After 183 years, Congregational church is dissolving
Waterford — Following its move out of New London in 2013 and the cessation of independent worship services in September, the Second Congregational Church — more recently known as Waterford Congregational United Church of Christ — is dissolving on Monday.
From July 2013 through Sept. 30, 2018, Waterford Congregational had its home at Crossroads Presbyterian Church, where it held a weekly Sunday service following the Presbyterian service.
The congregation voted on Sept. 16 to discontinue separate services, and on Oct. 21 to officially dissolve the church effective at the end of the year.
"The congregation had kind of reached the end of its life, which happens in our churches, so they made a very careful, conscious, faithful decision to dissolve the congregation," said Matt McCaffrey, pastor for the past seven years.
He added that church members wanted to serve the community but didn't have the resources anymore, and so they decided to discontinue services "rather than limp along and just try to keep the lights on."
McCaffrey said the church decided a year and a half ago "that we were going to start winding down the affairs of the church," and at the beginning of 2018, members suggested he start searching for a new position. In October, McCaffrey began work as the interim minister at North Madison Congregational Church.
Waterford Congregational member Diantha McMorrow said that financially, "we weren't going to be able to support [McCaffrey] that much longer," and he knew that.
McMorrow and several other members sat down with The Day after the 10 a.m. service at Crossroads on Sunday to talk about the history of the church, their memories, and the decisions made in recent months.
Crossroads "accepted us with no obligation," said Winston Barrows, whose ties to Second Congregational Church run deep: His great-great-grandfather was its 139th member.
Some parishioners have decided they will continue attending services at Crossroads, saying the congregation has been very welcoming and they feel comfortable there, while others are undecided and trying out different churches.
Second Congregational Church has existed since 1835. After a fire destroyed the original building at the corner of Huntington and Jay streets in 1868, the congregation moved to 45 Broad St., where it remained until 2013.
It was a very large building to have "maybe 75 active folks at the time in the congregation, and they just couldn't support it anymore," McCaffrey said. A lot of money needed to be spent on roof repairs, electricity and plumbing.
McMorrow said that by this fall, there were about 70 members on the register, but not all were active.
She and other members recalled the church's more active years, when the women's fellowship held a bazaar every season, it provided a community meal the third Saturday of every month, and the church was a meeting place for Boy Scouts and mothers groups.
In New London, Second Congregational Church housed the Drop-In Learning Center, now located at St. James Episcopal Church. The late Norman MacLeod, who was pastor at the church for 17 years, was instrumental in establishing the Drop-In Learning Center.
Church clerk Kathy Hume said Second Congregational Church was renamed Waterford Congregational United Church of Christ because "we wanted to establish a new identity out here."
Waterford Congregational implemented several new initiatives hoping to attract more people, such as live-streaming the service, having an annual service at Harkness Memorial State Park and holding electronics recycling events.
"Unfortunately, there are very few young people coming," McMorrow said. "We have no Sunday School to speak of, and many of our parishioners are elderly and unable to keep coming."
McCaffrey said that in September, church members planned special services to celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. With only 30 minutes between the end of the Presbyterian service and the beginning of the Congregational service, setting up Christmas decorations one Sunday was akin to a theatrical set change.
Since the vote to dissolve the church, Hume said she has been working through the legal matters and paperwork that come with dissolving a nonprofit. The plan, she said, is to donate church records to the Connecticut State Library, so "we'll live on forever."