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History of The Church in Aurora

MEMORY MOMENTS of The Church in Aurora

 

During this Bicentennial year, we hope to take time each week to remember and give thanks for the ways—large and small, that God has guided, provided and blessed this institution and Body of Christ we know and love as The Church in Aurora.

 

 

We remember, the Missionary Society of Connecticut, a congregational mission agency established in 1798 with the purpose "to Christianize the heathen in North America and to support and promote Christian knowledge in the new settlements within the United States."  It will send missionaries to work among western settlers until 1830.

In the late 1700’s, as the tide of emigration floods westward into New York, Pennsylvania and New Connecticut—what is now Ohio, the new settlers are either too poor or too indifferent to secure church privileges, and there is great concern for the lack of religion in the frontier communities.

Addressing this concern, the Christians of New England begin home missionary work, both to furnish the pioneers with preaching and to reach the Indians near new settlements.  The state of Connecticut is in the forefront of this movement—especially in its western "reserved" lands south of Lake Erie.  It is from this organization’s efforts and God’s sovereignty that The Church in Aurora will come into being.

 

The General Association of Connecticut meets in the summer of 1774 and votes in favor of raising funds to send missionaries to "the settlements now forming in the wilderness to the westward and northwestward," including New Connecticut (Ohio).

The Connecticut churches respond so favorably that in September the Association votes to send two pastors in the spring of 1775 on a mission of five to six months through the new regions, provided the funds necessary for their support are in the hands of the committee.  The outbreak of the Revolutionary War a year later puts this plan on hold.

By 1793, eight pastors are named as missionaries to go on tours of four months each.  They are to receive a weekly compensation of $4.50 with an additional $4.00 a week for the supply of their pulpits.  One of these missionaries is the Rev. Joseph Badger who will eventually visit a tiny settlement in the Connecticut Western Reserve called Aurora.

 

The Rev. Joseph Badger, a revolutionary war veteran and devout man, is sent to the Western Reserve by the Connecticut Missionary Society in 1800 to minister to the settlers and Indians between the Cuyahoga River and Detroit.

He rides on horseback, fording icy streams and plowing through snow drifts so deep he has to clear a path for his horse.  Systematically visiting the settlements scattered through out the Reserve, Rev. Badger notes the living conditions and the number of families in each.

On July 4th 1801, he gathers with 30 others in a Hudson cabin to hear a man from Ravenna give an oration.  Badger disapproves of the address because it is "interlarded with many grossly illiberal remarks against Christians and Christianity."

Turning northward, Rev. Badger makes a call to an unspecified number of families in the settlement of Aurora.

 

We remember the perseverance of Rev. Joseph Badger who has numerous visits to Aurora.  In January of 1803 he writes in his journal, "…preached in Aurora to fifteen souls, alas!, as stupid as the woods in which they lived."

But by May of 1804, Badger writes after two more sermons, "it being the first Sabbath preaching in the town.  They agreed to meet hereafter constantly on the Sabbath."

From that time on, residents gather in homes each Sunday to read sermons, sing hymns, and to pray.  The sights and sounds of a possible "congregation" are beginning to take shape.

In 1808, as Aurora’s population grows, a Baptist minister is hired to lead worship and preach one-third time.  Local historian William Dawson wrote, "Most of the professing Christians during those early years were Congregationalists from New England.  They were a minority group, and the fact that no church was organized until ten years after Aurora’s founding shows the lack of religious fervor in this frontier township."

But all of that will change within a single year.

 

The Rev. Nathan B. Darrow, another Connecticut Society missionary, reaches Aurora on November 29, 1809.  He preaches to about forty people gathered in a local cabin to hear the Word of God and receive news from the east.  Among those gathering, Rev. Darrow finds several who voice their desire to organize a church.

Returning on December 30th Rev. Darrow meets with those holding letters of dismissal from their home churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts.  As is the custom, each potential member is examined in faith and practice.  

Indentifying twelve worthy souls, Rev. Darrow invites them to gather the next day, December 31st for a Sabbath service, again at the house of John Singletary.  Two discourses are preached based on Matthew 3.8, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance…"  And after their answered confessions of faith and covenant, Ebenezer & Lovee Sheldon, James & Sally Hendry, Septimus & Anna Witter, Mary Eggleston, Thankful Bissel, Jeremiah & Lucretia Root, Brainard Spencer and Mary Cannon, are pronounced charter members of a church of Christ with all the privileges belonging to His visible body.  The Church in Aurora is a reality!

 

The vast majority of Christians in the Western Reserve were from Congregational and Presbyterian backgrounds.  While theologically similar, their polity or government could not have been more different.  As a result, a Plan of Union is set up on the frontier allowing for both faith traditions to support and benefit one another.

On January 1, 1810 the newly-formed congregation initially adopts the Presbyterian or representational form of government owing probably to their small number.

In the next six months, the membership will increase to 40.  With this continued growth, the church leadership will adopt a Congregational polity in 1814, but remain active in the Portage Presbytery for nearly 40 more years.

Church records from this early period are filled with examinations of both potential and existing members.  Prospects, even with letters of dismissal from churches in the east, are interviewed to determine the authenticity of their faith in both word and deed.  The conduct of existing members which conflicts with the church covenant is also a source of controversy and sometimes even community division.

 

On July 4th, 1811, a holiday ball is held in the public meeting house, which in the eyes of the church fathers, desecrates it from being used as a place of worship. The young church takes upon meeting in the new school house at Aurora center.  A special meeting is held August 11th, in the home of Robert Bissell and makes several resolves and protestations, including: "That in neglecting the appointment of the Rev. Barr to attend public worship on the 4th of July last & instead thereof indulging in festivity and mirth, this church misspent their time, set an improper example to those around them, gave occasion to satan to seek their heart…"

And, "That as the house incapable of moral pollution or of communicating it to persons and is convenient for meeting, and as a respectable number of the society wish to meet in it, we will worship our God there hoping that the use of it will never again be publicly perverted to sinful purposes…"

While an acceptable place to worship is restored in Aurora, a minister is now sought to lead the fledging congregation.

 

On June 1st, 1812 the members of the Church in Aurora meet and unanimously agree to extend a call to the Rev. John Seward under the following terms: "…and as an encouragement to give you two hundred dollars as a settlement and to provide for you and your horse during the time you shall be with us the first year…"

The compensation was to be paid annual on January 1st of each succeeding year with a total of $300 "…to be paid in grain at cash prices and the remainder in cash."

In Rev. Seward’s response, he writes, "After much careful attention to the subject; after imploring Divine aid and direction in this important visit, I have concluded to accept the call presented to me by the Church and Society in this place; and if after an examination of circumstances, the Council think proper to install me, I shall take the pastoral charge of this Church & Society agreeably to your request. That the Lord may attend us all with the blessings of His grace, is the earnest prayer of your humble servant in the Lord Jesus Christ."

August 5, 1812 the Rev. John Seward is installed as the first fulltime minister of The Church in Aurora.  It is the beginning of what will be the longest pastorate in the church’s history to-date, 32 years.

Under the young Rev. Seward’s pastoral care, the church’s membership continues to grow. Each member is interviewed and examined before being invited to affirm the church’s covenant. One of the church’s earliest covenants reads in part:

…You solemnly engage duly to observe all the ordinances of the gospel. You promise to encourage family prayer and instruction, reasonable dedication of children to God in baptism, and to govern and restrain from vicious practices and company all who may be under your care. You promise daily to maintain secret prayer, statedly to attend on the Lord’s Supper and to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. You promise to refrain conversation and finally to watch over the members of the church and if necessary to reproach them with Christian meekness and brotherly love, to submit to the watch and discipline of this walk worthy of the vocation where with you are called. Relying on divine grace that you covenant with God and this church, we thus the members of this church do cordially receive you into our communion and fellowship.

This covenant will be the basis for their continued membership and the privileges therein in the years ahead.

The Covenant of the church requires each member, by the grace of God, to watch over each other with meekness and love and by council and prayer to help each other forward on the way to heaven.  When necessary, reproving each other with Christian meekness and brotherly love and to submit to the watch and discipline of the church.

To accomplish this task, the church session operates in accordance with Matthew 18:15-17 which reads:

  •  "Moreover, if thy brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone: If he listens to you, you have gained a brother.

  • But if he will not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

  • If he refused to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as Gentile and a Tax collector.

  • Truly, I say to you whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

  • While motivated out of a genuine love for the individual and the community, the church's efforts to admonish its members were not always met with a humble and contrite heart.

1811

The Rev. John Seward of Granby, Mass., a missionary in the Western Reserve from the Connecticut Missionary Society, became the first Pastor of the new church, and served faithfully for 32 years.

 

In the spring of 1815, a church conference is called to consider the question, "How far ought those who have dairies attend to them on the Sabbath?" This is no small matter in a community and region in which cheese making is a primary industry.

After much deliberation and consultation, the church unanimously agrees to several resolutions, including:

We deem it important the people should not involve themselves in any kind of worldly business to such an extent as to hinder them from attending to the public, family and private duties of religion on the Sabbath.

If people attend to worldly affairs on the Sabbath more than is absolutely necessary we believe them to be among those who are making haste to be rich and who according to scriptures shall not be innocent.

The conference concludes:  "As difference of opinion has existed and still exists among those who appear to be friends of God and as it is difficult to adopt rules respecting this practice which will apply to persons in different circumstances, we do not give a direct and concerned in the answer to this enquiry and more particularly to all the members of this church, to take this matter in serious and prayerful consideration and by no means to allow themselves to be hindered by worldly business from attending to sacred devotion, family religion or the public worship of God on the Sabbath.

 

With a growing congregation and minister in place, the need for a permanent church building seems the next logical step.  But where and how?

The Western Reserve had a very different settlement pattern from typical westward expansions.  They did not begin solidly at the Pennsylvania line and systematically move west as a neighborhood developed, nor did they follow along the lake and move south.

Because the Western Reserve was a purely commercial venture, the land was partitioned and distributed all at once.  As a result, settlements were widely scattered and no land was set aside for public use as was the custom in most other settlements.  Aurora was no exception.

Back east, churches were built in prominent locations in the town center, often on a hill and always facing east.  The generosity of Samuel and Susanna Forward provided the land for such a location in Aurora.  Sold to the Trustees of the Aurora Township for $75 in1820, the land was to be shared by church, state and school.  And so it will for almost a century to come.

With a site now staked for Aurora’s first church building, the question remaining is how?

 

The first structure to house The Church in Aurora took longer to plan than to actually build.  In the fall of 1816, the project takes definite form as a meeting is called of all the male members—young and old alike.  Two plans are submitted, one a very small church, the other—as Rev. Seward suggests, "Build it well, build it large, and build it for all time."  The latter plan is approved.

Subscription papers are circulated and a sufficient amount is subscribed to warrant the attempt.  No money is signed as all are to be paid in oxen, young cattle, stock of any kind and trade in pledging to a certain number of days work.  With the formation of a building committee, work commences on the building in the spring of 1818.

The primary building material is readily available in the infamous Portage County clay.  A brick kiln is built near the cemetery.  Being a year of unprecedented rains, the walls are only put up about ten feet that year; they are finished in 1819 and the roof is put on.

Prior to its completion, services are held in the unfinished gallery as early as 1820.  The interior woodwork is commissioned at a cost of $1500.  A public sale of pews is ordered to cover outstanding debts.  Committee in-fighting delays completion for almost another year and the cost of the edifice is growing.

"The Olde Brick Church" as it will be known is completed in 1824.  But the celebration will be tainted by yet another controversy.

 

The first meeting house for The Church in Aurora is dedicated in January of 1824.  While no photographs or drawings remain of the structure, recorded descriptions from old-timers who grew up in the olde church help us to imagine what the building looked like.

A flaming red brick exterior, it boasted double rows of colonial windows, all fitted with functioning green shutters.  A gleaming white steeple sat atop a 12-sided and windowed belfry lifting eyes and ears heavenward.

The interior layout consisted of raised pew boxes with doors opening into the center or side aisles.  Seating benches wrapped around each box causing half the congregation to sit with their backs to the preacher.  The pulpit was perched on several columns against the front wall and was accessed by climbing a wrapping staircase of 16 steps.

In the old tower vestibule there were two sets of stairs leading up into the gallery (or balcony) supported by columns and at the top of the stairs was a large room where consultations among the choir were held.  The gallery itself had three rows of seating extending along three sides of the sanctuary.

The dedication ceremony itself seemed to be an omen of what was to become of this beautiful church edifice.

 

After almost 6 years of planning and preparation, The Church in Aurora now has a building of its own.  The dedication ceremony is held in January of 1824 and all seems to be right with the world—almost.

The custom of the day at a dedication of a church building is to seat the "boss carpenter" and his assistant in a special pew.  During the ceremony the preacher takes special pains to address them, commending their work and complementing them as he sees fit.

For some unknown reason, the carpenter, Channey Carver is overlooked and not recognized at all.  In retaliation, Carver declares that his over-work contract must be paid in full and in cash.

Only days before the contract is due, Carver leaves for "parts unknown" intending, to force the law which provides that a debt owed in trade or other goods, if not paid on the day due becomes a cash debt.

Taking advantage of his absence, church leaders gather church members and their livestock on the church yard to have them appraised so as to make Carver a legal tender on his contract.  Amid the confusion of cattle, sheep, mules and congregants, an appraisal of $300 in silver is made and borrowed from a bank in Warren to make good on the church debt.

Upon his return a few days later Carver, fully repentant, refuses the livestock or money, and another crisis averted, but only for a short while.

 

Sunday life, in the early 1800’s, in Aurora revolved around the church. Morning services began at 10:00 with singing, bible reading and then a prayer—never less than 30 minutes long.  Every one stood during the prayer.

The congregation also stood and faced the choir in the balcony when singing.  A small stringed orchestra consisting of violins, violas and a melodeon accompanied their hymns to God.  The sermon, always at least an hour long, was read from a manuscript.

One half hour was given at noon to rest and talk and eat basket lunches.  In the summer, Sunday School followed the lunch period.  Classes gathered in small groups throughout the sanctuary space with children using steps for seating.

Recorded weekly lessons consisted of memorizing six verse of the Gospel of St. John and repeating them to the teacher.  Songs from a miniature children’s hymnal without notes, were also sung.

The afternoon worship services were exactly like the morning except the prayer was only 15 minutes long and one hymn was omitted. By 2:30 in the afternoon members were on their way home, often driving their cows before them for an early milking, allowing time for other "approved" recreational activities for the remainder of the Lord’s Day.

 

In 1831, a great spiritual awakening sweeps across the churches of Portage County, including The Church in Aurora.  These are hard times for the area, suffering a "depressed condition" both economically and spiritually.

The awakening has its humble beginnings at the Congregational Church in Nelson where the women gather in special prayer for the outpouring of God’s Spirit.  The men are quoted saying "If the women are so much in earnest, we ought to be as well."  And they begin to "wrestle in supplication importuning God to be gracious and grant refreshing from on high."

In short time, the Spirit’s presence is manifested and the church is revived.  Soon afterward, a special area-wide conference is held at the Nelson church in April 1831, attended by delegates from The Church in Aurora.  Their report back to Aurora inspires the pledging of nearly every member to be "more faithful in the performance of secret prayer and consecrated service."

Several days are set apart for special services and the outcome of this waiting on God is a revival of their own and the conversion of fifty-five souls added to the church rosters and those in heaven.  And Aurora is not unique.

By 1832, at the January 24th meeting of the Portage Presbytery held in "The Olde Brick Church" revivals are reported in all but one of the Portage churches and collectively, two hundred and sixty persons are added into church membership.

 

As early as 1832, social and political issues begin to appear in church reports and financial statements—namely the issue of slavery.  A "Colonization Fund" which boasts a balance of $5.00 supports the gradual dismantling of slavery by buying slaves and returning them to Africa.  A more radical approach to the slavery issue is its immediate abolishment.  While the abolitionists are a controlling factor in nearby Hudson, such is not the case in Aurora—yet!

In 1835, Rev. Seward invites, a Mr. Bigelow to present the case of the abolitionist in the olde brick church.  Few are in attendance inside, but the protesting crowd outside swells in number, with apparatus not usually carried to church—notably an iron cannon.

As the lecture begins, the mob’s chants drown out Mr. Bigelow’s words and the thundering cannon shatters every window in the church.  Fearing for his guest’s safety, Rev. Seward rushes Bigelow out the door between Mrs. Seward and another female member, all amid a hail of assorted vegetables and eggs of all sizes and ages which filled the air.

A huge plank is erected over the front door of the church which warns "Abolitionism is barred under this plank and a warning to all Bigelows of whatever name or type to keep out of Aurora."

Public opinion is fickle.  In a few short years, the rioters will become abolitionists by the scores and Aurora will become a powerful advocate for freedom and equality.

 

While The Church in Aurora has the distinction of being the first, it is not the only church in town for long. A Methodist Episcopal class gathers in 1818, a Disciples Church organizes in 1830 and a Baptist church in 1834.

At the invitation of The Church in Aurora, almost all of these faith communities begin by meeting in "The Olde Brick Church". While the new congregations do not "materially weaken" The Church in Aurora, they do introduce some beliefs and practices which will cause friction in the religious life of the community.

Some church members leave without letters and unite with the surrounding congregations. The terse entry in records, "Gone to the Campbellites" (or Disciples) indicates something of the feeling that is in the mind of the recorder (Rev. Seward) who is ever methodical and a strong believer in orderly and churchly proceedings.

In granting letters of dismissal to a husband and wife to join the Baptist Church there is the clause, "The church passes this vote and gives this letter, not because our brother and sister have correct views on the subject of baptism, but in that they are right in proposing to leave us."

While most of these congregations will come and go over the course of the next several decades, The Church in Aurora remains a constant and driving force in the spiritual life of Aurora and the surrounding communities.

 

Shortly after its dedication in 1824, "The Olde Brick Church" begins to experience structural issues. Cracks in the brick walls may be traced back to difficulties in making the original because of a wetter-than-normal summer. Reports of cracks large enough to stick one’s arm through become the topic of much discussion at church meetings.

By 1850, a major renovation of the church interior is done. The original pew boxes are replaced with slip seat pews. The long broad center-aisle is filled with additional seating leaving the two side aisles for access.

The two sides of the gallery are removed with only the columns left standing to support the lowered ceiling and carrying two long lines of stove pipe with a two-quart pail attached to catch the leakage.

The pulpit too is let down a story-and-a-half. Described as a "quaint old colonial affair" in design, the piece is rich in panels and moldings and always kept painted white. When "The Olde Brick Church" is eventually torn down, the pulpit will be carted out of town to serve as a band and speaker stand at a park in Chagrin Falls.

Despite the modifications of this once beautiful edifice, "The Olde Brick Church" continues to be an active and vibrant center for the spiritual life of Aurora.

 

The pastorate of Rev. John Seward, or Priest Seward as he was affectionately known, stretched across four decades, from 1812 to 1844.

Born on January 11, 1784 in Granville, Massachusetts, he was the only son of Anna and John Seward Sr. Young John works on the family farm during the summer and attends school during the winter months. At 20, he has a profound religious experience that will change the rest of his life.

Called into ministry, John persuades his father to let him leave the farm and attend Williams College. He graduates in 1810 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and then completes his theological training. Ordained in 1811 at the age of 27, he preaches to groups throughout Connecticut.

On one such preaching engagement, he meets the Rev. David Bacon, a minister in the Connecticut Missionary Society who is developing a little town in the Western Reserve of New Connecticut called Tallmadge. Rev. Bacon’s glowing description of the land and the need for spiritual leadership leads John Seward to join the Society and he makes the three week journey on horseback to the Western Reserve.

As a missionary minister in the society, he continues travelling on horseback from one tiny settlement or cabin to another, bringing the Gospel, help and encouragement to the souls in the wilderness. And on November 5, 1811 he preaches in the settlement of Aurora. The rest is history.

 

During the early 1800’s, strict rules help keep the Sabbath day holy.  But there are also rituals for preparing for the weekly Sabbath.  One recorded description tells us:  “It is Saturday afternoon, and the sun is near its setting; and accordance to the prevailing thought with many of the New England fathers, the Sabbath is ushered in at sunset.

The elders in the home admonish the younger ones in the household to make due preparation.  The wood for the Sabbath must be brought in; the boots and clothing put in order.  Those who have occasion to use the razor, attend to their shaving.

When the sun has gone down, the bustle and activity of the week give place to a most restful quiet.  The Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, Baxter’s Saints’ Rest, and other old standbys in sacred literature are taken from the bookshelf by the older ones, while the catechism and the New England Primer engage the attention of the younger ones under the eye and occasional admonition of their elders. 

Then all gather about the family altar and so commit their all into the care of their Father God.  With the body relaxed and refreshed, comes sweet sleep. 

Not much wonder, with this preparation for service, that on the next day there should be seen from all the roads and paths leading out from the forests, a godly assembly gathering at the place of worship.”

 

Typical of the first half of the 1800’s, Preparatory Lectures for church members are offered on Friday evenings and/or Saturday mornings to prepare worshipers for the coming service, especially if communion is to be served.  Along with these lectures, congregational meetings are held to conduct church business.

Meetings are also held, on occasion, during the intermission between morning and afternoon services.  In the summer of 1834, a Sunday School is organized which also meets during this intermission period.

Typical business items include matters of membership (including the examinations, disciplines, and dismissals), and appointing committees to make provision for ringing the bell, for keeping the meeting house in repair, for supplying wood and making fire in the stove, and for the preservation of order in the galleries in time of public worship.   

In addition to the Envelope System of regular church offerings, special collections are also received funding a variety of causes including Education, Missions, (both domestic and foreign) the Bible Society, the Seaman’s Friends (probably a link to New England ties) and the Colonization Fund (which later will become the Colored Race Fund).

“The Olde Brick Church” does not sit idle or empty for very long any given day of the week.

 

Music is not only an important part of entertainment in the early 1800’s, it is also a vital part of church worship.

Two prominent families in Aurora—the Eggelstons and the Littles, are all musicians.  They are prominent in church affairs as well and the music in The Church in Aurora choir will depend chiefly upon them for many years to come.

Singing schools in the winter for education in music is a strong feature during this time.  Forty to sixty voices is the usual recorded attendance.  Young ladies on the outskirts of the township come on horseback behind their brothers or escorts.

The choir is perched in the church’s gallery and at certain times in the service when the choir is singing, the congregation turns to the back of the sanctuary to face them, and see as well as hear the great choir render the sacred psalms.

Participation in congregational singing is not an option in the church.  Hymns are sung in parts, and often with elaborate harmonies from all corners of the sanctuary.  Once again facing the choir in the gallery, the congregants are able to follow the direction of the choir master and sing with spirited passion.  

Early accompanying instruments include bass viol, bassoon, clarinet and violins.  It will be years later before a portable organ, known as a melodeon, will be carted weekly up and down the gallery stairs and eventually replace the sizable orchestra.

 

While the pastorate of The Church in Aurora’s first minister, the Rev. John Seward, is a lengthy and fruitful one, it is not without personal trials.  At a meeting held on August 28, 1840 Rev. Seward submits the following communication:

”It is well known that a number of times in years past, I have brought forward the subject of a dissolution of the pastoral relations between me and this people…My own judgment decided in favor of a dismission: but the suggestions and solicitations of kind generous and tried friends persuaded me to remain.  I am now satisfied, that after laboring with you 29 years as a minister of Jesus Christ, it is my duty to ask leave to resign my pastoral charge…I might mention my reasons among which would be the infirmities of increasing age…But the prominent reason, and that which in my own mind would be sufficient without any other is, that an impression prevails to a considerable extent in this community that I do not need much of a salary for my support and that they therefore, are under little of no obligation to contribute for the support of the gospel…My continuance here as pastor of this church, tends, I think, to increase this impression and to render it from year to year more effective in its operation.  I believe it not right for me longer to remain as pastor here, when such is evidently the result.”

In true church fashion, after deliberation and consultation, the church votes “to consider the subject further…next Sabbath.”  It will take nearly four more years for the church to act on Rev. Seward’s request.

 

A pen sketch of the communicants of the “Olde Brick Church” as recalled by Gen Nelson Eggelston gives us a glimpse of the living church of another era.

“In front of me always sat Charles Sheldon and family, still further front sat the Hurds.  In fact, time did not change the family sittings very much in those early days.  Just across from me sat Uncle John Parsons and Aunt Anna.  Mr. Parsons just near enough one of the white posts to lean his head against it and with closed eyes possible asleep, probably not, during the long sermon.

In front of him sat Uncle Stephen Cannon and Aunt Laura, the godmother of half the babies in town.  Just beyond in later years sat Capt. Joseph Eggleston and close by Dea Spencer and Aunt Annie and you would have been just as much surprised to see their pew empty as you would the pulpit, and to my little eyes their daughter Mathilda, I thought was the prettiest girl I ever saw.

Over in the northwest corner was Uncle Moses Eggleston.  You never would or could forget that marvelous silk plush high hat of his and then a few minutes later Aunt Fanny would walk or rather glide in gracefully up the aisle and take her place beside him near the pew door.  Next came Uncle Eli Cannon and Aunt Fanny, two saints who did not need to fear the Master, for such is the kingdom of heaven.

So up and down the aisles and pews we go.  We cannot mention all the worshippers but their names are all written in star dust somewhere…”                                            

 

 “The story of a church formed in the early history of a town, a record of its labors and rewards, its struggles and triumphs, must for the present generation, possess and absorbing interest, and while a few actors in the scenes of those early days still linger on the “shades of time,” a connecting link binding together the past and the present. 

The formation of the Congregational Society in Aurora, and the subsequent creation of their church, which for years had been a “strong tower” in the cause of truth, a landmark, contrasting things that were with things that are, known throughout the “Reserve” as the “old brick,” a starting point for many a weary soul for the “land of rest,” a place made sacred by the many associations that linger about it.  The scenes of sorrow and rejoicing, of fear made strong by hope.  Now all is to pass away and a new and beautiful edifice is to be erected on its site; but the memory will still be cherished as long as its  traditions may be handed down by present inhabitants and their descendants.”

 

At a meeting of The Church in Aurora on April 26, 1844, Rev. John Seward renews “…a request which he had formerly presented that the church would unite with him in requesting the Presbytery to dissolve their pastoral relation…on the ground that he does not feel able to perform that amount of ministerial labor which the circumstances of this people require, and also that he believes they might procure and sustain another minister whose labors would be more acceptable and beneficial to the younger part of the community and exert a more extensive influence for the good of this congregation…”

With “hesitation and reluctance” the church agrees to the request of their first and beloved pastor. At the next meeting of the Portage Presbytery in Tallmadge on May 22, 1844, the motion is granted and the church and congregation are declared vacant.

During Rev. Seward’s 32 years of ministry in Aurora he: continued his missionary work preaching in surrounding communities and organized some 15 other churches; married Harriet Wright his wife of 60 years; helped found the Western Reserve Academy and served on its board of trustees; and formed a branch of the American Colonization Society addressing the issue of slavery.

John Seward accepts a call to a Solon church in 1845 and serves another 16 years before retiring to Tallmadge. He dies in 1873 at the age of 89, but his faithful legacy lives on.

 

It has been said that “behind every great man is a great woman.” This is certainly the case with the Rev. John Seward and his wife, Harriet Wright Seward.

Born in Canaan, Connecticut in 1792, her family settles in Tallmadge in 1810. At 18, with the loss of her mother she assumes the various household duties pertaining to a large family of 9 children and a farm. Harriet’s “servant” heart is apparent in a journal account from 1812 as she is called to tend to a sick brother some 30 miles away, “…through the worst paths, obstructed by fallen timber in an unbroken forest, with her single guide a stranger. The distance was accomplished in one day with scarcely a pause, and on arriving she was so worn she could neither walk nor stand.”

Meeting John Seward on one of his many visits to Tallmadge, they are married July 12, 1813. Harriet promptly assumes the many duties of the wife of a minister. Never having any children of their own, their house is frequently home to students preparing for college and tutored by “Priest” Seward. They later adopt a distant cousin and raise her as their own. Travelling ministers also often stop at the Seward home for food and lodging.

Speaking of her abundant labors, Rev. Seward writes, “If any one should think I had praised my companion unduly, I refer them to the 31st chapter of Proverbs-The Wife of Noble Character, which is as good and fresh and appropriate as it was 3000 years ago.”

 

Following the long tenure of Rev. Seward, a string of short-term pastorates are called, few lasting more than a year or so. One notable exception is the call of the Rev. J.S. Graves who serves from 1850 to 1865.

It is also during this time that the landscape of Aurora is beginning to change. The population of the township begins to decline from 1400 to about half that number owing in large measure to the consolidation of small farms into larger ones requiring fewer hands and the shifting part of a population that results from renting.

Of all the other churches established in Aurora, few survive beyond a few years. It is an endless struggle for these churches to obtain the services of a minister, even on a temporary basis.

This may explain in part why the church buys a parsonage in 1849 for prospective ministers and their families. The eight room house at 270 South Chillicothe Road, is purchased for $900. And it will become “home” for the next 24 pastors over the next 127 years.

The Aurora Disciples Church, which gathers in 1830, is an exception to the pattern of other churches in the area. Though small in numbers, it is a powerful influence and continues its work in hearty fellowship with The Church in Aurora. Maintaining this closeness—geographically and spiritually with the Aurora church will result in an eventual union in the decades ahead.

 

The church’s close examination of its members, both inside and outside of church, continues under the ever changing pastorates. An example appears in the minutes of January 13, 1847, specifically pertaining to the controversy of frequent balls being held in town.

"Whereas vain amusements are becoming prevalent and fashionable in this place and are attended and countenanced by some professors of religion and the children of some professing parents, and whereas the kind of amusements and the manners to which they are extended are inconsistent with the enjoyments and duties of professors of religion, and are ill calculated to fit them for communion with their Saviour or for the solemn and trying scenes of death and the Judgment—

The resolutions which follow include:

Forbidding members and their children from attending such amusements; Warning that children who disregard their parents and attend anyway are unworthy of church confidence; Recognizing that such amusements do not improve the mind and manners of children, and as such are not looked on by the refined and educated; and finally declaring that the church is not opposed to rational amusements among youth which are not inconsistent with religious and moral principles, but youth owe duty to their parents and the Lord and Master.

Soon, the more serious "abominations of the Lord" will be resolved not with words, but with a Civil War.

1849

A parsonage was purchased for $900.  This 8-room house, at 270 South Chillicothe Road, served as home for families of 22 pastors during the last century.

While early-on The Church in Aurora adopts a congregational form of government, it continues to associate with the Portage Presbytery in calling ministers and matters of the larger church. In the fall of 1852 however, the church votes to "disconnect" from the Presbytery and "connect" with a newly formed organization known as the Conference of Congregational Churches of Summit and Portage Counties.

This new affiliation helps to strengthen the relationships of the Aurora church with congregational churches in surrounding communities. In December of 1853, the suggestion is made to the Church "…that the Pastor preach once a month in the afternoon of the Sabbath to the Congregational Church of Streetsboro in connection with other brethren. The Church readily concurs and expresses a willingness "…that their Pastor should do as he thought best."

The Church in Aurora’s cooperative spirit extends beyond the Congregational churches as well. In the spring of 1855, the following entry is made in the church records: "The Disciple Brethren being deprived of a House of Worship, theirs being destroyed by fire, it was decided to offer the use of our House to them, when it was not otherwise occupied."

In the years to follow, this same generous offer is extended to nearly every denomination gathering in Aurora.

 

The "Olde Brick Church" becomes the gathering place for many occasions other than worship.

During the Lincoln presidential campaign of 1860 a rally is held at the church, complete with a flag pole erected in the front yard inscribed with the names of Lincoln and Hamlin. Cheers fill the packed sanctuary at every mention of an anti-slavery sentiment.

Two years later, a war meeting is held at the church amid flags, drums and the Home Guard parade. The speaker is the new colonel of the 42nd regiment and former preacher at the Disciples Church—James Garfield. "How eloquently and patriotic he spoke. It was men he wanted and as he stood there, pleading for the Union, none saw in him the future soldier, statesman and president that was to write for himself so large and brilliant a chapter in our national history." A number of young men go forward and sign the muster roll.

Shortly thereafter, The Church in Aurora unanimously adopts the following Resolution:

"Whereas the members of this church in former years, after great and pecuniary sacrifice and labor; built this House expressly for the worship of God—and whereas there are frequent applications for this House to be used for purposes not in harmony with the object for which it was built: therefore resolved that hereafter this House be used solely for Religious Purposes."

 

The Olde Brick Church has served as the first home for The Church in Aurora, but now the increasing cost of continued maintenance and safety concerns spell the fate of the 50 year old building. While nearly all rebuilt in 1840, "For several years walls have been cracked and the parts separated nearly an inch; owing to the sinking of some portions of the underpinning."

As a result, it is decided in the spring of 1870 to replace the old house with a new structure of wood. Subscriptions are secured, a building committee is formed and a builder is hired. The edifice is to be completed within the year at a cost of $5,794.00. During the construction, the church will meet in the Disciples’ House of Worship across the street and on alternate Sabbaths at the Mantua congregational church.

A memorial service and farewell exercise is held for "The Olde Brick Church" on Sunday, June 18, 1871. "The workman commenced to take down the old building on Monday. On Thursday noon the tower and steeple fell and on Friday the main building was brought to the ground. Thus the work of the Fathers disappeared."

"But it still lives in the memory of the older generation, fragrant with all the blessed associations with the loved ones who have entered into their rest and with gracious influences of the Spirit manifested within its walls, which have left their stamp upon heart, life and work of so many living and dead."

 

Just prior to commencing the demolition of the beloved "Olde Brick Church," the following words are offered:

"The story of a church formed in the early history of a town, a record of its labors and rewards, its struggles and triumphs, must for the present generation, possess and absorbing interest, and while a few actors in the scenes of those early days still linger on the "shades of time," a connecting link binding together the past and the present.

The formation of the Congregational Society in Aurora, and the subsequent creation of their church, which for years had been a "strong tower" in the cause of truth, a landmark, contrasting things that were with things that are, known throughout the "Reserve" as the "old brick," a starting point for many a weary soul for the "land of rest," a place made sacred by the many associations that linger about it. The scenes of sorrow and rejoicing, of fear made strong by hope.

Now all is to pass away and a new and beautiful edifice is to be erected on its site; but the memory will still be cherished as long as its traditions may be handed down by present inhabitants and their descendants."

While a new church building is being constructed externally, an internal reconstruction is also going on. At a meeting of the church on February 10th, 1870, the Moderator introduces a plan for the government of the church which will provide for the incorporation of the church according to the statute laws of the state of Ohio.

 

The Church in Aurora’s first pastor, the beloved “Priest” Seward, is invited to attend the Farewell Ceremony for “The Olde Brick Church.” This, despite Rev. Seward’s having left the church almost 30 years earlier—a testimony to the congregation’s love and devotion for this man of God.

Responding to their invitation in a letter on June 13, 1871, he writes, “I cannot gratify myself and the dear people of Aurora by consenting to be there next Sabbath. My prayer is that the people may be abundantly prospered in their new house. May it far excel its predecessor and be an honored place where a multitude of souls shall be saved from sin and prepared for heaven.” Yours truly, John Seward

Accordingly, the Farewell Ceremony is conducted by a Mr. Shartr. At the conclusion of the ceremony, filled with very touching and eloquent remarks, the congregation rises to sing for one last time that grand doxology, Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him all creatures here below, Praise Him above ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

A long and rich chapter in the life of The Church in Aurora is coming to a close. But a new chapter is beginning, and it will begin in a new building which will far outlast the old one.

 

The Building Committee for the new framed house of worship, or meeting house as it is referred in the New England tradition, sets down specific conditions for the structure and its usage.

It shall be erected on, or near, the site of the house in Aurora, known as the “Olde Brick Church.”

It shall be built in good style, and shall be used only for public religious worship and for such other meetings as shall be appointed for the direct promotion of religious culture and knowledge, and when the erection of said House is completed, it shall be under the care and control of the Trustees.

It shall not be used for any kind of public meetings, until the erection of the building is completed.

Every alternate slip in the general audience room, including the seats appropriated to the use of the choir, shall be forever free, but the remaining slips may be let annually by a committee appointed by the church; and the proceeds arising therefrom shall be appropriated toward defraying the current incidental expenses of public worship; but no rent arising from the letting of slips or sittings shall be used to pay any part of the minister’s salary.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2009

Technically, the plans for The Church in Aurora’s new building call for: native sandstone foundation walls; rough sawed frame of native timber; 6” wide tongue and groove flooring; plaster over 8” lathe walls and ceiling; and (8) Gothic-styled, leaded stained glass windows of topaz with colored borders.

Nearing its completion, a local paper—The Democrat, on June 28,1871, offers its readers a more detailed glimpse into the new meeting house.

The house is a wooden edifice of the gothic style of architecture, and plain in its outward appearance. The building is sur mounted by a symmetrical spire that by its graceful appearances relieves the house some what from a look of severe plainness.

In the finishing of the interior not attempt has been made at ostentatious display, durability has been the ruling idea throughout. The interior walls are plainly calcimined, and as the windows are filled with stained glass of different colors the effect is very pretty. The church is seated with common slips with black walnut trimming and are soon to be upholstered in a tasty manner.

The orchestra in the back of the pulpit is the only attempt to introduce modern innovations. Matting has been secured for the floor, a full equipment of lamps, chandeliers and other fixtures. A first class heater in the basement supplies the necessary warmth, and in fact the church, with the exception of a bell, is complete in its appointments.

SEPTEMBER 27, 2009

The new meeting house is dedicated to the worship of God on Sunday, January 14, 1872 by the Rev. H.H. Wells of Cincinnati assisted the Rev. G.P. Bliss of Cleveland. Mr. Wells is an evangelist who has been invited to conduct evangelistic services here.

The local newspaper notes: “A special benediction seemed to attend his efforts and as a result of these services the new building had its largest and best dedication.”

The original plan is to continue the meetings after the dedication day and evening, but the church in Chagrin Falls asks Mr. Wells to assist them in a revival that is already in progress there. By a vote, the church agrees to lend him to the Chagrin Falls church for two weeks.

At this time there are only 33 members listed on the church’s roster. But as a result of Rev. Wells return and some special services held through February, 98 souls are received into the fold “and all the community is quickened with new spiritual fervor.”

Shortly afterwards, the Rev. C.L. Hamlin is called as The Church in Aurora’s pastor. His 8-year pastorate is the exception to a series of brief stays of only a year or two by numerous ministers before and after him.

It is also during this time that the issue of Infant Baptism is amended with the following resolution:

Whereas some of the members recently united with this church under the impression that Infant Baptism would not be practiced and

urds

 

1870   The old brick church was torn down, and work begun on the present white frame structure that serves as the main body of our sanctuary.

1872   The present white frame structure, minus the Fellowship Hall, was dedicated.

Oct. 4

While The Church in Aurora is prominent in the community, it is not the only church in town. Baptist dogma is first preached in 1808 and eventually from the congregational pulpit by Rev. Seward’s invitation in 1832. A Baptist church is organized in 1834 and The Church in Aurora, far from objecting to the organization of another body with a very different polity and doctrine, continues to aid the fledgling church.

After several major schisms within the Baptist congregation, the church is forced to disband in 1871 and its members disperse to other churches including The Church in Aurora.

Those new members from a Baptist background struggle with many of the congregational practices, including open communion and especially that of infant baptism.

On December 26, 1873, a special meeting is called by the Trustees of the Church. The following preamble and resolution is offered by Deacon Parker which being amended reads as follows:

Whereas some of the members recently united with this church under the impression that Infant Baptism would not be practiced and Whereas there are members who feel it a conscientious privilege they wish to enjoy, Therefore, Resolve we here as a church leave this matter to the private judgment of those families involved.

 

OCTOBER 11, 2009

The Church in Aurora’s budget in 1874 is a simple one.

Receipts for the year amount to $936.18 collected by an envelope system which is collected the first Sabbath each month.  An additional collection is made on Communion Sundays to off-set the costs involved of securing and preparing the elements.

Disbursements for the year also amount to $936.18.  This includes the minister’s salary of $733.34 which is somewhat less than the promised $800.  But the reduced amount keeps the budget balanced—albeit at the minister’s expense.  Additional funding is also sought to pay a debt of about $80 on the new bell.

The financial condition of the church is called up several years later when the Ladies Aid Society of the Church sends a communication to the church leaders.  They propose to contribute whatever net cash they have on hand toward cancelling debts of the church, provided the whole indebtedness of the church is cancelled within 30 days from January 28, 1880.

In typical church fashion, the meeting is adjourned for three weeks at which the ladies agree to extend their offer for an additional 30 days. Finally on March 8, 1880, "…the Ladies Aid Society paid over to the Church $80.55 to apply to church debt, the church raising the balance of her indebtedness, thus paying all her debts to date."

Oct 18

The personal nature of church records are reflected in an entry dated 1882:

Death has removed from us during this year two aged ones whose names have long stood on the roll of this Church.

Mrs. Amy Parsons "fell asleep" April 21st, 1882 at the ripe old age of 92 years. She was born in Mass. and came to this town in 1812, where she resided until her death. "Aunt Amy" was a remarkable woman in many ways. Being of intellectual habits and tastes, it was a source of great comfort to herself and friends that she retained her mind in great clearness to the last, and even memory failed her not.

Miss Laura Bissell died in June 1882 aged 84 years. She was the sister of Rev. Samuel Bissel and an Aunt of Mr. Calvin Bissel and Mrs. Dan Lacey. Miss Bissel had been many years a member of this church—though for a long time an invalid and having removed from this place the Church have of late known but little of her.

Our Pastor has labored with great earnestness to faithfully present the truth to us and we feel that his labors have not been in vain. Services have been regularly held and reasonably well attended—though there have been no remarkable outburst of religious feeling, we hope and trust the truth has sunk deep into our hearts.

OCTOBER 25, 2009

By the late 1880’s, in the absence of a fulltime minister, the pulpit is filled by theology students. The practice is well received by the congregation as indicated by the church records of the day.

D.T. Thomas, a theology student at Lane Theological Seminary was engaged for 5 months as Pastor at $60 per month. He commenced his labor May 1, 1887 and soon became very popular among all classes and all the church people were very much attached to him.

Everyone regretted his departure at the close of his five months engagement, hoping that he would return at the close of his theological course in the spring of 1888.

But such was not to be the case. After the departure of Thomas, the pulpit is supplied by theology students from Oberlin until 1891.

The vacancy of a fulltime minister in the pulpit prompts "spirited and feeling remarks…in reference to the Spiritual condition of the Church and the Christian standing of some of its members—resulting in arousing all of those present and appointing them as a Committee to visit and urge the indifferent ones to attend the meetings and become more closely identified with the Church and God’s people."

Other committees are formed to visit the sick and see that they are cared for; to call upon strangers who have become residents of Aurora and invite them to church; and to welcome strangers at the church, introducing them and making welcome.

 

NOVEMBER 1, 2009

Gifts and donations to the church are a common practice, but on March 29th, 1893, the following entry is made into the church records.

"The members of the Church and Society and towns people were invited to attend a meeting at the church today at 1 o’clock at which time the munificent gift to the Church of a farm of 180 acres by the late Lorenzo Riley of Twinsburg was consummated by the delivering of the deed of said farm by his widow… to the Trustees of the Church. The Rev. C.H. Lemmon of the Congregational Church of Twinsburg made the presentation speech and the pastor of the Aurora Congregational Church, the Rev. William W. Leslie accepted the same on behalf of the church by a few well-chosen and appreciative remarks. The church choir furnished vocal music, which was elegantly rendered and appropriate for the occasion."

Almost a year later, at the church’s annual meeting in February of 1894, it is reported that the "Church Farm" is to be rented to a Mr. J.S. Wood for the next five years. Financial arrangements include: $180 the first year and $200 for the remaining years. Mr. Wood is also responsible for paying all taxes on the farm.

Lorenzo Riley, who was a member of the church for only 13 years, appears to have been one of those quiet faithful "behind-the-scenes" church workers whose life and gift would help carry-on The Church in Aurora’s mission and witness into the new century.

NOVEMBER 8, 2009

On December 26th, 1895, a special evangelistic meeting is held at the church led by the Rev. Arthur T. Reed, an itinerant evangelist. The meetings continue for almost a month resulting in the conversion of 21 people, 18 of which unite with the church. It is also recorded that, "the old members have been revived in a marked degree." Another result of this revival is the establishment of a mid week service "with good attendance and increasing interests."

The church also stands in need of an exterior revival as reported in the church record dated February 3,1896. "It had been apparent to all passers by that the church for some time had been in need of a coat of paint." Offering a bid of $50, a Bedford painting firm applies two coats to the church's clapboard exterior without having to use any scaffolding for a final total cost of $87.00.

At the same time a decision is made to grade the church lawn, adding a new cinder and gravel drive in front and planting several elm trees. A Mr. Davies of Kent is hired for the landscaping with the help of numerous volunteers, keeping the cost down to $20.

Several years later, the parsonage is also "spruced" up after great debate as to whether or not remove old and dying trees from the front yard. The trees fall.

 

NOVEMBER 15, 2009

As the century prepares to turn, life within the church in Aurora turns as well. In May of 1897, the Sabbath School program is reorganized so that the church has supervision, "…to the extent of electing at its regular annual meeting, the Superintendent for one year, with the authority to suggest one or two assistants, for election of the Sabbath School." The school year is to begin March 1st and run through the summer months until harvest.

"Reunion" meetings are held at the Church and Town Hall. On June 30th 1897, an "old-time" Aurora dinner is served by the ladies in the hall at noon and afterward all assemble in the church for a business meeting of the church. The meeting opens with the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee" and is followed by a prayer. Chairman R.L. Granger states the objective of the new meetings which is "promote mutual interests and active cooperation in all church affairs." Practical business matters of the day as well as remembrances from the past make up the meeting’s agenda.

By 1899, the church votes in favor of extending a "continuous call" to their current minister, the Rev. James McKee, at a rate of $700 per year and use of the newly updated parsonage, with the privilege of a 3-month cancellation notice.

Benevolences for 1899 total $66.44 and fund a variety of societies focusing on mission, education, as well as temperance.

The new century will bring even greater changes!

NOVEMBER 22, 2009

Rev. McKee’s 11 year pastorate comes to an end in February 1908. His letter of resignation, to accept another call in New York, gives us a glimpse into pastoral transitions at the turn-of-the-century.

A farewell reception is held for Rev. and Mrs. McKee which is largely attended by the members of the church and the people of the community. Several addresses are given, "…showing the strong hold that the pastor and his wife had upon the hearts of the people." Along with the sincere wishes of all, a purse of $50 is given to them.

By May 3, 1908 the church extends a call to Mr. Albert Husted, a senior at Lane Theological Seminary. The motion carries by a vote of 21 to 1 and he begins his pastorate on June 1, 1908 following his graduation.

At a council meeting, Mr. Husted is examined by clergy and lay representatives from surrounding churches and finally ordained at The Church in Aurora on the evening of July 9th.

The lengthy program includes: a Voluntary, Reading of Council Minutes, Anthem, Introductory Prayer, Hymn, Scripture Lesson, Ordination Sermon, Solo, Ordaining and Installing Prayer, Right Hand of Fellowship, Charge to the Pastor, Charge to the People, Prayer, a Male Quartette, and the Benediction.

The young and newly ordained Rev. Husted will remain at The Church in Aurora just long enough to preside over the church’s centennial celebration in 1909.

NOVEMBER 22, 2009

Early in 1909, A Committee on the Church Centennial is created to plan a celebration. While the church was founded in December, the committee decides, "on account of weather conditions in this climate" to hold the event in October. On September 8, 1909, the following invitation is sent out:

To Our Christian Friends, Greetings:

All that receive this announcement are urged to attend the exercise to be held October 13 and 14, to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Congregational Church of Aurora, Ohio. It is meet that we should assemble in the spirit of the Founder of the Church Universal, to revere the memory of the founders of this church, and especially to render praise and thanks to God for the spiritual blessings continued through these one hundred years.

This is to be a great religious festival. It is also to be a church "home-coming." All that have had a church home with us and now live elsewhere we hope to have return on this occasion. We heartily desire that the descendants of all members will be present to help us pay tribute to the life and character of their ancestors. An appropriate and interesting program of exercise is being prepared.

Those receiving this invitation are asked to forward on to the committee any names which were omitted from the original mailing list. This celebration well be an unprecedented one in the history of the church thus far.

tber

 

MEMORY MOMENTS of the church in aurora

DECEMBER 6, 2009

An account of The Church in Aurora’s centennial celebration appears in an edition of the "Ravenna Republican" dated October 21, 1909.

"Aurora, a town of beautiful homes, good singers and generous hospitality, is in holiday dress. The houses are decorated with flags and even the trees put on their most beautiful autumn tints. Everybody is shaking hands, every home is entertaining guests from the surrounding villages and also from afar.

The occasion is the centennial of the Congregational church, the church that has stood for so much in this community and that is still a strong, active church, gathering within its walls the best of this country, standing as a power for righteousness an directing the feet of the young as well as of the older in the ‘paths of peace.’

How they love their church! How they have worked to make this centennial a success. Now they are happy for it has been a success in every sense of the word. Former residents have returned. Those who were afar have hurried home even from across the whole continent and all have joined in this celebration.

Neither is the rejoicing confined to the Congregationalists; the sister church in town united with them and the affair is one in which the whole community takes part."

DECEMBER 13, 2009

The centennial exercises of The Church in Aurora are to begin at 1:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, October 13, 1909. "…but long before that time the people began to gather and to greet one another, to renew old acquaintances and to rejoice in the celebration."

The opening number is a song by the audience led by the choir. This is followed by an invocation by the Rev. Husted, pastor of the church. Following a Scripture reading and prayer, "Rev. Husted gives a short but very effective address of welcome offering the keys of the town to the visitors and cordially inviting all to be at home and take part in the services. That his words expressed the feelings of the people of Aurora, all who were there would testify for everything was done to make the guests comfortable and make them feel welcome."

The evening portion of the celebration includes a musical program shared by the "The Church of the Future" the children of the church. It is reported, "These exercises were especially pleasing. It is very rarely children are trained to sing as well as they did here. While not the most important part of the program, they certainly added much to the pleasure of the meeting."

The evening program will conclude with the dedication of the first addition to the original wood framed structure since its construction in 1870.

 

 

DECEMBER 20, 2009

As part of the church’s centennial celebration, a new addition is built which includes a parlor, kitchen and meeting hall. Simple deep wash tubs serve as sinks until indoor plumbing arrives. A dedication is offered by the Rev. Dodge visiting from Tallmadge.

"By this addition you have now built to this church, it is evident that you intend to make this a center for social gatherings and to provide for a proper expression and exercise of sociability and good cheer. As you come to the dedication of this addition to your building, you set it apart particularly for three specific uses—that of your Bible School, the church prayer meeting and social gatherings."

"And we now dedicate it to these uses—that of your Bible school that here your sons and daughters may be taught the nurture and admonition of the Lord and receive that Christian training which has in so large a measure been transferred from the home to the church.

We dedicate it too as a place where you will gather for your meetings of prayer and conference, for a larger experience of fellowship with God and for one another’s encouragement in the Christ-faith and life.

We also dedicate these rooms too the social life and enjoyment of the community; that you may have here many delightful occasions that will draw you into closer ties of interest in one another of Christian affection and helpfulness."

 

On Thursday, October 14, 1909, the final day of the church’s centennial celebration, a local reporter captures the event’s final hour.

"Then came the closing and the most solemn part of the whole occasion. The communion was administered by the former pastors and as old friends and the new gathered for this sacred ceremony, their feelings were feelings too deep for expression and they truly said as they parted for their several homes, ‘It has been good to be here.’

The singing was of unusual quality. Singing in this church since its foundation has been one of the most prominent features of the worship.

The weather was quite unfavorable, but the attendance was good and the reverence due to the house of God was a marked feature. There was not an unpleasant occurrence and the centennial will long be remembered by those who took part as one of the most enjoyable occasions ever held in Aurora."

Former member John Gould, who travels from Seattle for the event, composes and sings a song for the occasion.

Lord, God of hosts! Divine we worship Thee today, Commemorating the years of this centennial time;

Promise to doubt Him never, His love for Thee lives forever, Faithful and true, He is constant to you.

 

 

 

 

MEMORY MOMENTS of the church in aurora

JULY 5, 2009

A pen sketch of the communicants of the “Olde Brick Church” as recalled by Gen Nelson Eggelston gives us a glimpse of the living church of another era.

“In front of me always sat Charles Sheldon and family, still further front sat the Hurds. In fact, time did not change the family sittings very much in those early days. Just across from me sat Uncle John Parsons and Aunt Anna. Mr. Parsons just near enough one of the white posts to lean his head against it and with closed eyes possibly asleep, probably not, during the long sermon.

In front of him sat Uncle Stephen Cannon and Aunt Laura, the godmother of half the babies in town. Just beyond in later years sat Capt. Joseph Eggleston and close by Dea Spencer and Aunt Annie and you would have been just as much surprised to see their pew empty as you would the pulpit, and to my little eyes their daughter Mathilda, I thought was the prettiest girl I ever saw.

Over in the northwest corner was Uncle Moses Eggleston. You never would or could forget that marvelous silk plush high hat of his and then a few minutes later Aunt Fanny would walk or rather glide in gracefully up the aisle and take her place beside him near the pew door. Next came Uncle Eli Cannon and Aunt Fanny, two saints who did not need to fear the Master, for such is the kingdom of heaven.

So up and down the aisles and pews we go. We cannot mention all the worshippers but their names are all written in star dust somewhere…”

JULY 12, 2009

At a meeting of The Church in Aurora on April 26, 1844, Rev. John Seward renews “…a request which he had formerly presented that the church would unite with him in requesting the Presbytery to dissolve their pastoral relation…on the ground that he does not feel able to perform that amount of ministerial labor which the circumstances of this people require, and also that he believes they might procure and sustain another minister whose labors would be more acceptable and beneficial to the younger part of the community and exert a more extensive influence for the good of this congregation…”

With “hesitation and reluctance” the church agrees to the request of their first and beloved pastor. At the next meeting of the Portage Presbytery in Tallmadge on May 22, 1844, the motion is granted and the church and congregation are declared vacant.

During Rev. Seward’s 32 years of ministry in Aurora he: continued his missionary work preaching in surrounding communities and organized some 15 other churches; married Harriet Wright his wife of 60 years; helped found the Western Reserve Academy and served on its board of trustees; and formed a branch of the American Colonization Society addressing the issue of slavery.

John Seward accepts a call to a Solon church in 1845 and serves another 16 years before retiring to Tallmadge. He dies in 1873 at the age of 89, but his faithful legacy lives on.

 

JULY 19, 2009

It has been said that “behind every great man is a great woman.” This is certainly the case with the Rev. John Seward and his wife, Harriet Wright Seward.

Born in Canaan, Connecticut in 1792, her family settles in Tallmadge in 1810. At 18, with the loss of her mother she assumes the various household duties pertaining to a large family of 9 children and a farm. Harriet’s “servant” heart is apparent in a journal account from 1812 as she is called to tend to a sick brother some 30 miles away, “…through the worst paths, obstructed by fallen timber in an unbroken forest, with her single guide a stranger. The distance was accomplished in one day with scarcely a pause, and on arriving she was so worn she could neither walk nor stand.”

Meeting John Seward on one of his many visits to Tallmadge, they are married July 12, 1813. Harriet promptly assumes the many duties of the wife of a minister. Never having any children of their own, their house is frequently home to students preparing for college and tutored by “Priest” Seward. They later adopt a distant cousin and raise her as their own. Travelling ministers also often stop at the Seward home for food and lodging.

Speaking of her abundant labors, Rev. Seward writes, “If any one should think I had praised my companion unduly, I refer them to the 31st chapter of Proverbs-The Wife of Noble Character, which is as good and fresh and appropriate as it was 3000 years ago.”

 

JULY 26, 2009

Following the long tenure of Rev. Seward, a string of short-term pastorates are called, few lasting more than a year or so. One notable exception is the call of the Rev. J.S. Graves who serves from 1850 to 1865.

It is also during this time that the landscape of Aurora is beginning to change. The population of the township begins to decline from 1400 to about half that number owing in large measure to the consolidation of small farms into larger ones requiring fewer hands and the shifting part of a population that results from renting.

Of all the other churches established in Aurora, few survive beyond a few years. It is an endless struggle for these churches to obtain the services of a minister, even on a temporary basis.

This may explain in part why the church buys a parsonage in 1849 for prospective ministers and their families. The eight room house at 270 South Chillicothe Road, is purchased for $900. And it will become “home” for the next 24 pastors over the next 127 years.

The Aurora Disciples Church, which gathers in 1830, is an exception to the pattern of other churches in the area. Though small in numbers, it is a powerful influence and continues its work in hearty fellowship with The Church in Aurora. Maintaining this closeness—geographically and spiritually with the Aurora church will result in an eventual union in the decades ahead.

The Building Committee for the new framed house of worship, or meeting house as it is referred in the New England tradition, sets down specific conditions for the structure and its usage.

It shall be erected on, or near, the site of the house in Aurora, known as the “Olde Brick Church.”

It shall be built in good style, and shall be used only for public religious worship and for such other meetings as shall be appointed for the direct promotion of religious culture and knowledge, and when the erection of said House is completed, it shall be under the care and control of the Trustees.

It shall not be used for any kind of public meetings, until the erection of the building is completed.

Every alternate slip in the general audience room, including the seats appropriated to the use of the choir, shall be forever free, but the remaining slips may be let annually by a committee appointed by the church; and the proceeds arising therefrom shall be appropriated toward defraying the current incidental expenses of public worship; but no rent arising from the letting of slips or sittings shall be used to pay any part of the minister’s salary.

 

1849

A parsonage was purchased for $900.  This 8-room house, at 270 South Chillicothe Road, served as home for families of 22 pastors during the last century.

1909

An annex was added to the frame church building.

1911

In 1911 the Aurora Disciples of Christ Church combined with the Aurora Congregational Church to become The Aurora Federated Church – the first Federated Church in the United States.

1913

May:  Organized by Elder William Hayden and 15 charter members on October 17, 1830, The Aurora Disciples of Christ Church was built in 1838, diagonally across from the Congregational Church.  The Disciples Church burned in 1855 and was replaced by a church used later as a community hall.  Never large in numbers, and with few regular pastors, the Aurora Disciples nevertheless contributed to the religious life of the community.

It is to their great credit that they were willing, in May of 1913, to lay aside some of their fundamental doctrines in order to join with the Congregational Church in the formation of The Aurora Federated Church.

1933

By unanimous vote, the members of the First Congregational Church, The Aurora Disciples of Christ Church and The Aurora Federated Church, decided to merge their properties, memberships, traditions, and faith into one unrelated community church.  Under the guidance of the Rev. Owen Livengood, formerly Pastor of The Aurora Federated Church, Christians from many different backgrounds found that they could work and worship together in harmony.

1940

The Rev. Joseph R. Hutcherson, a Congregational minister who was ordained by the Disciples of Christ, was called to be Pastor of The Church in Aurora.  He served until 1971.

1967

The Church in Aurora, feeling the need for expanded educational and youth ministry, called the Rev. Lyonel W. Gilmore, who served as Minister of Education until 1971.

1972

The Rev. William Van Auken, Th.M., was called to our pastorate.  A Presbyterian minister, he was a member of The Presbytery of the Western Reserve.  He and his family lived in the church-owned manse immediately behind the church, at 46 West Pioneer Trail.  Bill’s wife, Jane, was ordained in the 1980’s and was called to serve as Co-Pastor.  The Van Auken’s served until 1989.

1981

Kevin Horak was called to serve as the Christian Education Director. 

 Rev. Horak was ordained on Feb. 12, 1989, and was called to serve as the Associate Pastor.

1987

The new addition, including the Christian Education classrooms and Great Hall, was built.

1990

The Rev. Everette Chapman was called to serve as Senior Pastor.  He served until 1995.

1995

Dr. William Schnell was called to serve as the Senior Pastor.  Dr. Schnell was raised in the Community Church and feels at home here.

 

2009