“The Universalists scheme to get control of the funds.”

Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden
November 2015

“We are just a church with pumpkins on the lawn.”
“They are for sale too, right mom?”
[over heard in the Great Pumpkin Patch]

Expect the unexpected. Fund raising is hard. Learn from our history.

The Second Congregational Church of Hartford’s official history, written in 1896, is animated by a revealing blow-by-blow account of the Universalists “scheme to get control of the funds.”  In May 1822, a committee of church members wrote to the deacons requesting that clergy who believe in the “universality of atonement and of final restitution for all men” be allowed to preach from the pulpit every other Sunday. The firm denial noted that the Universalists on the committee were men “not particularly characterized by piety.” The attempt to negotiate failed, so the determined dissenters “set about to carry the point by strategy.” When the scheduled preacher one Sunday injured himself in a fall from his horse, Universalists came early and commandeered the pulpit. Mayhem and “much noise and confusion” filled the air as a Universalist tried to preach. The “good old deacons” responded by conceding the morning to the intruders and left with three-quarters of the congregation behind them. By the next Sunday, the orthodox were back in charge—“people came out in force and those elements were scattered. Thus ended the attempt of the infidels to obtain possession of good old South Church.” Sixty families then left the Congregational Church and began raising money by pew rental. When $10,000 was raised a building went up with plenty of space for worship and for pumpkin sales.. er, for fundraising by renting church space: in addition to becoming the  site of Hartford’s federal post office, the Universalists rented to a barbershop, a grocery store, and a bathhouse. The location of the Hartford post office in the basement of the church allowed the freethinking Hartford postmaster, John Milton Niles, to invite the scorn of Rev. Beecher and other enforcers of sabbatarian quietude, by enjoying his “steady habit” of handling mail and worshipping in the same afternoon.

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