Continued from Church History.
The second church, formed May 3, 1790, was the Methodist. Lemuel Smith and Jason Lee held services on Somers Road in the kitchen of Abner Chapin's home. It is reported that their sermons "set the town on fire." Later they met in West Side School, now a home at 79 East Longmeadow Road. Jason Lee became famous as the Methodist "covered wagon" missionary to Oregon Territory and founder of Willamette University. Their meeting house was erected above the fire house on North Road, facing south, where Pastor Loren Collins preached his famous sermon on the "Second Coming."
In December 1858, Horace Sessions' oxen took several days to move this building, the present Federated Community Church, to its present location on Main Street, but the building was not turned around. The back is now the front. With pulpit and seats reversed, a new front and belfry were added. Mrs. Lucetta Chaffee Howlett donated the bell, and in her will, gave the Methodist Society a substantial bequest and the town the land now comprising Prospect Hill Cemetery and St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery.
Robert Sessions, Junior, whose father took part in the Boston Tea Party, is said by some to be the real founder of the Methodist Church in Hampden. He organized the first Sunday School in town, teaching it in his kitchen.
The third church was the Baptist, originally formed in Monson's Colton Hollow District in 1817 with a meeting house on North Monson Road. Membership declined in the 1840's. In 1854, members built a Baptist Church in South Wilbraham village, its pastor being Rev. J. C. Foster. A store on its ground floor sold butter, coffee, felt boots and the like. The village hearse was stored in the rear at the end of the horse sheds.
In 1878, South Wilbraham parted with Wilbraham, became a separate town and adopted the name "Hampden".
Two men, Elmer Mulroney of the Baptist Church and John B. Isham of the Congregational Church, laid the groundwork for the subsequent Federation of Churches. Soon services were held by rotation in the three church buildings. On April 24th, 1924, the New York Sunday Times ran a half-page spread showing the Federated Church in the Baptist Sanctuary, receiving a sermon by radio from Springfield's South Congregational Church -- the first time in history a congregation had received a sermon by radio from another church. Rev. Herbert Fulton, having to be away for the day, had arranged this instead of securing a human replacement!
In 1926, the Baptists withdrew from the Federation and carried on alone. Their sanctuary burned to the ground in March 1932. They then built a combination chapel and parsonage, but their numbers dwindled and services ceased. The property was sold and is now the two-family house at 523 Main Street.
On withdrawal of the Baptists, the Methodist building was reconditioned for a sanctuary for the Federated Community Church and still serves this way. The Congregational Church gave its land to the town when Elizabeth Sessions offered to give a building to house the library, schoolrooms, auditorium and town offices.
September 1st and 2nd, 1935, the 150th anniversary of the Congregational Church was commemorated, with former pastors taking part in services on Sunday and in a historical Old Home Day street parade on Monday.
In 1950, our church purchased a building east of the sanctuary where Sunday School was first taught for use as a parish house to help house the growing church school and serve as a meeting place for church organizations. Since 1955, we've had a part-time secretary.
More room was needed by 1961 so the "east parish house" was demolished and a house west of the parish bought to make room for the Christian Education Wing, added in 1963, providing a large meeting room, called Isham Hall to honor one of our oldest (since 1976) and most active families, a minister's study, office for church secretary, and six classrooms.
In 1969 the Fannie Garfield House which abutted the church parking lot was purchased, and in 1972 the no-longer-needed west parish house was sold.
The 175th anniversary of the Congregational Church and the 130th anniversary of the Methodist Church were commemorated in October 1960 with a special Sunday service featuring three former ministers, five other dignitaries and Carl Howlett who read his history of the protestant churches of Hampden.
Three sons of the Stebbins families of Hampden became ministers of national reputation. Rev. Rufus P. Stebbins, D. D., the oldest, was born in 1810 on the exact spot where his great-grandfather, Stephen, Hampden's first settler, pitched his tent in then unbroken wilderness. Later he became president of the American Unitarian Association and President of Meadville Unitarian Theological Seminary. He wrote Stebbins' History of Wilbraham. His cousin, Rev. Horatio Stebbins, D. D., born on Wilbraham Road in 1821, was pastor of First Unitarian Church, in San Francisco, CA for 35 years, as well as President of the Board of Trustees of the University of California at Berkeley, and may be termed one of the makers of California. The half-brother of Horatio, born also on Wilbraham Road in 1837, became pastor of the First Unitarian Church of both Charleston, S. C. and Detroit, Michigan. The Unitarian Yearbook listed him as the last of a generation of great preachers, linking him with such orators as Rev. Edward Everett Hale, author of "A Man Without a Country." Our town remembered his rousing sermons preached each summer in the old Congregational Church when he visited the Marcus Beebe Homestead each summer, now 551 Main Street.
In honor of our nation's 200th birthday, we celebrated Sunday, April 4, 1976 as a day devoted to our own church history. Rev. Sanford Fasth, dressed in old-fashioned attire, preached part of a sermon written by our first minister, the Rev. Moses Warren. After the traditional Lenten potluck supper, Nettie Pease Gottsche, Beatrice Isham Luff, and Pat Wilcox, clad in old-time Hampden dresses, delighted us with anecdotes and exhibits showing the part the church played in our forefather's lives. We had only 3 ministers in the 35 years prior to the arrival of the Rev. Thomas D. Howells and his family in 1982 - Rev. Arthur Sanders, Rev. Robert G. Van Gorder, and Rev. Sanford Fasth.
After 28 years at our church, the Rev. Thomas Howells celebrated his final sermon and retired on May 1, 2011. The church was blessed to have Dr. Rev. Jan Burdewik for almost 3 years as our interim pastor while the pastoral search as completed. Rev. Burdewik was with us from May, 2011 through February of 2014. In December of 2013 the Search Committee presented Rev. Todd Farnsworth to the church membership. The membership unanimously accepted Rev. Farnsworth as our new settled pastor. Rev. Farnsworth started his service with us on March 1, 2014. After renovations at the parsonage, mostly by church members, He, his Wife, Martha, and their children, moved in during March.
The congregation of the Federated Community Church has been active throughout its history, with parishioners involved in such groups as Ladies Aid, Yola, Couples Club, Mother's Group, and a variety of committees, often helping the less fortunate. Many say they feel their fellow worshipers are more like family than just friends - always ready to lend a helping hand to whoever needs one.
Rev. Rufus P. Stebbins, D. D. said in his historical address at the centennial celebration of our mother town, Wilbraham, regarding the founding of the various churches in our town, "It seems a calamity that evangelical Christians cannot agree to unite their means in the support of one society, and thus economize means and strengthen both the brotherhood and religion. They could thus afford to sustain a pastor without disagreeable self-sacrifice and enlighten by his scholarship the minds of the community." How happy Rev. Stebbins would be to see that the Federated Community Church of Hampden is the community church he envisioned.