This church was organized in 1775, three years after the Kensington parish was finally split and our Worthington parish established — the division made necessary by sixty-five years of wrangling among Kensington church members over location of the meeting house, travel difficulties for those on the parish outskirts, Ecclesiastical Society taxes and assessments and various other petty jealousies and squabbles between the residents of the eastern and western sections of the town.
In October, 1774, the thirty-eight farmers and artisans who, with their families, made up the original membership dedicated their new meetinghouse, a building which still stands 200 yards to the north and on the opposite side of the street from our current church building. That first building was partially destroyed by a fire in 1848, a fire thought to have been set by someone in violent disagreement with the stern temperance sentiments of the church leadership in those days. The building was rebuilt, minus the steeple at the north end, and sold to the town. Since then it has been used as a Town Hall, a grammar school, and school administration offices. The old building is now empty and is owned by the Berlin Historical Society.
The fire prompted the congregation to build a new church structure, the present meetinghouse. Remodeling went on for several years—the balconies were added and a taller steeple was built over the original, which everyone had decided was too small and out-of-proportion. A large addition was added at the rear in 1900 and then in 1950 the building was completely renovated, the pipe organ moved away from the front to the side, and all the dark woodwork painted white—the church as we know it today.
For more than a century after its founding, the Berlin Congregational Church, guided by its pastors and deacons and following the stern traditions of our Puritan forefathers, provided community leadership backed by unyielding moral and ethical values and faith in the history and spirit of congregationalism. Members covenanted with each other to keep “brotherly watch” over their fellows. Sinners and back-sliders were relentlessly pursued, prayed over and urged to reform.
Vast changes since those “simpler” days have lessened the influence of religion in modern American society—our membership today is approximately half what it was at the beginning of the 20th century. Most of New England’s independent Congregational Churches, including this one, were absorbed into the United Church of Christ in the 1950s and social concerns occupy a portion of the church’s agenda these days, in contrast to the more traditional emphasis on the individual’s relationship to God. But like everything else, these things go in cycles, and Bible-based preaching and evangelism are again gaining popularity as we find ourselves in the 21st century. Thus, we can still appreciate the words of the original 1775 covenant and endeavor to live up to them, even in this busy and hectic age:
“And we do now openly and solemnly dedicate and give up ourselves to God… to be guided by His Spirit, to be ruled by Him…trusting by the assistance of the Blessed Spirit that we will live soberly, righteously and Godly all the days of our lives.”