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.
The pastor of the Church from 1892 to 1898 was the Reverend Edward C. Hood, who was a graduate of Princeton College and Union Seminary. During his first year ground was broken for the parsonage on South Street. The lot was purchased from William M. Proctor, and the plans were drawn by Mr. Hood, himself. Mr. Proctor then donated additional land. Early in his pastorate Mr. Hood formed an improvement society for young men, encompassing such activities as classical reading, debates and drama. A Junior Christian Endeavor Society was organized by Mrs. Hood in 1895. On January 5th of the following year individual communion cups were first used by the congregation, the old style tankards and cups being given to a mission church in Raleigh, North Carolina. During his six-year tenure, Mr. Hood added some 80 members to the rolls and, with his talented wife, became both a spiritual and social force in the community. After leaving Wrentham he was instrumental in establishing the Maverick Dispensary to aid the needy of East Boston.
The eleventh minister, serving from 1899 to 1903, was the Reverend William J. Minchin, a graduate of Bangor Seminary. His four short years were busy and fruitful. In addition to editing an enlightening monthly paper, called "The Wrentham Parish Visitor," he was responsible for liquidating a $1,200 church debt, shingling the chapel, repairing the horse sheds, repainting both the interior and exterior of the church and chapel, and piping gas and water into the church. On November 20, 1902, in compliance with the provisions of Section 55, Chapter 36, Revised Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and by election of officers and the adoption of bylaws, the Church became incorporated under the name of the Original Congregational Church of Wrentham. In the fourth Church Manual to be printed, we find a copy of these first bylaws. In whimsical reflection Mr. Minchin stated, "While I was in Wrentham I learned to ride a bicycle, prayed at town meeting with certain regularity, and committed a few epitaphs from your historic cemetery."
The Reverend Frederick N. Rutan, who received his education at Princeton College and Union Seminary, served from 1903 to 1907. During his ministry the church organ was rebuilt, a piano was purchased for the chapel by the Christian Endeavor Society, and with the assistance of Mrs. Rutan a community-wide music appreciation program was successfully carried on. Bibles were first presented to the primary graduating class of the Sunday School in 1906. The following year, Huntington Rutan was born with the distinction of being the first and only child ever born in the South Street parsonage. At the close of his Wrentham ministry Mr. Rutan gave an eloquent historical address at the dedication of the stained-glass memorial window erected in honor of the Reverend Horace James. This vivid and artful depiction of the preaching Christ was the gift of Leonard C. Bliss.
On November 17, 1908 the Reverend Dudley D. Gorton was called from Southboro, Massachusetts, to become the thirteenth Christian leader of the congregation, at a salary of $1,200 per annum, of which $200.04 had to be repaid for his rental of the parsonage. Shortly after his arrival money was appropriated to purchase a printing press and, thanks to the efforts of the young men, the church enjoyed regular weekly calendars for the first time. Also procured was a stereopticon projector for illustrated sermons and other religious training. Extensive repairs to the church building, including new metal shingles, were completed during Mr. Gorton's brief stay. He resigned in 1914 to become Pastor of the First Congregational Church in Springfield, leaving behind a reputation of always being "ready to respond most helpfully to any call that was made upon him." Mrs. Gorton was a leader in the various church organizations.
The Reverend Melville A. Shafer, a graduate of Victoria College, and Toronto University of Ontario, Canada, came to the Wrentham church in 1914 to begin a long and eventful ministry that was to span the troubled days from the start of World War I through the close of World War II. He was called to the United States by the New England Evangelistic Sanctuary interior, circa 1872 Association, and spent four years traveling and preaching through the six New England States, and the Maritime Provinces. In his first year, through the generosity of the Ladies Sewing Circle, electric lights were installed in the parsonage. Two years later the church received similar modernization. A Junior Sewing Circle was organized in 1915. One of their first notable contributions to the church was the installation of an electric organ blower in 1917 (cost $260.00). In 1925 the first "house-to house canvass" was organized as a means of obtaining specific personal pledges to meet financial obligations.
It did not take long for Wrentham to find out that Mr. Shafer's interests and labors were not entirely confined to religion. When the United States joined the allied fight against German autocracy in April of 1917, he worked tirelessly on the home front to muster effectual support for our country's cause, and for the 86 Wrenthamites who donned our country's uniform. The Home Guard, the Red Cross, the Safety Committee, and the various war fund drives all served their purposes better because of his zealous participation. In 1918 Mr. Shafer organized the local Boy Scouts of America and served as the troop's first scoutmaster. Also, in that same year, the Go-To-Church Band was started to recognize and reward young people for
outstanding attendance records. By 1924, the number of Church School pupils had increased and the Hawes Chapel became more and more congested. After considerable discussion, it was decided that the vestry be renovated and used as a Junior Department, and the Senior Department was allowed the use of the sanctuary. The Primary Department met in the chapel and their small room served the first Beginners' Department. Now the Sunday School could boast of four departments, each with its own superintendent. During the years 1924-1925, Mr. William Darby, a student at Boston University School of Theology, came to Wrentham on weekends and acted as Director of Religious Education for the Church School. Mr. Darby was entertained in different homes and his compensation was met by friends outside the school.
In 1921, ladies (Mrs. George L. Wallace and Miss Helen Stone) were first invited to serve on the all-important Prudential Committee of the church. The choir received gowns for the first time in 1925. Three years later it was voted to tear down the horse sheds on the east side of the church; another venerable monument to the past had succumbed to the age of machines. In 1929 a beautiful white marble baptismal font was placed in the sanctuary -- a gift from the Cradle Roll sponsored by Mrs. Shafer, its organizer and first superintendent. In 1930 the first Junior Choir was formed, with Miss Ella B. Dunham as its leader. Under the leadership of Mr. Herbert Randall, the older boys joined "The Knights of King Arthur", calling their organization "Castle Archer". Through the efforts of the teachers and other interested persons, banners, helmets, swords, shields, and other regalia were provided. Some of these remain in the Church's historical collection.
Nineteen-thirty brought the disbandment of both the Senior and Junior Sewing Circles, and a joining of their forces in the Women's Society with Mrs. Helen C. Hagopian as its president. Because of its size, and to carry out more effectively its ambitious program, in 1934 the Society was divided into the South Street, East Street and Franklin Street Groups. In 1939 another supporting organization, the Thursday Niters, was also formed.
To be continued...