NEW LONDON (7/15/2013) -- On Sunday, the Second Congregational Church of New London held its final worship in New London and ended the service with a caravan to a new home in Waterford. This historic moment in the life of Second Church comes after months of planning and a great deal of determination.
Second Church was founded in 1835 by a group of parishioners from First Church of New London three blocks away. Once a large congregation that filled the 500 seat sanctuary, recent years have shown a decline in numbers. Several years ago, the congregation began discussing viable options for its future.
According to church treasurer David Cattanach, the church has spent large amounts of money on building repairs and improvements in the past decade. Much of the money came from the church's endowment. In addition, several years of budget deficits, in some cases approaching $40,000, have eroded the endowment further. Interim Pastor the Rev. Matt McCaffrey said the church had become organized around keeping the historic building operating at a cost of nearly $100,000 per year. In 2012, under the guidance of Regional Minister Tom Clough, the church entered a discernment period. They discovered that they still had signs of a vital ministry, but were overburdened with the needs of the building.
In April, the church received a call from the Rev. Larry DeLong, pastor of Miracle Temple of New London. His church was looking for a new space to worship. Six weeks later, the congregation approved the "sale" of the New London building, agreeing to a transfer of ownership that that would ensure the building was a home to a Christian ministry.
The morning after the congregation voted to transfer the building, McCaffrey received another call. The Rev. Anne Fuhrmeister and members of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church in Waterford wanted to extend their hospitality to the Second Church congregation. They were offering the church a new temporary home. This was an offer of hospitality, not a merger. An agreement was made. Second Church would keep its name and identity. The two groups would worship at separate times on Sunday, but share resources where they could, such as Bibles. Second Congregational Church of New London would now become the first UCC church to exist in Waterford.
David Cattanach says he is both saddened and relieved by the transition. He says leaving the Broad Street location in New London is painful because of the history of the church, but the new owners have agreed to leave most of the historic plaques in the church and will continue to allow the community groups who use the space during the week to remain. Cattarnach says the relief of not worrying about building costs is tremendous.
"We don't want to talk building expenses anymore. We're tired of that," said Cattanach.
In fact, the congregation was so tired of discussing building expenses that Cattanach and others who were involved in negotiating terms with the Crossroads church said they would discuss a monthly dollar amount, but they would not talk about "sharing utilities or using the word rent."
In the final worship service in New London on Sunday, McCaffrey spoke of journeys. He told the story of his own family traveling from Vermont to Boston to see his merchant marine father who was only ashore for a short time. McCaffrey's mother would plan the 10 hour trip for days and create large maps to help guide her in a time when interstate highways from Vermont to Boston had yet to be built. McCaffrey also spoke about a time when he and his wife, Alison, planned a bike trip around New England for youth. They too spent hours planning and drawing maps for the route. But the maps were only a guide.
"It really wasn't the maps that got us where we're going," said McCaffrey. "What made the plan happen was huge preparation, confident determination, and trust in God... Today is about stepping out on a journey."
After a litany of farewell and covenant in which the church agreed to "continue to journey together," the congregation recessed from the sanctuary on Broad Street. McCaffrey carried the large Bible from the pulpit while the deacons brought communion items, the cross, candles, and the UCC flag. They exited the church, followed by the congregation, and placed the items in McCaffrey's truck. With the flag streaming from the pickup bed, all traveled 4 miles to Waterford where they were received by members of the Crossroads Presbyterian Church. As chancel appointments were placed in the Crossroads sanctuary, Fuhrmeister welcomed them all with a prayer. Then the two congregations sang a familiar hymn. It was the second verse of They Will Know We Are Christians that spoke to the future of both groups:
"We will walk with each other. We will walk hand in hand."
Drew Page is Media Assistant for the Connecticut Conference UCC.