It’s not the coolest cornerstone in religious history: a Bible, old hymnal, list of members, sermons, a newsletter, a letter from the pastor to future generations; some stones from the Holy Land.
But when United Methodist Church unveils that memorabilia tomorrow — in honor of the 50th anniversary of the original cornerstone laying — congregants will honor much more than those half-century-old relics.
The congregation on Weston Road has quite a history. In fact, the church predates the founding of Westport by almost as long as the date it celebrates tomorrow.
Its roots here go back to 1790. Jesse Lee — a Methodist from Virginia — rode his horse all around the area, inviting people to gather in homes for fellowship. Churches in Easton and Ridgefield are now named for him.
The first church was built on Poplar Plains. It’s near the site of the longtime Three Bears restaurant. Today it’s once more a home of worship — for Chabad.
In the 1850s the Methodists moved to the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Main Street. There’s a law office now, at the tip of what was then a much larger town green.
A new church was built on (appropriately) Church Lane in 1908. In 1966 — to help pay for the move to Weston Road — that building was sold to the church next door, Christ & Holy Trinity. The Episcopalians still own it; it’s been rechristened Seabury Center.
Other funds for the new church were secured by congregation families taking out 2nd mortgages on their homes.
The 5-acre Weston Road site was adjacent to the home of Robert Lawson, author of the children’s book “Rabbit Hill.” During construction, services were held at Coleytown Elementary School. The cornerstone-laying ceremony was held on June 27, 1967.
But for many years, this was not the only Methodist congregation in town. A building in Saugatuck was constructed in 1854, near where I-95 exit 17 is now. That congregation merged with the one on Church Lane in 1947. The Saugatuck building became an artists’ studio, before it was demolished in 1955 for the thruway.
The Saugatuck bell lives on, though. It was bought by John Sherwood, who set it in the grassy area in front of the Greens Farms train station.
It sat there for decades. A few years ago Sherwood’s descendants gave it to the United Methodist Church. It’s now in the memorial garden, just outside Reverend Ed Horne’s office.
A 2nd bell on Weston Road came from the old Church Lane building.
Rev. Horne is surrounded by — and thinks about — all that history, as he prepares for tomorrow’s cornerstone unveiling.
(It’s actually a re-enactment. The tin box was uncovered and opened a couple of days ago. Church officials wanted to avoid a Geraldo Rivera/Al Capone’s vault moment.)
The celebration — at the end of the 9:30 a.m. worship service — will include excerpts for the original service. In attendance will be a few congregants who were there at the groundbreaking 50 years ago. Former fire chief Harry Audley and his wife Pat are still active church members. Longtime teacher Pat Farmer and her husband Haynes — both near 90 — still sing in the choir. Gay and Liz Land plan to be there too.
The Methodist Church’s 50th celebration continues in September, with a dinner and visit from the bishop. Also on tap: a day of service in honor of the anniversary, and — next May — a commemoration of the 1st service in the new church.
Tomorrow’s unveiling ends with the installation of a new box of memorabilia in the cornerstone. It will contain a contemporary worship book; letters from young congregants, and a church DVD produced by Dan Gelman.
It will be opened again in 2067 …
… the good Lord willing.