford (Fannie E.), Miss Jennie Hickock, Mr. Edward H. Ladd, Jr., Mrs. Julia E. Ladd, Mr. James L. Miller, Mrs. James L. Miller, Miss Nesmith, Miss Emily Wheelock, and Mr. John H. Worth.”
“The next meeting, held on Friday evening, May 28, 1880, heard the reports of the committees appointed at the previous meeting. The Committee on Subscriptions reported $1,315 subscribed to date.” (A Pulpit Supply Committee was also formed at this meeting.)
“...the new Society had chosen to hold public worship at Lyceum Hall until they could erect their own edifice. A Hall committee was appointed to see to it that the place was in order each Sunday for public worship. Eventually the trustees of the new Society leases Lyceum Hall for $250 per annum until their new church was built.
“Those present at the third meeting, held on June 4, 1880, adopted the Constitutions for the Church and for the Society, the Articles of Faith and the Church Covenant. It was also reported that the subscriptions to date totaled $1,413.
“The first public worship in Westfield was held on June 7, 1880, at Lyceum Hall with the Reverend Henry M. Storrs D.D. officiating.”
“The settlement of a pastor over the new congregation was anticipated by the formation of a Pulpit Supply Committee on May 28, 1880. The dedicated work of this committee is evidenced by the caliber of the Supply Pastors engaged from June 7, 1880, when the first services were held, to calling of the first pastor (the Reverend Henry Neill) on January 19, 1881.”
“For the present and for the year ahead, the congregation continued to hold services in Lyceum Hall. They soon realized, however, that the small library in Lyceum Hall was not conducive to increasing the membership of the church so they sought ways and means to build their own place of worship. The first step in this direction was the creation of the Committee on Place of Worship on June 22, 1881.”
“The first consideration of this committee was to secure land on which to build the church. After considerable investigation the committee presented six choices to the congregation. On September 12, 1881, the congregation voted to secure the Elmer Street lot which the Board of Trustees purchased for $1,550 on December 5, 1881.”
“The work on the new church proceeded quickly, permitting the laying of the cornerstone on January 18, 1882, and the dedication ceremonies on October 12, 1882.”
Over the past 138 years, there have been many additions, newly constructed buildings and both major and minor renovations to the church structures at 125 Elmer Street. In 2019, the church received one of the Westfield Historic Preservation Commission’s prestigious Harry Devlin Awards, for the restoration of their belfry and clock tower.
During this time of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as we remain socially distant, we mark the 140th anniversary of our founding. The First Congregational Church of Westfield continues to be a self-governing Congregational Church, and a member of the United Church of Christ. The church is currently being led by the Reverend Joy Mounts. We continue to hold weekly, one-hour, uplifting worship services, in this manner, streamed online from the church sanctuary.
The heart of the church remains its members and leaders, first meeting 140 years ago this week. Together now, with many families and supportive friends, it continues to be a vibrant part of the greater Westfield community.
For more information about the services, activities and other important church information, please go to www.fccofwestfield.org. There you will find a link to the church Facebook page: First Congregational Church of Westfield, NJ, where Sunday morning services are live streamed, and musical meditations are posted. The church office can be reached during the week at (908) 233-2494, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.