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
ST. PAUL'S parish, Norwalk, has an existence which dates back to 1737. The first steps to form a parish here were taken by Rev. Henry Caner, a Yale graduate of 1724, who held occasional services in private houses, but it was not until several years later that the parish was regularly organized and a church built.
In 1737 services were regularly held under the direction of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which sent over from England books for "ye use of ye Missionary in Norwalk" that are still preserved.
For over forty years the sturdy little parish steadily grew and prospered, but, like all else in these old New England states, it then fell under the shadow of the mighty struggle for liberty. Then it came to pass, that on a fatal day in the year 1779, the British General Tryon sat in his chair on Grummon's hill and complacently watched his troops burn Norwalk, watched the flames as they greedily lapped up dwelling after dwelling, until finally they reached that sanctuary which had so often echoed with the voice of loyal worshippers, and laid it in ashes. The Rev. Dr. Leaming, who was then the missionary in charge, suffered grievously at the hands of both English and Americans, and, beside being left destitute and homeless, he was lamed for life and driven to flee to New York.
In 1780 the people, although "impoverished and scattered by this disaster, and the removal of their pastor, with a rare but characteristic devotion to the cause of religion, while their own dwellings may be said to have been smoking in ruins, constructed a temporary place of worship, and in 1785, rebuilt upon the former foundation." This church was the first one consecrated by Bishop Seabury, and therefore the first one consecrated not only in our Diocese but in all the United States.
Dr. Smith, one of Dr. Leaming's successors, wrote the Institution Office, the only one in the Book of Common Prayer that can be denominated an office of the American Church.
One of the most illustrious of the Rectors of this historical old parish was the distinguished Jackson Kemper, D.D., the first missionary Bishop of America, and who resigned his charge in Norwalk to become the pioneer of church work in the northwest (1835). He now sleeps beneath a granite shaft in the shadow of the old church he loved so well.
From what was originally St. Paul's parish there have been set off five distinct parishes: St. Matthew's, Wilton; St. Mark's, New Canaan; Church of the Holy Trinity and Christ Church, Westport; and Trinity Church, South Norwalk.
In 1840 the cornerstone of the present building was laid on the ancient site, and, to-day, the venerable church still stands in the midst of the graves of its beloved departed, hallowed by the memory of many noble souls and self-sacrificing deeds which are not forgotten on earth and are surely remembered in Heaven.