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The Rev. Dr. Waterman, pastor of the Congregational Church at Monroe, Connecticut, was the first occupant of its pupit—loaned to us by his own congregation: “A rare illustration of church courtesy”, so characterized by Dr. Post in his anniversary sermon above referred to. and, he continued “our gratitude to them is still living and our loving affection for him is now made holy by his benediction from the courts above".
On May 6, 1867, the Rev. John Knox McLean was chosen its first pastor, of whom it has been said "he was the one man ordained of God for the new church. It needed a leader; he was a born leader of men. It needed an organizer; his executive ability has rarely been equalled in any calling. It needed a strong expounder of the Congregational idea; his bold and independent utterances, ever discriminating and just, won the respect of all accustomed to think for themselves. It needed consecrated zeal; his tireless energy called forth every latent activity and his fervor evoked fervent prayer. Around him clustered every hope of the new church and the trust reposed in him was grandly kept."
He served as its pastor until Feb. 14, 1872, when he accepted a call to the First Congregational Church of Oakland, California. At the time of his death Feb. 16, 1914, he was President Emeritus of Pomona Theological Seminary, at Claremont, California.
At a meeting held April 20, 1868, it was unanimously resolved "That we will build a house of worship this summer". Subscription lists were circulated, $9,100 was subscribed and a committee was appointed “to look up a lot”. On May 15th the Committee was instructed to purchase the lot at the southeast corner of Fifth and Edwards Streets which is its present site. On June 1st, a plan for a building was presented and adopted and on the evening of Dec. 10th, 1868, the completed building was formally dedicated.
At the first annual meeting, Dec. 30th, 1868, provision was made for raising the current expenses for the ensuing year and a resolution was passed providing that all subscriptions should be payable to the Treasurer monthly in advance-a virtual adoption of the budget system now so generally in use.
April 12th, 1872, a call was extended to John H. Barrows, a theological student but twenty-five years of age. About a year later he was ordained but was soon obliged to temporarily retire from the ministry on account of ill health. After traveling extensively in Europe and the Holy Land, he spent seven years preaching in New England, when he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago, to which he ministered for fifteen years.
In 1893 he was selected as Presi. dent of the Parliament of Religions which met at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Later he was chosen President of Oberlin College, where he remained until his death on June 6, 1904 at the age of fifty-seven.
In all, fifteen men have ministered to the church as pastors. In a sketch of this character it is not possible to make adequate mention of them all but no history of the church, however brief, would be complete without mention of the following:
The Rev. Robert E. Nourse, who served from Sept. 1877 to Sept. 1880, was no less than a genius, his mind brilliant and versatile, his manner democratic and persuasive; his theme mattered not, his hearers were held spell-bound by his eloquence. His strongest appeal was to men and, especially during the sessions of the legislature, his audiences frequently taxed the capacity of the church. He resigned to accept a call to La Crosse, Wisconsin, but shortly thereafter removed to Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington City, where he made his home until his death. Besides serving a Washington paper in an editorial capacity, he was an accredited lecturer of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau.
The Rev. Roswell 0. Post, pastor from April 3, 1881 to Sept. 5, 1890, of whom it may truthfully be said that his own life was the best exponent of his highest teaching.
The Rev. J. Francis Davies, than whom no more accomplished, scholarly or broad-minded man ever occupied a Springfield pulpit.
And the Rev. William J. Johnson (a second Father Hale) who was pastor for the thirteen years, from Oct. 6, 1903 to Oct. 11, 1916 and who, though several years past three score and ten, is still pastor of the church at Oroville, California, and who had served the church and community so acceptably that when at the end of his first year, he spoke of retiring a
mass meeting of citizens, participated in by the civic authorities, united with his church-requesting that he remain.
On the roll of its lay-members are the names of two whose distinctive services make them out-standing figures.
Frank W. Tracy, one of its charter members, who was most active in its organization and most generous in its endowment, of whom it is written in a memorial presented by the Board of Trustees and adopted by the church on November 15, 1903, just after his decease "that to him Congregationalism in this city and state, owes a debt of gratitude which can only be repaid in part as we live out and extend the polity and principles of that church for which he labored so unceasingly, so lovingly and so aggressively."
And George A. Sanders, who served as choir master, gratuitously for thirty-eight years and under whose direction the choir became not only a vital factor in the worship of the church but a veritable school of music in which many of the prominent singers of the city received most valuable training.
The first house of worship was built in 1868 on the southeast corner of Fifth and Edwards streets, the site of the present edifice. In 1887 the building containing the church school and social rooms was added and in 1901, when the building of a new church was discussed, on account of its perfect acoustics, it was decided not to disturb the auditorium but to veneer it with stone, adding only a vestibule to the original structure. So that the church still worships in the auditorium built for it in 1868, no other changes having been made except that it has been redecorated and repaired from time to time.
It is of interest that the beautiful art glass windows were designed by that versatile artist and author, Francis Davis Millet, who in 1873 was secretary of the Massachusetts Commission to the World's Fair in Vienna, in 1878 served as a member of the International Jury of Fine Arts at the Paris Exposition and in 1893 was Director of Decoration and of Publicity for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
It is also worthy of note that the detail drawings of the vestibule (the work of the well-known local architect, Mr. George H. Helmle), on account of their excellence of design and beauty of ornamentation, have been given a place in the School of Architecture of the University of Illinois, to whom,
at the request of the Faculty, they were presented by the late General James S. Culver.
In the summer of 1887 some of the more ardent Christians of Springfield, realizing the special need for religious work in certain parts of the city, organized by the appointment of the following committee: the Rev. Roswell o. Post, minister of the First Congregational Church, the Rev. David S. Johnson, Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Francis Springer, a retired Lutheran preacher, the Hon. Christopher C. Brown and Messrs. Thomas C. Smith and Edwin A. Wilson, prominent Presbyterian laymen. Funds were solicited, a tent purchased and meetings held in various neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city under the leadership of W. F. Bischoff, a well known evangelist, who afterwards served the local Y. II. C. A. for many years as its secretary.
During the month of August the tent occupied the present site of Plymouth Church at the northwest corner of Sixteenth Street and South Grand Avenue.
Here the meetings were more than usually successful and a number professed conversion.
The need was so strongly felt that one hundred and seven persons joined in a petition asking that a church be established in that community. This was put into the hands of R. O. Post, C. C. Brown and Edwin A. Wilson.
Upon examination it was found that a large majority of the petitioners were more or less closely allied to the Presbyterian and Methodist churches while none was of Congregational antecedents and as four of the six members of the committee, that had been active in the promotion of the meetings, were Presbyterians it seemed advisable and the petition was submitted to that denomination but resulted in no favorable action.
It was then referred to the Methodists, who after having the matter under advisement for a considerable time decided that "for financial reasons” they could not then entertain the application.
The petitioners, thereupon, turned to the Congregationalists who promised to assist in every way possible, and Dr. Post
immediately wrote the Secretary of the Congregational Home Missionary Society, who responded by sending its State Evangelist, the Rev. George R. Wallace to investigate the situation and in his discretion to organize and establish a church.
Six or seven weeks had been spent in negotiations with the other denominations before their definite refusal, the tent had been moved to another neighborhood and the general interest had somewhat waned but upon his arrival on September 24th Dr. Wallace was given the names of nineteen who desired to organize a church.
The weather had grown too cold for tent meetings and there being no hall in the neighborhood, or any vacant building more suitable for the purpose Mr. George White, donated the use of his carpenter shop at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Douglas (now Lawrence Avenue). It was seated with old pews, taken from the First church and on Tuesday evening, October 4th, Mr. Wallace began his work with an audience of less than fifty.
In a short time the shop was crowded to its capacity, conversions were numerous and the interest grew so rapidly that on October 23rd, just nineteen days later, the Second Congregational Church of Springfield, Illinois, was organized with a charter membership of forty-four, twenty-eight of whom joined on confession of faith.
The dedicatory services were in charge of the Rev. James Thompkins, Superintendent of the Congregational Home Missionary Society of Illinois, assisted by the Rev. George R. Wallace and the Rev. Roswell 0. Post. The interest of First Church was further evidenced by the participation of its choir and a large number of its most active and influential members.
Immediately after the church was organized a subscription list was opened and Dr. Post, the Rev. Wallace and Mr. D. A. De-Vares, a member of the new church who had been active in its organization, spent months soliciting funds to be used in the purchase of a site and the erection of a house of worship.
When sufficient funds had been subscribed to warrant action the two lots at the northwest corner of Sixteenth and South Grand Avenue were purchased, plans for a building