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History of the First Congregational Church of Antwerp

History of the First Congregational Church of Antwerp

The First Congregational Church of Antwerp was organized in July, 1819, by Rev. Isaac Clinton, then principal of the academy at Lowville.

The event took place in Copeland Hall, upon the site of the present Proctor House. The original members were William Randall, Percival Hawley, Edward Foster, Elijah Hoyt, Hosea Hough, Mrs. Hawley, Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Frances Eaton, and Mrs. Polly Copeland. It was agreed beforehand to employ either a Presbyterian or a Congregational minister, as might be most convenient, and to allow him to choose the polity of the organization.

Mr. Clinton being a Presbyterian, the church took that form of government, and so remained for many years. In 1838 a newly-elected deacon could not conscientiously subscribe to that portion of the ordaining ritual that requires “approval of the government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States,” and it was accordingly omitted. In 1840, several others chosen to that office, and to the eldership, expressed the same scruples and requested that the same omission be made in their ordination. The minister who was to officiate learning of this fact, refused to perform the ceremony, and they were not ordained. The conflict thus begun became more intense, and continued till the peace and prosperity of the church were destroyed. For years it was in a state of chaos, having no settled form for administering its internal affairs or enforcing discipline. It seems to have been in doubt even as to its own identity. Its elders resigned and its session disorganized, June 29, 1849. At the same time it was voted that a certain applicant for admission should be received “after the Congregational order.” Some regarded these acts and usages as a change to Congregationalism; others, as virtual disorganization; others, still, thought the church Presbyterian without elders. Affairs remained in this state of confusion till June 3, 1854. At this date a vote was passed unanimously, both males and females voting, “to adopt the Congregational form of government.” Thus was the long strife ended, and harmony once more restored. For years, however, it remained without rules for the election of officers or the transaction of business. It was this divided and belligerent condition of the church that did much to render so many years of its history inefficient and unfruitful in good.

We have no record of the doings of the church for the first three years; probably none was kept. Tradition is the only source of information. From this it is known that Mr. Clinton preached every alternate Sabbath for a year; Revs. Dearborn and Wellington a few months each; and Rev. C. Wait from the fall of 1821 till the spring of 1823. Then for a third of the time during the next twelve months Rev. James Sandford, of Ox Bow, supplied the pulpit. From the beginning of his ministry the minutes of the church have been preserved. Several long intervals, however, are passed over without entry.

Rev. Charles G. Finney labored during July, August, and September, 1824, and the whole village and surrounding country were moved by his powerful sermons. There were a large number of conversions, and forty-one were added to the church. This was the first religious awakening of any moment that ever occurred in the town.

The only persons now identified with the church that belonged to it at that time are Mr. Japhet Chapin and wife, both past eighty. They joined by letter under Mr. Finney. On February 21, 1825, this entry was made in the minutes: ” The whole amount of members, infants included, is as follows: adults in communion, 56; infants, 45; total, 101.” Prom this it appears that baptized infants were regarded as members of the church. It would seem also that there were but six accessions before Mr. Finney came, — these being during Mr. Sandford’s ministry. This is probably the reason there are no entries of an earlier date. Nothing was done, and, of course, there was nothing to record. Rev. R. R. Demming was supply during 1825, and Rev. J. D. Pickands through 1830. In the interval of the year following there was preaching only a few months at a time by different clergymen. The additions to the membership during these seven years were twenty-seven.

For a long time the church owned no house of worship, and was greatly embarrassed in consequence. It was excluded from the brick church built by Mr. Parrish, now owned by the Catholics, because it would not hire a minister to suit all classes. In 1830 it was voted at a school-meeting that no religious gathering should be allowed in the school-house. This illustrates the opposition the church encountered and the difficulties it had to contend with in its early history.

In the summer of 1831 the church began to build its first meeting-house, and completed it the following year. It was a plain frame structure of small dimensions. Mr. Japhet Chapin, a carpenter by trade, and an elder in the church, did most of the work, trusting in God for pay, and was amply compensated, even temporally, for the year was a prosperous one for him. Mr. L. A. Wickes, a young theological student, who was supplying the church that season, did much to help the work along, laboring with his own hands with great zeal. In January, 1832, Rev. A. L. Crandall began his ministry, which lasted for three years. In autumn the new building was dedicated and occupied. The Spirit came down in great power, and numbers were converted. There were constant accessions under Mr. Crandall, — sixty-four in all, forty-one by profession. Rev. Henry Jones succeeded him in January, 1835, remaining till July, 1836. The results were forty-five additions, thirty-two from other churches. He first agitated the anti-slavery question in the pulpit. Rev. L. A. Wickes comes next. During his third and fourth years sixty-two joined the church. The growth of the church was constant and rapid. His first report (February, 1837) showed one hundred and thirty-two in its communion; his last (in February, 1841), two hundred and one. During the five years of his labors one hundred and ten were taken into its fellowship. The gains were to the losses as two to one. He resigned July 4, 1841. Rev. H. H. Waite was ordained and installed pastor in March, 1842, having begun his labors in November preceding. In his second year, assisted by Rev. C. B. Pond as evangelist, he held a series of meetings with marked success. On May 7, 1843, fifty-six connected themselves with the church on confession of faith. The next annual report (February, 1844) gives the membership at two hundred and thirty-three, — the largest in its history previous to 1876. Seventy-four were the total additions during this pastorate. Mr. Waite remained three years, leaving in the fall of 1844. The next five years were utterly barren. For more than half the time the society was without preaching or public service. Revs. John Thompson and S. Williams each preached a twelve-month. Rev. C. B. Pond’s ministry followed, commencing May 1, 1849, and continuing to May 1, 1857. This, like the preceding, was a period of conflict and transition from Presbyterianism to Congregationalism, and was characterized by death and desolation in spiritual things. During four years of the time there are no entries made in the minutes; only fifteen names are recorded as additions to the church. Mr. Pond, however, labored faithfully for the prosperity of the society and the town. He was one of the leading movers in the building of the Antwerp Academy. Through him, also, in 1852, the church was induced to erect its second house of worship,— the one now known as the “old Congregational church.” It cost about six thousand dollars, and was considered an elegant structure for the day and place. The pulpit was next filled by Rev. Mr. Mosher for a few months. Rev. R. T. Conant from August 1, 1858, to August 1, 1860, and Rev. H. H. Waite a second time, from September 1, 1860, to September 1, 1864. There were five accessions to the church under Mr. Conant’s charge, and twenty-four under Mr. Waite’s. Rev. Jesse H. Jones began his labors June 1, 1865. This was the beginning of new life and prosperity in the church. A thousand dollars were expended in repairing the church edifice, a parsonage was purchased at a cost of thirteen hundred dollars, a manual of church order and polity was adopted, and for the first time was the Congregational organization completed and set in motion

A new covenant was drawn up. Those whose names appeared on the roll were visited, and as many as possible of the old members were induced to sign it, ” with a view to reviving the church, completing its organization, carrying on its discipline, and maintaining it as a healthy branch of the Christian vine.” Thus a new body was reconstructed out of the elements of the old, and fresh life and vigor imparted to it. In spite of some divisions and alienations that sprang up in the latter part of Mr. Jones’ ministry his administration was characterized not only by great energy and ability, but by more than ordinary success. He resigned May 2, 1869, having received into communion sixteen from other churches and thirty-seven converts. Rev. J. A. Canfield began his labors the next Sabbath. His ministry was also a very successful one, and the church was greatly prospered. Twelve were brought into her membership by letter and fifty-one by profession; a total of sixty-three, among them some of the best elements in the church. Towards the close of his pastorate the stone” edifice now occupied by the church was begun. It was largely due to his influence that it was undertaken and carried through to completion.- It is one of the finest church buildings in this section of the State, the structure itself costing $20,000, and the lot on which it stands with the parsonage and sheds $6000 more. The church was never before in so good a condition financially or more united and harmonious than at the time of Mr. Canfield’s resignation. May 31, 1874. The present incumbent, Rev. J. H. Crum, took charge of the church on the 1st of November following. Since that time one hundred and fifty-two have been added to its numbers. Eighty-six joined at the communion held February 13, 1876, the fruit mostly of a revival during that winter under his preaching. The present membership of the church (September 1, 1877) is two hundred and sixty-one. Its Sabbath-school numbers two hundred and thirty-five. It is free of debt. Its annual expenses are about $2000. Its benevolent contributions the past year, $335.38. Its history covers a period of fifty-eight years. It has had twenty-two different ministers and nearly seven hundred members in the aggregate.

Source:  Durant, Samuel W. and Henry B. Peirce. History of Jefferson County, New York, With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1878. p 283-284.

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