Minnie Douglas Bennett
for the occasion of the 125th Anniversary of the building of the present meetinghouse
Revisions and Additions by
Bruce J. Crowther
Richard J. Ross
Earle T. Stewart
For the celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Church
This post is part of The History of the Original Congregational Church of Wrentham series. Previous posts can be found here.
In June of 1969, the Church voted to call the Reverend Clifford C.. Tobin as its seventeenth pastor. A native of Maine, Mr. Tobin was educated at the University of Rochester, New York, and Bangor Theological Seminary. He came to this church from a pastorate at Old Stone Church, East Haven, Connecticut.
That year, the Deaconesses provided Sunday worship in August -- the first time in the Church's history that lay women executed all portions of a worship service. The Boards of Deacons and Deaconesses began to work more closely together, and women served communion for the first time in 1975.
The years of Mr. Tobin's pastorate were a time of national upheaval. The controversy surrounding the Viet Nam War was followed by a time of national recession. The Church faced financial difficulties; the position of Director of Religious Education was eliminated due to cost. Still, the debt for sanctuary renovations was retired by 1975, and in 1972 the Carl and Gerry Youngdahl fund was established, the income to be used for maintenance, repairs, and improvements to the church property. A sound system was installed in the sanctuary in memory of Walter and Mary Stewart, the gift of Earle and Marguerite Stewart, and the memorial gardens were planted around the church.
The Town of Wrentham celebrated its Tricentennial anniversary in 1972 and 1973, and the Church participated with a parade float displaying a replica of the town's first meetinghouse. At a homecoming service, which members attended in costume, Mr. Tobin, dressed as an early New England minister, preached from a sermon given by the Reverend Samuel Man, January 1, 1701, based upon the text of Genesis Il, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
In 1975, Mr. Tobin resigned to accept a position at the First Church in Malden. During his pastorate he ministered to the wider community as well as the Church -- serving on the Church and Community Committee of the Central Association, the Board of Directors of the Attleboro Area Council of Churches, as Conference Delegate to Boston Seaman's Friend Society and as vice-president of the Medfield-Norwood Board of Mental Health.
In 1975-6, the Reverend Dr. Paul D. Sanderson served as interim minister. Dr. Sanderson, a noted pastoral counsellor, has remained active in the Church, leading worship and conducting adult education classes.
The Reverend Craig V. Anderson became the eighteenth pastor of the Church in 1976. Born in Nova Scotia, Mr. Anderson attended Lake Forest College and the Pacific School of Religion. After seminary he and his wife, Ellen, served with the United Church Board for World Ministries in Micronesia. He then became Minister of Education at Christ Church United in Lowell, Massachusetts (a church earlier served by the Reverend Horace James).
Under Mr. Anderson's leadership, the Church extended its local ministry with the sponsorship of the Wrentham Pastoral Counseling Service, directed by Dr. Sanderson, and the town's Council on Aging began the use of the church vestry as its headquarters.
In 1977 the Church appointed its first historian, Bruce Crowther, and plans were begun for the Memorial Library housing the Church's archives and book collection; it was dedicated on the Church's 288th anniversary, April 13, 1980. In 1978, the one hundredth anniversary of the building of the Hawes Chapel was celebrated with the remounting of its original dedication plaque. For a time in 1980 Mr. Anderson conducted services in the parish house when problems were discovered in the structure supporting the steeple, and the church building was considered unsafe. Repairs were made, and the steeple so devotedly restored in 1939 was saved.
Realizing the need for a pastor to be able to build suitable equity for his or her financial security, the church in 1978 voted to sell the South Street parsonage, which had served the Church's ministers and their families since 1892, and to invest the proceeds in a fund, the income from which would be used to pay a housing allowance to the minister. The Andersons then purchased a home of their own on Bennett Street.
In 1981, the Reverend Carol L. Ahlstrand was called as Associate Pastor, the first time since 1851 that the Church had a joint pastorate and the first time in its history that a woman had served as pastor. This was a demonstration of the Church's increasing commitment to have men and women participate equally in all aspects of church life, evidenced earlier by the merging of the Boards of Deacons and Deaconesses in 1978.
Mr. Anderson's pastorate saw an increase in active commitment to mission, leading to the sponsorship of the Oltarzewski family, political refugees from Poland. A regular visitation program was begun at Walpole State Prison, and food and supplies were collected annually for New Hope, a shelter for women and children.
In 1984, the Church accepted the resignations of both of its ministers. Ms. Ahlstrand left to continue her education toward a degree in counseling, and Mr. Anderson to accept a pastorate in Middletown, New Jersey, when Mrs. Anderson became a professor at Cornell Medical School in New York City.
In September of 1986, the pastorate of the Reverend Carol A. Brink was begun. The first woman to be called as sole pastor, she is a graduate of Hood College, Frederick, Maryland, and Andover-Newton Theological School, and came to this church from a position as Acting Pastor at First Congregational Church, U.CC. in Camden, Maine. Ms. Brink is the first pastor to reside outside of Wrentham -- first renting an apartment and later purchasing a home in neighboring Plainville.
During her pastorate, the Church's membership has increased by about twenty-five percent, helping to put financial affairs on a more stable footing. Numerous building concerns, neglected in previous years, have been accomplished: complete restoration of the exterior fabric of the building, including new clapboards and painting; insulation and a new furnace, access for the handicapped, with a lift from the vestry to the narthex and another from the vestry to the parish house; installation of counters and cabinets in the office; and a shield to protect the stained glass window in the sanctuary.
The Church has re-established the position of Director of Religious Education with the hiring of Margaret Niederman, later succeeded by Sharon Jackson. A Food Pantry was established at the Whiston House through the efforts of the Pilgrim Fellowship to provide food for the needy in the local area, and the Church covenanted with the local unit of Habitat for Humanity to help provide low-cost housing in the area.
Thanks to the dedicated efforts of its congregations through many generations, the Church has for three hundred years been a vital part of the community and of Christ's Kingdom on earth. During those three hundred years, its fundamental teachings have been based on the two "Great Commandments" given by Jesus; its fundamental faith has been in God, Creator and Author of Life: Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior; and the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts of men and women.