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Three Centuries On The Hill



They chose wisely, the Meads and Finches and Pecks who founded the Second Congregational Church, setting it high atop a hill overlooking a smattering of houses, a country road and a landscape of woodlands and small farms rolling gently down to the glittering waters of Long Island Sound. Three centuries later the church still stands, proudly, although it's safe to say that those sober and plain-spoken farmers would hardly recognize the magnificent Gothic stone structure that since Victorian times has been a local landmark, its soaring spire a navigation aid to all who sail the Sound.

"It is a beautiful and wonderful building," says Dr. Robert Naylor, the present minister, "but it is basically a vessel. What has made this church survive so well is the relationship of the people with each other and with the community; it's the faithfulness of the people inside the building."

The Second Congregational Church was founded for an eminently practical reason: The Mianus River split Greenwich in two and made the Sunday journey to worship a long and arduous one for those in the central, or Horseneck, part of town. The year was 1705. Queen Anne sat on the throne of England, the last Stuart and the last monarch to veto an act of Parliament, and Colonists paid their taxes in pounds and shillings and pence. The Town of Greenwich, the tenth oldest in Connecticut and settled for over sixty years, was still roughly divided into Sound Beach to the east and Horseneck to the west, with a total population of sixty-eight families. Although the First Congregational Church had been established in Sound Beach in 1685 — 'to procure and maintaine an orthodox minister' had been a condition of Greenwich's incorporation in 1665 — residents west of the river petitioned vigorously for their own house of worship. And so, in May 1705, the Colonial Assembly in New Haven officially sanctioned establishment of the West Ecclesiastical District, and therefore a second Congregational church, granting 'thirtie acres of land at Horseneck — for the ministrie.' "We have been gathering on the same hill ever since," says Second Church historian Phil Matthews.

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