General Information - History & Archives
History of The Church in Aurora
MEMORY MOMENTS of The Church
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
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
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
The Connecticut churches
respond so favorably that in September the Association votes to
send two pastors in the spring of
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
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
Joseph Badger, a revolutionary war veteran and devout man, is sent
to the Western Reserve by the Connecticut Missionary Society in
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.
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."
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.
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
Indentifying twelve worthy
souls, Rev. Darrow invites them to gather the next day,
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.
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.
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…"
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
While an acceptable place to worship
is restored in Aurora, a minister is now sought to lead the fledging
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
As early as
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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.
was purchased for $900. This 8-room house, at 270 South
Chillicothe Road, served as home for families of 22 pastors during the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
1872 The present white frame structure, minus the
Fellowship Hall, was dedicated.
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.
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
OCTOBER 11, 2009
The Church in Aurora’s budget in 1874 is a simple
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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.
was purchased for $900. This 8-room house, at 270 South
Chillicothe Road, served as home for families of 22 pastors during the
An annex was added to the frame church building.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kevin Horak was called to serve as the Christian
Rev. Horak was ordained on Feb. 12, 1989, and was
called to serve as the Associate Pastor.
The new addition, including the Christian Education
classrooms and Great Hall, was built.
The Rev. Everette Chapman was called to serve as
Senior Pastor. He served until 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.