United Congregational Church to celebrate 100th anniversary

Jonathan Quinones, pastor of United Congregational Church, and his wife, Gloria, stand in the Norwich church's sanctuary Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. United Congregational will celebrate its centennial this Saturday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Jonathan Quinones, pastor of United Congregational Church, and his wife, Gloria, stand in the Norwich church's sanctuary Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. United Congregational will celebrate its centennial this Saturday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Norwich — The United Congregational Church has undergone many changes over the past century, starting as a merger of two congregations at the already historic Broadway building in 1918 and today sharing its home with three other churches and its pastor with one of them.

United Congregational Church will host a 100th anniversary celebration with a special service at 3 p.m. Saturday in the church sanctuary at 87 Broadway. The public is invited to the celebration, which will include reflections by longtime church members and messages of gratitude from representatives of civic groups that also call the church home. The Norwich Bully Busters and Chelsea Players community theater group are longtime tenants in the church building.

Interim UCC Pastor Jonathan Quinones is the full-time pastor of the Iglesia Misionera Faro De Luz, which shares the building, along with the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Haitian church, Evangelique Church of Psalm 23. 

And when the organ plays for Saturday’s 100th anniversary celebration, participants will hear music through the original 1857 pipes that Abraham Lincoln heard in his visit to the church during his 1860 presidential campaign stop in Norwich.

The organ’s inner workings were modernized in the 1960s but the pipes installed by the E. G. G. Hook Company of Boston, one of the premier organ makers at the time in New England, were retained, congregation treasurer Penny Herring said Wednesday.

Church members spent this week painting and sprucing up the church’s interior in preparation for Saturday’s celebration.

The church has launched a major fundraiser to restore the sanctuary’s 10 Tiffany stained glass windows, each one costing an estimated $30,000. A piece of plywood stands in the place of one window removed for restoration. Herring said that window was deteriorating badly and couldn’t wait for enough funds to be raised. He said the church had to borrow the $30,000 needed to restore the window. The church has raised between $4,000 and $5,000 for the window restoration project to date, he said.

The brick church was dedicated in 1857 as the Broadway Congregational Church, formed when the Second Congregational Church on Main Street grew large enough to split into two groups. But in 1918, the congregations merged to form United Congregational Church.

Prior to that, the building was renovated in the 1890s, when congregation member and renovation committee member Louis Comfort Tiffany designed his signature geometric patterned stained-glass windows for the sanctuary. Tiffany, a member of the famous New York jewelry family, also designed the furnishings and paint scheme for the interior, Herring said.

“He carried a lot of weight, so they followed his advice,” Herring said.

The United Congregational Church’s Tiffany windows are a bit different than other church’s stained-glass windows, Herring said, because they don’t depict Biblical images, such as Jesus Christ with the lamb. These windows are colorful geometric patterns.

The church erected a sign outside the main entrance seeking donations for the window restoration project, and Herring said people have donated money after seeing the sign. The fund drive will take donations of any size, Herring said. Names of donors will be included in a list inside the entrance.

“Anybody who wants to buy a window, we would be very willing to do that,” Herring said. The church offers window naming rights for $20,000.

The church will hold a 100th anniversary dinner at 5 p.m. Oct. 20 in the church hall on the Chestnut Street lower level side. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children under age 12. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the window restoration fund.

The UCC nearly didn’t make it to its 100th anniversary. In 2014, the church was put on the market for sale, as the dwindling congregation struggled financially and felt it no longer could maintain the building. The church had used a $125,000 grant for structural repairs on a sagging wall and cracks in the vaulted ceiling.

But Herring said the congregation gave up on the idea of selling the building.

“We couldn’t find a buyer that was a real buyer and didn’t want to turn it into a brewery,” Herring said, “so we decided to keep going and try to grow the congregation. We’re still running on fumes, but we’re still running.”

c.bessette@theday.com

United Congregational Church in Norwich is seen Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. United Congregational will celebrate its centennial this Saturday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
United Congregational Church in Norwich is seen Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. United Congregational will celebrate its centennial this Saturday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

If you go

What: 100th Anniversary Service

When: 3 p.m., Saturday.

Cost: Free and open to the public.

 

What: Centennial Dinner

When: 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 20.

Cost: Tickets $20 for adults, $10 for children under age 12.

 

What: Tiffany windows restoration fundraiser: Send checks made out to United Congregational Church with notation “window restoration” to United Congregational Church, 87 Broadway, Norwich, CT 06360.

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