The First Congregational Church undergoes a restoration of its richly-hued stained glass windows — preserving an invaluable local history
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A Greenwich Storybook
Looking at the chapel windows is like leafing through a Greenwich family album. Images of the first settlers from 1640 are here, including Elizabeth Feake, who bought Greenwich Point from the Sinawoy Indians and was the only woman in town to own land. The first pastors are represented, as is John Davenport, the spiritual leader of the New Haven Colony, under whose jurisdiction Greenwich was established. “A very strict Puritan,” comments Dan England, assistant minister and director of adult education. “It’s ironic that he should be in the window, since he’s what the Congregationalists were fighting against.” Davenport tried to enforce the strict Congregationalism of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, from which the Connecticut sect had fled.
The first meetinghouse, built in 1694, was a white clapboard building of severe New England character with clear glass windows (stained glass was considered gaudy). “It was called a meetinghouse,” says George Handley, the congregation’s business administrator, “because it was the center of the village, where people would come to meet.”
“You couldn’t have a Greenwich,” adds England, “until you had a church.” To “procure and maintaine an orthodox minister” had been a condition of the town’s incorporation, and Greenwich residence was predicated on a certificate, signed by a minister, attesting to one’s moral character.
The windows also depict William Grimes, a reclusive bachelor who bequeathed the church thirty-two acres that provides income to this day; and the 1837 Greek Revival meetinghouse, which stood on the site of the present cemetery. The old burying ground on Tomac Road is quaintly painted with gravestones naming the movers and shakers of the seventeenth century: Perrot, Peck, Reynolds, Mead, and Ferris, for Jeffrey Ferris, who named the new community after his hometown of Greenwich, England. And, under full sail, is the Morning Star, which ferried Victorian missionaries to remote islands in the South Pacific, and the tireless churchwomen who packed the missionary barrels. Linking past with present and future, the final window shows the young people of the church carrying the cross to Greenwich Point for the Easter Sunrise service.
“I think one of the great virtues of being a part of the Christian tradition,” says England, “is that we are surrounded by history, by what Paul called clouds of witnesses. All of these people [he gestures to the windows] have been a part of who we are now. It’s the continuity with the past that gives you a real sense of participation, and an obligation to continue for the future.”