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.
On February 1, 1863, the Reverend Charles L. Mills, from the Porter Evangelical Society in North Bridgewater, was installed as the eighth pastor of the Church. During his pastorate, the shortest in the Church's history, the benevolent causes recognized were the Foreign and Home Missionary Societies, organized under the leadership of Mrs. Mary Fales, and the Tract and Bible Societies. The ladies did sewing at the Missionary meetings until the "Ladies Sewing Circle" was formed in 1889. He left, in 1865, with the Ecclesiastical Council "happy to bear testimony to [his] unwearied and faithful labors."
The ninth Christian administrator, the Reverend William R. Tompkins, served the Church ably and loyally for a period of twenty-five years, from 1866 to his death in 1891. The son of a minister, he had pastor of the New England Church of Brooklyn, New York, for eight years before coming to Wrentham. His was a pastorate of change, construction and expansion for both the Church and the town. To "modernize" the sanctuary he effected such changes as lowering the end gallery, removing the side galleries and the high pulpit, and changing the pews and windows--a loss of the charming colonial motif that became a matter of deep regret in later years. A pipe organ was also installed
In 1872, neighboring Trinity Church was built. Also, in that year, community progress was evinced in the erection of a Center School and Town Hall. Now, after more than 150 years, the transaction of public affairs could be moved from the confines of the Church.
In the third Manual, printed in 1875, the Church covenant was omitted, but a creed was added. Those wishing to unite with the Church had to subscribe to this creed. The duty of each church officer was given in great detail, and all were required to give a report at the annual meeting. The Superintendent of the Sunday School was accepted as a church officer.
During the first decade of Mr. Tompkins' ministry, 1868 to be exact, the women of the congregation were extended the privilege of voting on church matters on an equal basis with the men.
Through the generous gift of Daniel B. Hawes, in 1878, a much needed chapel was added to the east side of the church. In his letter of deed, Mr. Hawes stated: "I cannot forget my native town and Church, where my forefathers worshipped and where my early impressions to obey the law of God were received. And having a desire to do as did the children of Israel -- contribute a portion that I have received through the blessing of God upon my labors to the building of a Chapel for prayer and praise, the benefit of the young and advancement of the Redeemer's Church..." This chapel then became the home of the Sunday School. Several years later, because of overcrowded conditions, the younger children were moved into a small room between the chapel and vestry and were called the Primary Department. This was the first division of the school.
The present bell was hung in 1885.
Other highlights in Mr. Tompkins' pastorate were the organizing of the Christian Endeavor Society in 1888, with Mr. Albert Holden as its first president and Miss Alice Fisher as secretary; the formation of the first Sewing Circle the following year; and in 1891 Joseph Quirk became sexton and served twenty-five years. In addition to his pastoral duties, Mr. Tompkins twice represented the district in the Massachusetts Legislature, and wrote an outstanding essay on "The Divine Element in Humanity."
To be continued...