Somers Congregational Church Celebrates 150th anniversary

The Congregational Church of Somersville was organized and established on Jan. 4, 1871. Its original 15 members consisted of Sanford M. Billings, Samuel M. Darby, Elijah Cutter, George A. Converse, Mrs. Mary A. Cutter, Mrs. Fidelia A. Arnold, Mrs. Hannah Billings, Miss Amelia Billings, John W. Little, William H. Billings, William Henry Reynolds, Mrs. Amercia Little, Mrs. Ellen F. Gowdy, Mrs. Sarah A. Hurlburt, Miss Abby F. Cutter. 

The church was started in an unusual way. James M. Billings Esq. a native of Somersville and youngest son of Alpheus Billings, left Somersville to make his fortune in New York.  At that time the first church in Somersville was the Universalist Church. Because many Somersville Congregationalists did not approve of the Universalistic doctrine and because it was not always easy to travel to the Somers Congregational Church, they wanted to start a Congregational Church in Somersville.  Billings was also not satisfied with the Universalist Church so in his will he presented a challenge to the Congregationalists.

For every dollar raised he would match it by $2 up to $10,000, with the stipulations that the creed of the church had to be Congregational and it had to be approved by an Ecclesiastical Council according to Congregational usage. The money had to be used for the purchase of land and building of a church, or buying a church and land; and for enlarging the church belfry, for the purchase and hanging of a bell and for the purchase of a suitable musical instrument.

In 1871, $10,000 was a large sum of money for most people. The future members of the Congregational Church of Somersville actually raised $5,625 with a total of 57 donations, but the will stated that only up to $10,000 would be paid. People pledged and paid from $5 to $1,000 to meet the $10,000 challenge. Many of the people who pledged did not become members.  

Stipulations were met to the satisfaction of the will so the $10,000 was paid. The Universalist building was purchased for $2,000, the land title was conveyed to the Congregational Church by a 999-year lease, and a other furnishings were bought. Thus, the Congregational Church of Somersville was born. 

 The Congregational Church of Somersville began celebrating its 150th year anniversary on Jan. 3 with a “kick-off” historical church service that consisted of an 1800-style service with Communion, the receiving of four new members, and the introduction of an anniversary hymn and 1800 church music. The Rev. Graham Van portrayed the Rev. Charles H. Gates, the first ordained minister, and various members will be dressed in period apparel.

Throughout the year, the church will have presentations by senior members, friends of the church, and past ministers recalling memories of the early church; a chicken barbeque, an old fashion ice cream social with the Rev. Charles Gates giving tours, a harvest potluck using 1800 recipes, a horse and carriage ride in the 4 Town Fair, and development of a time capsule to be opened in 25 years. 

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