The History of Living Faith UMC

“Where does one possibly start with the daunting task of compiling the history of Living Faith United Methodist Church, a congregation that dates back to 1776? I was fortunate to find that a former member – Faith Lewis Johnson (known to many of us as Aunt Faith) – had taken the time to compile a history at the time of our Bicentennial in 1976. This will be a work in progress as I research the years since then but here are some gleanings from her writings.” – Robyn Tracy

I start with borrowing from her words. “This is not an original work but a compiling of information from others for the convenience of those who might not otherwise have been able to relive the joy of walking history-of-pumc-1976again with the saints who have gone before leaving behind a rich heritage.”

To understand the roots of Living Faith United Methodist church and Methodism in Northeast Connecticut it is first important to consider the roots of the Methodist movement founded by John Wesley, born in England in 1703. As a child Wesley was educated extensively at home by his mother. As a young adult he went on to attend Oxford University. It is there that he became part of a group, The Holy Club, which felt the University discipline was too relaxed. They met to fast, to hold devout conversation, private prayer and meditation.

Wesley came to America in October of 1735 to tutor the “Indians” in piety. He stayed for three years with success. Many Wesleyan preachers continued in this tradition of being the first Methodist “Circuit Riders” (traveling preachers) on this continent. Thus began the rooting and growth of this new faith in a budding land.

EARLY METHODISM IN NORTHEAST CONNECTICUT

Much about the early years of the Town of Putnam comes from the Larned’s History of Windham County. Putnam, founded in 1855, was carved out of portions of Killingly, Pomfret, Thompson and Woodstock during the industrial revolution. Before then this section along the Quinnebaug River was known as Pomfret Factory and as such the City of Putnam’s history starts out as Pomfret in Larned’s book. From this history we learn of the trouble encountered by the First Reformed Congregational Church in Pomfret.

Miss Larned says, “that while the First Pomfret Church was passing through vicissitudes, a new religious interest had developed in the eastern part of the town. That wonderfully efficient Methodist organization with its one clear head guiding thousands of willing feet, has gained a foothold in the Quinnebaug Valley.”

And so it had! Pomfret, the area that later would become Putnam, was included in the New London Circuit and it became a regular preaching station. The young converts were full of zeal and devotion, eager to work and speak for the good of souls and the spread of Methodism. Lively meetings filled with song and prayer and fervid exhortation were held and a new religious life and impulse pervaded the Quinnebaug Valley.

The old churches on the hilltops looked with suspicion upon this Methodist invasion. They had heard most unfavorable reports of the body. Representatives serving in Hartford and New Haven had brought back alarming stories of their excesses and heresies. They were worse than Baptists, worse than the old fashioned Separatists, worse than anything that had yet afflicted Connecticut. Pastors pronounced them very dangerous people and warned their congregations against attending any of these Methodist meetings. Given the nature of humans this prohibition and opposition only increased the activity of the Methodist and made more people anxious to find out what they were all about. This resulted in the group gaining influence and numbers. By 1775 a Pomfret Circuit that embraced the northeast section of Connecticut was formed with Jesse Lee its Elder presiding over 169 professing Methodists.

The Putnam Methodist Episcopal Church dates to 1858. Prior to this time it was an evening preaching appointment supplied by the pastor in charge at West Thompson, and by other local preachers. The services were held in schoolhouses, in private homes, and in the open air, any place where people could be gathered together. Among the many places used to proclaim the word of life to friend and foe, was a pie-shaped piece of ground located where our current Educational Building stands. It was a deep ravine with steep hills on either side. The whole area was clothed with forest primeval while from the bottom of the ravine gushed a stream of pure water, making a most appropriate place from which to proclaim the message of free grace. Here the eccentric Lorenzo Dow, with the stump of a tree for a pulpit, proclaimed the call to salvation to throngs of people. This place for many years was called Dow’s Grove. Years later the trees were removed, the ravine partly filled and the whole plot made into building lots for the increasing population of the young industrial city. The street on the north side retains part of the old name and is the current day Grove Street.

The dedication for the congregations first church building was held in December 1858 in a structure that was located just behind the current Jade Garden restaurant. In February of 1859 a Sabbath School was organized with a membership of 90. It was reported at this time that a good congregation attended services and God seemed to be pleased with them.

A history written about the church at the time of our Centennial celebration states that when the original Main Street location was selected, it was considered very desirable but with the advance of years and the influx of foreign population, Methodism was losing ground. Therefore a more desirable location, with a more modern building was felt necessary. In 1892 under the pastorate of Elijah F. Smith the congregation set about this task settling on the location of Dow’s Grove where outdoor meetings were held years before. Unfortunately because of an economic depression this building was not completed until 1896. In the words of Faith Johnson:

“So we see the problem of making ends meet and a balanced budget has been of long standing for this faithful band. We give hearty thanks however for their stewardship, setting an example that continues today calling again to our minds the Old New England adage,  – use up, make do, or do without.”

The lots where the current church and educational building sit were purchased in 1893 and 1894 and paid for at a cost of $1200. The foundations were eventually laid for both the church and parsonage but due to a pastoral reappointment the congregation was assigned a preacher whose interest did not lie in the new church undertaking. For three years the walls remained crumbling until again another pastoral change in April of 1896.

The new structure was of brick in a combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The interior was finished in quartered oak with metallic ceilings. On the upper level was the auditorium capable of seating 300 people and with the flexible doors open, would comfortably seat 50img_50540. It had beautiful stained glass windows. The cost of the lots, grading, building and furnishing was about $13,000. To meet this, the old Main Street church was sold for $1300. At the time of dedication $10,300 had been raised by gifts and subscriptions. The dedication of this new Methodist Episcopal Church took place in November 1902.

 

THE FIRE OF 1938

In late 1938 it was decided to investigate refinishing the organ pipes so they would not be so glaring to the people sitting in the pews. Little did people realize that within six months those same glittering pipes would play a weird discordant dirge above the roar of orange and deep red flames, billowing smoke and intense heat as the worst disaster in the history of the church would strike.

No words by a historian can ever portray the pulse and agony of the people at that time as can the words of the Rev. F.A. Dyckman in his annual report to the District Superintendent:

Dear Rev. Barrett:          

On October 10.1938 we held our First Quarterly Conference and spoke with sorrow of the loss of over $300 the church sustained through the hurricane of September 21, 1938. It was bad enough to give us a real setback, for not only was our building damaged but also many homes and property of our people likewise were damaged. On inspecting the building to estimate damages it was found that there was a major problem with the stained glass windows, which, if they were to continue in use would require major expenditure. Sadly the members decided that no funds were available to meet this need. Our courageous trustees set about raising the funds needed to meet the hurricane bills, and had paid all but $25. We were just feeling that our church had made unusual financial progress this year and had met and triumphed over all obstacles and then on May 8th our church was totally destroyed by fire. Only the gaunt brick walls stood to remind us of the lovely stained glass windows, the luxurious carpets, the splendid organ and the worshipful sanctuary. One small stick of firewood remained of the comfortable pews. The altar was completely consumed. What fire did not destroy on the lower floor, tons of water had ruined, and if the church is to be rebuilt it will be necessary to start at the very bottom.

For one miracle we are especially thankful – the parsonage was only slightly damaged. Kind friends removed all the furniture during the fire, when it seemed possible that this building would also be lost. Shingles on the roof were severely blistered, the paint badly scorched and two windows badly cracked. But this damage seemed slight compared with what might have been had the parsonage not been spared.

The fire apparently started from sparks from a neighbor’s rubbish fire, which blazed out of control for a moment or two. Over a week of dry weather preceded the fateful day, and it was apparent in the first few minutes that nothing could be done to save the building. It first caught fire at about 5:15 p.m. and I tried with helpers to get a little stream of water from the garden hose onto the roof, in vain. Then a number of young men rushed into the church and saved hymnals, the pulpit desk, about half the choir robes, a little carpet, a few chairs, a blackboard, three bibles, the church school records and a few odds and ends of furnishings. All the dishes and glassware were rescued at the risk of human life, for while we were rescuing the hymnals and pulpit desk from the sanctuary the tin ceiling was red hot, and scorching paint was falling all about us. We shall ever be grateful for the heroism of those who forgetting personal safety saved these treasured items. What could not be stored in the parsonage is now, through the kind courtesy of our Episcopal friends, stored in their church basement.

We are not discouraged, Dr. Barrett, though twice in a year’ disaster has smitten our church. The hurricane wrought $300 damage in the Fall and the fire has totally ruined our church this Spring. But we have building men in this church. Our greatest concern has been that the lay-leadership of this church should be developed so that they would be undaunted by any emergency. This is our test, and we are meeting it like men and women filled with the Spirit of the Living God.

The last service held in the church was the Communion Service on May 7th. We had a good attendance and more people came to the altar that day than any communion service held during my ministry here, if not the history of the church. It was a though they knew it would be their last opportunity to seek forgiveness and inspiration at the Holy Altar. And in these days we need so much abiding presence of the Spirit of the Living Christ, that we may be wise in our decisions, humble in our holiness, and possessing the grace which was in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May we have the strength and power, God, as we labor in the vineyard here.

Your Pastor,                                                

F.A. Dyckman

REBUILDING

On the following day, May 9 1939, a special church meeting was held at the Masonic Temple where thirty-seven members (many of them grandparents and parents of todays congregants) gathered with heavy hearts to talk over the loss and to plan for the future. But as always happens, out of disaster comes hope and faith and a closer bond between people to go forward with greater determination. At that meeting everyone expressed a desire to rebuild the church. How, they were not sure; but determined they were. Plans were formulated and they quickly set about to raise $25,000. During this time the congregation held all services and meetings at the Masonic Temple on the corner of Grove Street and School Street.

A sense of thrilling pride for young and old grew more each day as the new structure took shape. It had a simple beauty – but at the same time an elegance – a wood frame structure of Colonial styling with a handsome well lighted sanctuary drawing in nachurch-line-drawing-2tures’ beauty through large windows. Two rooms in the rear of the sanctuary were designed to enable the seating of larger congregations through the use of folding doors. The lower level held a central all purpose area with kitchen facilities and classroom space. The bell tower was built from bricks salvaged from the original structure. The laying of the cornerstone on June 16, 1940 climaxed the tedious months of work and planning. We know this space today as the Living Faith United Methodist Church, 53 Grove Street, Putnam CT. On the 85th anniversary of Putnam Methodism, Sunday, June 20th 1943, this church was formally dedicated. The Rev. Paul Q. Brooks, minister at the time, gave the words of dedication:

“We dedicate this church to the training of children in faith and knowledge and to the summoning of youth to the life of service.

We dedicate this church to the cure of souls that doubt and to the persuasion of those that have not yet believed; to the comfort of the discouraged, the relief of the distressed, the consecration of the strong, the guidance of the bewildered, and the consolation of the dying; to the ennobling of this life and to the confidence in the life eternal.

We dedicate this church to the unfinished task of the Church of Christ through Evangelism and Education; through Philanthropy and Social Justice; through Nation Probity and Honor; through Christian Unity and International Good Will.

We dedicate this church in loving memory of all who have gone before, and all those whose hearts and hands have served this church. With deep gratitude for the loyal comrades who have made with us this spiritual adventure.”

It has been said that our present church structure was built on bean suppers. This tradition was actually founded with the first repast held in December 1886. Forty-five attended this first bean supper and the profit was a gratifying $4.30. By November 1887 this had increased to an impressive $7.76. In these early years the beans were often baked and served in private homes. Following in this tradition once the new structure was completed in the early 1940’s the fellowship hall and kitchen were indeed put to good service with many a ham and bean supper on a Saturday night!

MORE DISASTERS

In 1955 our city suffered a great disaster from fire and flood caused by Hurricane Diane. Our church stepped forward and offered its facilities as an emergency shelter. The American Red Cross set up a canteen and many ladies from our church served hours, day after day, in voluntary work as the stunned people in our community began to realize the extent of the tragedy. It is out this tradition that we as a faith community continue to serve the people of Putnam through our many mission and outreach programs.

Once again our faith community was faced with the devastation of fire in September of 1959 when the church parsonage burned. It was decided the remains of the parsonage should be torn down to make room for a proposed educational building. It was at this time that the Eden Street property – the current day parsonage – was purchased by the church. And yes more ham and bean suppers were held! As well as beefburgers and apple squares being sold at the Woodstock Fair! And many other fundraising activities too numerous to list here! Through these efforts the Educational Building we use to this day was dedicated in November of 1961.

THE END OF AN ERA AND NEW BEGINNINGS

It is worthy to note during this time or trial and tribulation for our local congregation on a national level it was decided in 1939 to combine the Methodist Episcopal Church North, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church in to one united unit called the Methodist church. It was at this time we became the Putnam Methodist Church, Episcopal being dropped from the name. Eventually more changes came about on both a national and local level, more consolidations, the most recent being the combination of the North Grosvenordale congregation with the Putnam one – January 2015 –  to form one church unit we know today as the Living Faith United Methodist Church.

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I close with these wise words from the 1976 history:

“This generation must begin to sow seeds of truth, honesty in government, the dignity of man and peace and understanding at home and throughout the entire world. The world is now a far smaller place and we need to realize that the seeds we sow here affect many everywhere. The nurturing and education of our young people in Christian living and principles continues to be one of our prime goals as we seek to prepare them as adults to meet their challenges armed with the spiritual values of understanding, love, patience, truth and honesty.”