Photos courtesy of Peter Plagge
The first attempt at organized religious services in Waterbury dates back to 1796 when Asaph Allen and David Austin settled here and found to their distress that although there were then nearly 600 souls living here, there were no regular religious meetings. With other concerned residents, they soon established regular religious meetings on the sabbath, and to quote from the Rev. Parker's history of the church, “from that time there has been no interruption of public worship on the Sabbath to the present day.” The church was officially organized with the help of the Rev. Jeremiah Bushnell, on July 19, 1801, with ten men and six women pledging, “To walk together in love.”
In December 1802, the church called its first pastor, Rev. Jonathan Hovey, his service of ordination being held in the grammar school which stood a little back of the site of the present church and was used for church services. “Entire unanimity between the pastor and the people did not long continue, and he was dismissed December 31, 1807” (Manual of the Congregational Church, 1940). For the next 18 years, until the present church was built in 1824, the church had no pastor although meetings were regularly held on the sabbath “in schoolhouses, private houses, and barns.”
The present house of worship grew out of the efforts of the White Meeting House Society, among them Amasa Pride to whom a current stained glass window is dedicated, and Judge Ezra Butler, then governor of Vermont and Judge Carpenter. Money was raised by the sale of pews and the land deeded by Mr. Pride for $150. The White Meeting House, as it was called, was dedicated in 1824. The White Meeting House was incorporated as the Waterbury Congregational Church in 1913. One hundred years later, to reflect the church’s desire to be a place of gathering for food, art, music, and ideas the church formally agreed to call themselves the Waterbury Congregational Church at the White Meeting House, thus expressing our call to be a church of welcome and exploration, not just for members, but for the community.
Over the next 75 years, the church grew and the building was shaped by the growing congregation. The footprint of the building was expanded (1867), a chapel was added (1880), stained glass windows installed (1890), and the church basement finished for use as a kitchen and dining area (1892) which has served for many years as the place for the community to congregate and share a meal together. Perhaps most famous of those meals is the one served every night for weeks by church members in November of 1927, following the great flood of 1927. No one will forget the Thanksgiving meal served by the good people of Burlington who traveled to Waterbury to serve the weary folks who had been serving the community.
In 2000, a sound system was installed in the sanctuary in advance of the bicentennial celebration which was held July 28 and 29, 2001 with Rev. Plagge delivering the sermon, “How Shall We Sing the Lord’s Song?” Following that celebration, the church embarked on a capital campaign to address some serious structural issues in the foundation, roof, and steeple. A new deck and set of stairs were added to the front of the building and new office space to the back.
The church, since its inception, has been trying to serve the Waterbury community. We have been a light on the hill since 1801 and, as we said in our Bicentennial Capital Campaign, we expect to be a light on the hill in 2201, singing the Lord’s song, serving food, helping our neighbors, exhibiting art on the sanctuary walls, hosting musical concerts, providing meeting space for nonprofit and for-profit groups and above all, inviting anyone, “no matter who they are or where they come from,” to worship in community.