Church History

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The following is from 250 Years of the First Church of Bethlehem

The earliest records of the Episcopal Society of Bethlem go back to a legal warning for a meeting issued by David Bellamy, Justice of Peace, wherein 14 men declared themselves members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Connecticut, and expressed a desire to be incorporated into a district society. The warning is dated March 13, 1807, and the meeting was called for March 30th at the home of Amos Lake. But at least one meeting, (and perhaps several) was held prior to the momentous step of becoming a “district society”. The Rev. Daniel Burhans of Newtown, Ct. was at least partially responsible for initiating a meeting September, 1806 at the home of George Bloss on Carmel Hill in Bethlem.

It was not an easy beginning as money was scarce and the services had to be held in the Center School House. Services were infrequent as it was difficult to obtain a minister on so little money. A church building was clearly needed and on February 15, 1820, Dr. Burhans wrote from Newtown urging the people of Bethlem to get busy and build a church. About this time a Mr. Atwood bequeathed $500 for the erection of an Episcopal Church but the church was not actually started until 1829. Work was slow and in May 1831, it was voted “that our committee be directed to do of the inside of the church after the plan entitled No. 1, with circular seats with one pair of stairs to the pulpit”.

In September 1835, Bishop Brownell consecrated the new brick church naming it Christ Church. The following spring, 18 members of the parish subscribed to a “Fund” amounting to $3041.00 from which the interest would pay a preacher. Now the parish had two very important things – a place to worship and some working capital.

While at times the church was “full of life and vigor”, it was not always so. The lowest point was reached in 1874 after the church had been enlarged. A year earlier, the Congregational Church invited Christ Church to unite with it and some members took up the offer and left the church. In 1874, a special meeting was called in January to determine whether or not it was worth while to keep the church open after the end of the fiscal year. They had to liquidate the debt of the Society and somehow it was done, for later that year the church sought clerical service for the coming year but at a much curtailed rate.

Physical changes were numerous to the church from the beginning. The high pulpit with stairs lasted until 1839 when it was lowered. In 1840 additions and alterations were made in the seating. At some early date the church had a center aisle. This became apparent in 1955 when repairs to the floor were made. The present balcony is not original and no doubt was added during one of the many changes.

In 1869, Mr. R. W. Hill, a Waterbury architect was hired to enlarge and rebuild the church. In 1870-71, the work was completed with the present chancel added, the ceiling lowered and perhaps the center aisle taken out. The framework for the old windows can still be seen in the space above the present ceiling. In 1955, the last major change was made with the replacement of floor joists and floor. At the same time the center aisle was restored.

The bell in the church weighing 938 pounds was purchased for $288.88 in 1849 from the West Troy Foundry. The present parish house was built in 1932 in memory of Albert E. Johnson who had served the church long and faithfully.

In more recent years, the church saw the need for space to accommodate additional church activities and a Sunday School. The old library building had been vacated because the new brick Bethlehem Library had been built with donations from Christine Bloss and citizens of the town.  In 1969, as a result of a request from Christ Church, the Town of Bethlehem leased the old library building to the church for a nominal amount per year, which eh church also maintaining the building.

In 1983, Jonson Memorial Hall was joined to the church with a building addition which created a walkway between the two buildings, a meeting room and offices.

The history of Christ Church is lengthy.  Like most churches, it has had its moments of glory and periods of discouragement. Today, it lives prominently in the center of Bethlehem, the only building standing made of bricks from a local brickyard, an important part of our small town both physically and spiritually.

Updated: April 1, 2016 — 7:23 pm
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