An Open and Affirming Member
of the United Church of Christ
Roger Ludlowe, Deputy Governor of Connecticut, and a handful of families from Windsor came in 1639 to a place the Sasqua Indians called Uncoway. The first rough hewn log building was erected in 1640 and served as the house of worship as well as the town meeting hall in which issues of governance and public life were debated and settled. In that tight-knit Puritan community matters of church and state overlapped almost entirely. In congregational style, one or another of these Puritans was selected to conduct services until the Reverend John Jones, a graduate of Cambridge University, arrived in 1644 with some 15 to 20 families from Concord, Massachusetts. In 1645 the settlers adopted the name Fairfield for the new English town.
These Puritans brought with them dedication to education (by 1639 each town in Connecticut and Massachusetts was required to provide a free public education to every boy and girl), respect for the sanctity of the individual conscience, fervent commitment to build a society of justice and equity, and government by the people. The congregational meetings of colonial New England are the antecedents of American democracy. A lot has changed since then, but this remains: First Church is a place for the worship of God and engagement in the world.
Despite Puritan ideals, there were profound and tragic abuses of power in the early days, most significantly the genocide of the Pequot Indians in 1637 and the execution of Goody Knapp who had been accused of witchcraft. Jones led the congregation as the town and church grew, until his death in 1664. By then Fairfield had the fourth largest population among the colonies’ nine towns, and the church had moved into a handsome new meeting house.
In those early years Fairfield extended from Stratford to Norwalk, and included what are now Easton, Westport, Weston, Redding and extensive portions of the Bridgeport. First Church served the entire area, but as the population increased, groups in outlying sections began campaigning for the right to establish their own parishes with their own ministers. In 1691, Pequannock (now Stratfield) was the first to be granted permission. Other new parishes followed. By 1763 there were seven churches in the original Fairfield area, all outgrowths from First Church.
The Reverend Andrew Eliot was called to be the Pastor in 1773 and through his preaching and oratory created significant support for independence throughout the colony of Connecticut. His courageous support of rebellion against the King resulted in an attack on Fairfield in July 1779. British ships landed troops on Fairfield’s beaches that marched up Beach Road and burned First Church and its parsonage, the Anglican Church, schoolhouses, the courthouse (Fairfield was the county seat), nearly fifty shops and stores, and almost 100 houses, and laid waste to scores of farms, livestock and barns. Fairfield and First Church were devastated by this raid and by the time the town was rebuilt, it had lost much of its normal business, as well as prestige, to neighboring Newfield (now Bridgeport). The fourth Meeting House was modeled after the one destroyed in 1779, but it was forty-two years before it was properly finished. The congregation worshiped in it for the first time in 1786, a fact which suggests the slow recovery from the devastation and losses of the War of Independence.
In the nineteenth century the pastors and members of First Church were active leaders in both the anti-slavery and the temperance movements. The night before Memorial Day 1890, the fifth church building was destroyed, apparently the work of an arsonist. Work began almost immediately on a new building designed by J.C. Cady in the Neo-Romanesque style so popular in that day. This present Sanctuary was dedicated in 1892, with church bells given by J. Pierpont Morgan in memory of his wife Amelia Sturges and Tiffany windows which were given by the Jennings and Saltus families in the early years of the twentieth century. A tracker pipe organ, built by Orgelbau Klais was installed in 2010 thanks to a bequest from the Estate of Lewis and Alice Burr and generous support of church members.
In 1986 we became a Servant Church, dedicated to putting our faith into action to alleviate human suffering in the community and around the world. Recent involvements and outreach include founding and establishing Operation Hope which provides services to prevent homelessness, shelters for men, women and families, affordable housing, food pantry, hot meals, and community outreach; Parish Court which provides affordable elderly housing; the Mercy Learning Center for adult literacy and Project Learn after school homework help program, both in Bridgeport; building twelve houses with Habitat for Humanity in the past ten years; Rebuilding Together, repairing and upgrading homes for low income seniors; Simply Smiles in Oaxaca, Mexico and the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota providing food, education and hope; the Machui Community Center in Zanzibar, Tanzania providing health care and vocational training.
We also seek to extend the extravagant welcome of God to all people and embody the radical hospitality of Christ. In 1994 First Church declared itself to be and Open and Affirming of all people regardless of race, class, ancestry, gender identification, marital status, ability or sexual orientation. The church’s pastors have been leading voices for equal marriage rights in Connecticut and in 2010 The Loft, a support group for lgbtq teens and their friends was founded at First Church.