Touchstones With History: Domestic Missionary Society

9/21/2016
By John Van Epps

This year is the 200th anniversary of the formation of the Domestic Missionary Society, the precursor to what became the United Church Board for Homeland Missions and now the Local Church Ministries. In 1814 Lyman Beecher of Litchfield gave his famous sermon on the "Waste Places in Connecticut". He intoned, "There are in this state, districts as far from heaven, as the pagans of Hindustan (India) and China." Specifically, he meant New London County (!), where there was an area of 600 square miles and eleven parishes which were destitute of Congregational ministers. In response the General Association appointed a committee! In June, 1816 it was resolved to form a Domestic Missionary Society, for Connecticut and its vicinity. Actually, previously in 1724 the churches were sent a letter encouraging them to support the building of a meeting house in Providence, the beginning of the care of Connecticut for its "little sister"- Rhode Island.

After 1816 an offering was collected in the fall for these churches. Initially it was deemed that seventeen churches were in need of assistance. At least six were in New London County, but they ranged across the state, including the churches of Greenwich, Naugatuck, and Darien. (These small, poor parishes!) Over the decades over 80 churches were assisted, with over half of them becoming self-sustaining. Some churches received assistance for only a year or two, others for over twenty years. Most were able to survive, although some did become extinct. Those churches who received the most assistance, from 27 to 36 years, were Buckingham in Glastonbury, Bridgewater, Wapping in South Windsor, Westford in Ashford, East Granby, and West Suffield.

Then in 1831 the CT Domestic Missionary Society became an auxiliary of the recently formed American Home Missionary Society (1826). This also included other Reformed denominations, but by 1860 it had become predominately Congregational. In the 1930s this became part of the Homeland Missions Board, and today is Local Church Ministries. So the domestic mission of our churches continues in this mission, through our conference programs, and many other ways.

The Rev. John Van Epps is Archivist of the Connecticut Conference UCC.