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The Chronicle of Christ Church

By Deaconess Josephine A. Lyon (1862-1939)

New Haven, Connecticut: Quinnipiack Press, no date.


THE cornerstone of the new Church was laid on Wednesday, August 17, 1859, at 4 P. M., in the presence of a large concourse of people. It was a beautiful day; and in the absence of the Bishop, the Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg, rector of the Free Church of the Holy Communion, New York, was invited to perform the ceremony. The procession formed at the old Church in the following order: Wardens and Vestry of Christ Church; the Junior Warden bearing the copper box (presented by Mr. Shelley) containing the deposits to be placed in the cornerstone. The Vestrymen of Trinity, St. Paul's, St. Thomas', St. John's, and St. Luke's Churches, and other invited guests, the choir of Christ Church, and the following-named clergy in surplices: the Rev. Messrs. Bennet, Huntington, Vibbert, Garder, Witherspoon, Scott, Root, H. Townsend, Fitch, Holly, Olmstead, Garfield, the Rev. Drs. Morton of Philadelphia, Richardson of New Haven, Muhlenberg of New York, and the Rev. Joseph Brewster, Rector of Christ Church. The Rev. John Townsend was also present, but not in time to join the procession. They proceeded to the northeast corner of the nave of the new church, where a place had been prepared for the stone; and Vestrymen opening to the right and left, the clergy ascended the platform, reading responsively the 122nd Psalm, "I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the House of the [28/29] Lord—"and then the Rev. Mr. Bennet led the service that had been prepared by Bishop Hobart.

When the entire procession was assembled on the platform, the exhortation was read by Dr. Morton. The Rector then announced that the contents of the box were the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, "since the Word of God and its best expounder were the only firm foundation on which to rear the sacred edifice," also a paper briefly stating the time and by whom the stone was laid, the names of the Rector, Wardens and Vestry, the architect, building committee and builders. Then, attended by the Rector, the Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg proceeded to the corner where, assisted by Mr. Thompson, he placed the stone in position and, striking it three times with the hammer, pronounced the Name of the Holy Trinity and commenced by saying: "I lay the cornerstone of an edifice to be here erected by the name of Christ Church, to be devoted to the service of Almighty God." After an appropriate prayer and the singing of the "Gloria in Excelsis," the Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg delivered an eloquent argument for free churches, a controversial subject in those days of rented pews; he both considered the objections to them and compared his own successful experiences in connection with the Church of the Holy Communion. He took occasion to correct some misrepresentations respecting that Church and said: "I have been for more than thirteen years Pastor of a Church which has been wholly supported by the Sunday offerings of the congregation, amounting to some $3,000 per annum, in addition to the collections for charitable and religious purposes which have greatly exceeded that amount. A few families of ability joined us at the outset and have continued [29/30] with us, but nearly all the rest of the congregation consists of persons in ordinary circumstances; indeed, a very large proportion of them are of those who, if they were obliged to pay pew rent, could not go to Church at all. Nor do the contributions come chiefly from the wealthy members; since more than half of the collections is in the smaller pieces of money. Our people, rich and poor, have been taught and have learned the lesson of the offertory, and, whatever impression to the contrary may be current, I assert that the Church of the Holy Communion is a fair instance of a self-supporting Free Church."

The Rev. Mr. Brewster, inspired by the occasion, followed with an address full of eloquent and convincing argument for the Free Church Principle. The service was closed by singing the 79th Selection to the tune of Old Hundred, and then followed the Doxology, in which the large assembly joined. A collation at the Rectory was enjoyed by the clergy and other guests.

During the building of the second Church, services had been suspended; but Mr. Brewster's zeal would not allow him to be idle, and it was at this time that he started a mission in Mr. George T. Newhall's carriage factory. After their working hours on Saturdays the workmen cleared the room and made it ready for Church Services the following day, and Mr. Newhall was so much impressed with this interest and the work involved, that he erected a two-story building in the same neighborhood, the upper part designed for a school, under the charge of the Board of Education, and the first floor set apart for the worship of God according to the rites and ceremonies of the Protestant [30/31] Episcopal Church. This building was opened for Divine Service and Sunday School in February, 1861, the Sunday School numbering seventeen children and five teachers.

In the Diocesan Journal for 1860, the report of Christ Church is this: "In December, 1859, a third service on the Lord's day was begun in the northern part of the Parish, and a Sunday School was organized which has been maintained without interruption, and with encouraging prospect of success."

Later, in 1861, is the following report: "The Mission in Newhallville which, since December, 1859, has continued to give encouraging tokens of good, was relinquished this spring to the control of the Rector of Trinity Church in this city." For a few years Dr. Harwood makes mention of it in his report, and then there is silence, but many years after, in 1890, the Newhall Mission became St. Andrew's Chapel, and Christ Church, having long fostered it, did not lose interest as time went on. Later, when Dr. Morgan was Rector of Christ Church, Father Burgess, his curate, became Vicar of St. Andrew's.

This second Church was built on the site of the present Christ Church, and into it was incorporated the little Chapel with all its memories and traditions. The chancel was moved intact; the nave divided in two to form the transepts, and a new nave was built. It was of matched boards with cleats protecting the seams, at first painted brown and later red. The position of the Altar was reversed, being placed at the West end, and the entrances were on Park Street and Broadway.

There was no Parish House. The Sunday School assembled in the Church; the "Infant Class" occupying [31/32] a pit behind the organ in the north (ecclesiastically) transept. It was well-lighted and commodious, and so secluded that the childish voices could not disturb the older classes.

It was a family parish; the children of the Sunday School were the sons and daughters of the parishioners, and, as a matter of course, attended service with their parents; that, within the protecting pew, they ate fennel or quietly entertained themselves with books or fans at the discretion of their elders was surely not disturbing to their angels.

Then at Christmas time the sled of the Senior Warden, Mr. Townsend, drawn by his white horse, took a group of men from the parish to his farm to bring back trees to decorate the Church, and running pine which was later fashioned into fragrant wreaths and hung in long festoons on the bare walls by young men and maidens.

The organizations met at the homes of the members, and "The Missionary and Homework" chapter sewed for Missions during the afternoon, then later a supper was served, restricted as to the variety of cake, so as to avoid rivalry which, though friendly, might embarrass some of the less able housekeepers. Sometimes the husbands came for supper and a social evening, and then there were square dances, ending with the Virginia Reel led by the Rector, and always the playing of "Home Sweet Home" was a hint that it was time to disperse. "The Guild," with no modifying or limiting adjective, was attended by the girls of the parish. They met once a week, at 7:30, and sewed until 9 o'clock, when the young men came, and dancing followed until io, except during Lent, when a modification of [32/33] "Twenty Questions," called "The Guild Game," was substituted. The players became very expert in guessing even the most illusive objects in this game; two that I remember were "the smoke from General Grant's cigar as he entered San Francisco harbour," and "the bone that Mother Hubbard didn't find in her cupboard."

By the Feast of the Epiphany, 186o, the Church, although not finished, was made ready for a service; but the law "that the Church be not consecrated until the debt on it be entirely and truly paid" had to be kept, so the Church could only formally be "opened" then by the Assistant Bishop, John Williams.

At 10:30 A. M. a procession of thirty-one clergymen, all but three in surplices, headed by Bishop Williams and the Rt. Rev. Bishop Lee, of Iowa, entered by the east door and proceeded to the chancel, reading responsively the 24th Psalm, "The earth is the Lord's, and all that therein is—." After the morning service the Holy Communion was administered, and in the evening a missionary service was held at which a large congregation was present. Addresses were made by Dr. Clark of Waterbury, Bishop Lee, and by the Rector; and a collection was made for Missions.

In April, 1861, when the receipts became inadequate, the project of renting pews was advanced. After much discussion and conference with the Bishop, it was voted:

(1) That the seats in Christ Church be offered for rent for one year from May first in the usual manner.

(2) That all the seats in the Church be offered for sale except those in the transept. (3) That it is expedient to take up a collection in aid of the revenue, on the first Sunday morning and the third Sunday evening of each month, to enable those who prefer to make their contribution that way.

[34] The Bishop expressed his strong interest in the Free Church principle, and his gratification at what had been accomplished by Christ Church, but he thought that the results of the experiment showed conclusively that the parish could not be sustained by that alone, and that some additional method should be adopted. The measure that seemed to him most likely to accomplish the object was that of renting the pews to anyone who might like to have them. This plan, he felt, would not render it necessary to discard the principle of free sittings on which the parish had been organized, but rather that the unrented pews might be scattered over the entire body of the Church, so that the free sittings would be as eligible as those rented; and then by taking up a collection at one service on Sunday, all who preferred to uphold the principle of free sittings could have an opportunity to do so at that time.

On the twenty-sixth of September, 1861, the treasurer reported that the deficit for the six months ending October 1st would be $500, and, by the end of the year, probably $1,000. It was voted to place the condition before the Rector, and at the conference which ensued he generously expressed his willingness to give up his stipend and to stand by the parish, continuing the services for the rest of the year, accepting therefor whatever the parish might be able to give after paying the necessary expenses of the Church. It was voted that an offertory should be taken at every service and devoted to the salary of the Rector, except the offering at the Communion Service on the third Sunday of each month, which was to be given to the poor as heretofore. The offertory on the second Sunday afternoon of as many months as might be agreed upon was to be devoted to [34/35] the missionary and benevolent institutions of the Church.

On February 8, 1863, the Music Committee recommended $25 to be paid to Lucius Thomas in acknowledgement of his gratuitous services as organist: and $5 to Rudolph Magill for faithfulness in pumping the organ. At the same time two vestrymen were made a committee "to stir up the people to greater liberality."

At a Vestry Meeting on May 31st of that year a communication was received from the Misses Edwards expressing regret at the failure to comply with one of the conditions of their subscription, namely, that there should be a service in the Church on Wednesdays and Fridays, and asking that action be taken to secure the fulfillment of this condition. The Rector stated that he was ready and desirous to continue those services, and had held them until the people had entirely ceased to come. Also that the heating of the Church was impracticable, and he had suffered from the cold. The Rector was asked to explain this to the Misses Edwards, and the congregation was reminded of its obligation to secure an attendance at the services.

On January 14, 1865, Bishop Brownell, who had consecrated the first Church building, died; he had become the Senior Bishop of the United States.

The Treasurer reported in April, 1865, that there was a gratifying increase in the income of the parish, the deficit having been reduced to $175, and a little later it was voted to raise moderately the rent of seats to meet an increase in general and extraordinary expenses. Then, at a special meeting called May 21st and continued by adjournment on June 11th, the Rector's salary was fixed at $1,200.

[36] In November, 1866, the need for a new organ became urgent, and, after negotiations with Mr. Baumgarten, it was agreed that he would install one for $1,700, taking the old organ "in trade." It was hoped to have the new organ installed by January, 1867. I do not know when this, in the course of years, became the "chronic invalid" of Mr. Elliott Morse's description, "whose pathetic. groan was wont to sound in the most artistic part of some important service." It was again replaced, in 1888-9, by a large and well-equipped instrument.

At this time the Rector and the parish suffered a great loss in the death of the Rector's wife, Mrs. Sarah J. Brewster. There was a special meeting called for November 19th, and the resolutions offered by Mr. Lyon were unanimously adopted: "God has called to her reward Mrs. Sarah J. Brewster, wife of the Rector of the Parish. We, desiring to express our profound regret for the deceased and deep sympathy for our Rector in his affliction, do hereby resolve: That in the life and character of the deceased was beautifully developed the true Christian woman—kind and considerate in word and deed—faithful in all the duties of her position—loved and respected by all who knew her; the loss which the parish has sustained in her death is most deeply felt, and her memory will long be gratefully cherished. That to the Rector and the family from whom has been taken a beloved and devoted wife, mother and sister, we tender our warmest sympathy in their great affliction."

The funeral of Mrs. Brewster took place at Christ Church on November 10th, at two o'clock, the Rev. Dr. Beardsley of St. Thomas' Church and the Rev. Mr. [36/37] Drown of St. Paul's officiating. The Wardens and Vestry acted as pall bearers, and a large number of clergy and others were present. She was buried on the seventh birthday of her youngest son, the present Bishop of Maine.

In March, 1869, the Misses Edwards again protested that the conditions of their agreement were not being fulfilled, and regretfully suggested that their subscription might have to be withdrawn. [Appendix C.] Mr. Lyon, on behalf of a committee, conferred with the Misses Edwards and reported a very pleasant interview in which the interests of the parish were fully discussed. The ladies expressed their undiminished interest in and desire for the prosperity of the parish and gave their consent that the week-day services of the parish might be discontinued when the weather was cold, and the circumstances of the parish would not warrant the expense of warming the Church.

An adjourned April meeting indicated increasing prosperity of the parish. Mr. Hotchkiss reported that pledges, resulting from a canvass of the parish, gave promise to amount to $ 800, and he believed that the yearly offertory would exceed $1,000. The Rector's salary was then voted to be increased to $2,000; it was also voted to paint the Church outside, including the fence. Plans were made to increase the income, but on December 7th the city placed a claim against the parish for the cost of a sewer on Whalley Avenue; and on April 17, 1870, the Treasurer stated that, although the income would have been sufficient for all regular expenses, it was not enough to pay off the debt at the [37/38] close of the year, which amounted to $400, nor to pay for the cost of painting, which had come to $5005 so that there would be a debt against the parish by May 1st of $900.

Not until 1870, when a committee was appointed to inquire as to the practical working of the Free Church System in parishes where the plan had been adopted, was any attempt made in Christ Church to return to this first principle. In May, 1873, it was voted that "after the Venite had been sung at the morning service, and following the corresponding chant at evensong, all seats shall be free, and that a notice welcoming strangers and stating this rule shall be placed in the entry." During these troublesome times, on April 5, 1876, the Senior Warden, William Townsend, sent in his resignation; it was not accepted. He resigned again in May, and this time it was accepted; but he was reelected on ballot. Two years later we find that all the pews had become free again, and the envelope system followed soon after in 1880.

The future of the Church was not neglected, for from the beginning a Sunday School numbering only three scholars had increased in a year to one hundred and fifty children and eighteen teachers. It seems to have maintained this record with a fair attendance for twelve months in the year; there were no summer vacations. The Sunday School festival was always held on Epiphany, the parish anniversary. I remember that the service in the Church began early with many carols which we had practiced for weeks beforehand, always including "We Three Kings," our special parish carol. When the generous tree was quite bereft of its gifts, we repaired to a nearby hall, sometimes an empty store, [38/39] for supper and games, and we were on our way home by the time most parties begin today. As Sunday School never closed, the summer picnic could choose any date when day schools were having their vacation, and there was nothing else that had to be done. Each family carried a generous lunch, knowing that everything would be spread out to be shared by all, and among the housekeepers was a friendly rivalry in cakes, pickles, etc.

Mr. Brewster had given himself unsparingly to the work of building up a parish from a tiny mission. He was a high-strung, sensitive man, and the years were broken by recurrent illnesses followed by partial recoveries. He was handicapped by constant financial struggle and disheartened by being obliged to relinquish his cherished principle of a Free Church, the ideal on which the parish was organized. Time after time he tendered his resignation "on account of continued ill health," and then withdrew it at the earnest request of the parishioners. [Appendix D.] He was saddened, too, by the death of his second wife, Mrs. Mary Kane Gibbs Brewster, whom he had married in 1875.

During these years we were indebted to many clergymen for assistance, serving both at the Altar and in the pulpit. Dr. Luther, Dean of Trinity College, helped so often that he seemed to belong to the parish, and Father Oliver Prescott, then attached to the Society of St. John the Evangelist, was a powerful preacher and a fine spiritual influence. In fact, the impression that he made upon the parish was such that at one time, when the rectorship was unoccupied, it considered calling a Cowley Father to fill the vacancy.

[40] After resigning from Christ Church, being still in ill health, Mr. Brewster spent some months visiting Saratoga Springs and other resorts of the same type. Then, somewhat rested, he accepted a call from Grace Church, Hamden, as it was a comparatively small church and not only a much lighter burden but also very near his Mt. Carmel home. He served it both as minister in charge and as rector for several periods between 1882 and 1894. [The parish house there was erected by his nephew, William Brewster, and Mrs. Marie Munger Brewster as a memorial to him, and dedicated by his son, Bishop C. B. Brewster, on October 17, 1902.] In that autumn he became Rector of St. Michael's Church, Brooklyn, and was transferred to the diocese of Long Island in March, 1895. He died in Brooklyn on the twentieth of November of the same year, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, on the twenty-fifth.

Memorials from the Vestry of St. Michael's, from the clergy of the city and of the diocese, emphasized Mr. Brewster's rare personality, his exceptional gifts, cultured mind, finished manner, and unfailing courtesy. His depth of sympathy and constant desire and effort to help the afflicted, his earnestness and devoted tenderness toward the sick, his promptness in responding to calls for priestly ministrations and his fervent desire to promote the spiritual and temporal welfare of all his parishioners, were all manifested in the worthy tribute which Mr. Elliott Morse read at a meeting which took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the Church. He said: "For twenty-two years in this House of God, one of the most human, lovable, and loved men blessed his people with painstaking service and outspoken heartfelt [40/41] exhortation. Endeared by his open, sympathetic nature, in no narrow and perfunctory way he made this church his home and the parishioner his peculiar property. In times of sickness and sorrow, who so near and close as he who had become beloved and honored as a father? At the bedside with tenderest words he opened the gates of Heaven to dying eyes; ministering offices of sympathy and comfort to bereaved hearts. Our joys always lacked something of completeness unless he shared them."

His pastorate was one of high aims, true ideals, ardent hopes, and many disappointments. He did all he could to further the aim of those good women to whom we owe the existence of Christ Church—"the week-day service and ever-open door—" truly and beautifully conceiving God's house, a home, a gate of Heaven never closed, thus making religion and worship a daily need for all. His fine enthusiasm was dwarfed and chilled by an expediency in which his generous, impulsive nature could take no part: that rock of our foundation which he so loved, "the Free Church with voluntary support," was the one on which this parish should have built, regardless of first cost. It might have struggled longer to have maintained a foothold on its sound base; for its perfect feasibility is demonstrated in the system now so many years our own.

It is particularly fitting that Mr. Brewster's memorial in Christ Church, the beautifully carved oak pulpit, should portray the great missionary preachers whose spirit he shared. [Appendix E.]

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