Sketches of Church Life in Colonial Connecticut
Being the Story of the Transplanting of the Church of England into Forty Two Parishes of Connecticut,
with the Assistance of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
THE venerable and historic Christ Church at West Haven may well claim an honored place among the Colonial churches in this country. In 1723, ten or fifteen families conformed to the Church of England and organized the parish. The Rev. Samuel Johnson, the first Congregational pastor, located in West Haven, became convinced of the invalidity of his ordination and, not without great self-sacrifice, sailed for England in 1722 to receive Holy Orders in the Mother Church. He returned in 1723 and commenced his labors in this little mission at West Haven. Being the only Church clergyman in the colony, he could only hold occasional services here. Still the Churchmen were staunch and true, and waited patiently for his successor, the Rev. Jonathan Arnold, another pastor of the Congregational flock near by, to conform to Episcopacy. The Congregationalists had, by this time, become thoroughly alarmed, and stipulated, that if he, like his predecessor Samuel Johnson, should embrace the Episcopal faith, the money paid him as a settlement should be refunded. Still undaunted in his decision, in 1734 he was dismissed from his pastoral charge among the Congregationalists, and in 1735 went to England for Holy Orders. He returned in 1736 with the appointment as "itinerant missionary for Connecticut" of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and resided in West Haven. He also labored faithfully to sustain the missions in the neighboring towns of Milford, Waterbury, and Derby. It was thus that this little mission at West Haven became the mother Church of New Haven Colony. In 1740 Mr. Arnold left West Haven for Staten Island. His successor was the Rev. Theophilus Morris, an Englishman by birth. The Churchmen welcomed him with much pleasure, fearing they would be without a missionary. He speaks of the Church people as being intelligent, and well read as to the principles of Church government. Like his predecessor, Mr. Arnold, Mr. Morris ministered to the people in surrounding towns and laid the foundations of the churches at North Haven, Wallingford, and Simsbury. He remained in West Haven but two years, but during that time the present church edifice was built and almost completed.
Can we fully appreciate the faithful labors and self-sacrifice of that little band of Churchmen "who builded better than they knew." After Mr. Morris's departure, the Rev. James Lyons had charge of the parish for a time--then the ministries of Dr. Mansfield, Rev. Messrs. Punderson and Palmer bring the history down to 1767. Dr. Mansfield resided at Derby and gave West Haven parish one third of his time. Rev. Mr. Punderson and Mr. Palmer resided in New Haven and sustained the importance of the parish at West Haven. In 1767 the Rev. Bela Hubbard came to New Haven and assumed the charge at West Haven as well as the mission at New Haven. In 1771-2 Mr. Hubbard writes that "he was able to perform his Sunday duty to a decent and sober congregation, which people, even in the opinion of dissenters, were a regular and good sort of people; steady and exemplary in their attendance upon public worship--that he was pleased and happy at the situation and his congregation in five years increased one-third--and numbered 220 souls." But the dawn of the American Revolution is at hand and we must leave the further history of these children of the Mother Church of England to a future time. Suffice it here to add that they remained in he faith, unchanged and unchangeable, through all political change, and kept faithfully to her sublime and beautiful ritual that answers all the spirit's needs; that ritual "that age cannot wither of custom stale," dear from the associations of childhood, and divine from the experiences of life.