First Congregational Church

As published in "The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties" (Chicago: 1879), p. 394-396

First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church - In the early spring of 1850, Rev. Timothy M. Hopkins, then acting Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of this city, began preaching in the Court House, with a view of organizing a Congregational Church. This organization took place February, 1850, consisted of thirty-eight members, most of whom brought letters from the Presbyterian Church, was named the "First Congregational Church of Racine," and adopted the articles of faith approved by the Convention of Wisconsin. The first Pastor was Rev. T. M. Hopkins, and Henry Sheldon and I. G. Parker were its first Deacons. On the 21st of the following May, was formed the "First Congregational Society of Racine," electing as its first Trustees, A. P. Dickey, Philip Bruthwait, T. P. Bruce, Mark Miller and Floyd P. Barker, and as its Clerk, I. G. Parker. While a house of worship was being built on the ground now occupied by the Episcopal Church, they worshiped for a time in the Court House that was moved by the Public Square, two years ago, and afterward in the Ladies Seminary Building. After the frame-work of their new sanctuary was finished and the roof placed, a passing storm leveled the structure to the earch; yet on February 5, 1851, the house, estimated with its lots to have cost $5965, 38, was dedicated to the service of God. But a few months pass before the church is again without a house of worship, without a Pastor and with but one Deacon. On the 2d day of November, 1851, less than nine months after dedication, the sanctuary was completely destroyed by fire. Even while sorrowful hearts were looking at the flames which were hastening the destruction of their spiritual home, the death of Deacon Henry Sheldon was announced. These words are found in the record: "This mysterious providence of our Heavenly Father was truly afflicting to us, and our sadness was greatly deepened by the death of our beloved brother, Deacon Henry Sheldon, which reached our ears as the flames were consuming our loved sanctuary." Under these somewhat discouraging circumstances and calamitous distress in their loss by fire, the fathers of the church accepted the gift of their present church site from Sidney A. Sage, and began to build once more for God. We can but admire their determined purpose and prompt action. Only eight days passed between the burning of the church over the river and the meeting, at which it was resolved to build on the new site a tabernacle, whose dimensions should exceed the old one thirty-seven feet in width and eighty-four feet in length - more that twice as large as the old one. Octber 9, 1852, less than one year after the church burned, the cornerstone of this house was laid with customary ceremonies. The Congregational and Presbyterian Convention, then assembled at the Presbyterian Church, adjourned to take part in these exercises. Rev. M. P. Kinney made the address of the occasion, a single copy of which is yet preserved. In a really eloquent phrase he sets forth the good that individuals assembling here from time to time shall receive and declares that its influence shall be world-wide and eternal. Though begun so promptly, the new church edifice was not to go on to completion without further perplexing delay. God had yet other and severe tests with which to prove the Church's fidelity to Him. Twice had its members contributed for a house of worship, and as these walls rose nearly to the specified height, the delightful time when they could praise God beneath their own roof seemed near at hand, but what was their surprise when a storm leveled its walls to the ground and fractured every piece of useful timber in the structure. Verily, their comfort in this continued series of disasters must have been found only in those passages of Scripture which teach "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." We do not wonder, now, that there were some outspoken misgivings about continuing the work of building, for want of financial ability. Times were hard, and the people were poor. Should they build again, the new walls would not only have to be laid from the foundation, but the debris of the fallen walls and broken timber must be cleared away, and much new material must also be secured. Some said, "our resources are drained; we cannot rebuild" There were yet a few undaunted ones, who said "the Church had no right to give up; that this new disaster was of God to test the strength of their faith." Around these faithful ones the children rallied, and they said, as did the children of Israel of their desolated Jerusalem, "The God of Heaven, He will prosper us, therefore we, His servants, will arise and build" Rev. M. P. Kinney was sent to solicit money. He hoped by this means to secure at least $1,000. He returned after an absence of about four months, and had secured for the church about $600 in cash, and this by gifts of less than $10 each. Contributions of material labor and money were received from friends here. The work of building went forward, and on November 7, 1854, the church was dedicated to God. Since that day its walls have stood secure. If, in four years' existance, and church of modern times can show record of having overcome so many and so serious reverses, let them speak, to show to others what a determined Christian purpose will accomplish in church building, and for the profit of this severly-tried congregation. Previous to the coming of the present Pastor, Rev. William H. Hinckley, there appear as having been Pastors of this church, in the following order: Rev. T. M. Hopkins, Rev. M. P. Kinney, Rev. Lewis E. Matson, Rev. Mr. Peel, Rev. T. E. Davis, Rev. G. W. Sargent, Rev. McLeod and Rev. T. P. Sawin. Of this number, Revs. Kinney, Matson and Sawin were the only installed Pastors. The longest pastorate was that of Rev. M. P. Kinney; it was about seven years, and during this time there were ninety-nine accessions to the Church membership. This is the largest number joining during any pastorate. The average length of pastoral service has been about three years and six months. The following are the names of the Deacons, in respective order of election: H. Sheldon, I. G. Parker, S. B. Peck, William Bruce, S. E. Hurlbut, Thomas Driver, J. H. Fancher, William Silloway, J. K. Sherman, A. J. Van Ornum, S. H. Sheldon, J. R. Brearley and Charles Peck. Mr. Silloway is the veteran Deacon of all this number. From an annual sermon of Rev. M. P. Kinney, it appears there were forty-two charter members of this church. The first Church record was burned. Of this number, there are now six resident members, viz: A. P. Dickey, J. E. Lockwood, Mrs. A. S. Lockwood, S. R. Sheldon, N. A. Walker and Martin Eastman. During these twenty-nine years, there have been 321 members of this Church. There are 128 members, 119 of whom live less than a Sabbath day's journey from the sanctuary.
HYMN
Composed by Rev. M. P. Kinney, and sung at the dedication of the Church, November, 1854
Oh, God of Jacob, how Thine ear,
Attend our supplicating voice;
In majesty Thyself appear,
And bis us all in Thee rejoice.

Oh, let these walls forever stand,
A monument of Thy rich grace;
Adorned in beauty by Thy hand,
An earthly home, Thy dwelling place.

Here may Thy worship be sincere,
May willing soals Thy praises sing;
And in return to Thou draw near,
And gracious, own our offerings.

Thy name shall be recorded here,
And here display Thy glory, Lord;
Fill every heart with final fear,
And clothe with power Thy sacred word.

So may this house henceforward prove
A place of rest to mortals given;
And better, far, may it become
To them, indeed, the gate of Heaven.

Connected with the Church is a Sabbath school, with an average attendance of 160, of which J. R. Brearley is Superintendent and R. S. Adams, Assitant Superintendent. Also the Children's Temperance Band, with a membership of sixty, which number is rapidly increasing. The society is chiefly in charge of Mrs. William H. Hinckley, the Pastor's wife.




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