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
WHILE it is certain that there were earnest Churchmen among the residents here, during the first years of the eighteenth century, historians agree that the early history of the Church is obscure and "Tradition is the only source from which anything has been ascertained respecting the first rise of the Episcopal Church in Norwich."
Among the names of "Inhabitants allowed" are found those of Thomas Grist and Edmund Gookin as early as 1726, and it is more than probable that there were gatherings of Churchmen before 1731, the earliest date at which we have any record of Church services, which, it states, were held regularly three times a year.
At these services the Rev. Samuel Seabury of New London officiated until 1734, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Ebenezer Punderson. Mr. Brown says: "It is a singular coincidence that the clergyman who followed the Rev. Samuel Seabury in ministering to the Church of England, in Norwich, was the same man who, as a Congregational minister succeeded Mr. Seabury in charge of the Second Ecclesiastical Society of North Groton, and who subsequently pursued the identical course of Mr. Seabury, in resigning the charge of that Society, to sail to England for Holy Orders."
From an extract of a sermon preached in Christ Church Sept. 11, 1859, is called the following:
"Norwich was settled in 1659 by Puritan pioneers. Puritanism grew and flourished, without stint or abatement for nearly eighty years, when Episcopacy came, shot into its midst by the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts."
"A missionary named Punderson, an earnest indefatigable man, duly ordained in the Church of England, arrived in this region, sent and sustained by the same missionary spirit which now sends workers to other shores, and established the beginnings of a parish."
Despite the fact that Norwich was but one of the many charges of this energetic man, his work was blessed, and in the winter of 1746-47, we find a record of a meeting to consider the building of a suitable house of worship and the names of eighty-seven subscribers affixed.
It was nearly three years before this structure was completed, small, plain, and unplastered, as it was.
This edifice stood upon the site now occupied by our present beautiful Christ Church.
Mr. Punderson became its first clergyman, ministering to its people in rotation with those of his other charges until 1751, when he was transferred to New Haven.
For eleven years after Mr. Punderson's departure the parish had no regularly officiating clergyman, but the Church was not forsaken. A lay reader furnished the old, familiar, much loved prayers and occasionally Mr. Seabury and his successor, Mr. Graves of New London, ministered to the little flock.
In 1760 a subscription was raised towards defraying the expenses of Mr. John Beardsley to England for Holy Orders, and an agreement entered into with him to become their minister on his return, for which he was to receive the annual sum of 33 pounds towards his support. He returned in 1763, remaining about five years, when he was transferred to Poughkeepsie.
In 1768 a young man, John Tyler of Wallingford, by arrangement and contribution of the eighty-six members of the parish went to England for ordination, and entered upon his duties the following year. Under his ministrations the parish took on new life, and the close of the first year shows a record of 111 families, with 23 communicants.