A BRIEF HISTORY On June 19, 2022, Christ Church, United Methodist in Southwick held its final service. For many people in the local community this was a sad occasion. This community of faith has been here for 206 years. It has been known as the Southwick Methodist Episcopal Church, College Highway Methodist Church, as well as Christ Church United Methodist.
How many people have been baptized, confirmed, married, or buried from here? How many sermons, hymns, prayers, and acts of worship have flowed from the hearts, minds, and souls of its ministers, laity, and constituents? There are also connections with the broader community. How many people ate at its various strawberry dinners, potluck suppers, or Mother's Day pancake breakfasts? Did you ever go to one of its rummage sales, auctions, holiday sales, or “Meet the Candidates'' nights? How many lives were served by hosting meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous, providing space for weight loss groups, or educational programs offered by the Southwick Historical Society? And what about sponsoring Scout troops and other community organizations?
Its history has deep roots in the community. In 1816, biweekly Methodist prayer meetings were held in the home of Samuel T. Vining (formerly located on Vining Hill Road). The Southwick Methodist Church started with eight members. Membership increased rapidly, despite having to meet in private homes and local district school houses. Preaching was done by Methodist ministers who traveled by horseback throughout numerous towns, known as a “circuit,” hence the early ministers were known as “circuit riders.”
A new meetinghouse in present-day Southwick center was constructed in 1824. The present meetinghouse at 222 College Highway was dedicated two years later. The physical changes to the sanctuary, as well as the construction of new buildings, reflected the spiritual, financial, and membership growth of the congregation over the years. While there were periods of decline, in 1876 there was an increase in membership, which manifested itself in the renovation of the sanctuary. The “box” pews with doors were removed, and a platform was built for the minister, lectern, and choir. In 1900, a bolt of lightning struck the steeple, destroying the upper section. It was removed.For years, the balcony, which had a flat floor, was filled with tables and chairs, and various 10 cent suppers, strawberry suppers, and bean dinners were held there. The women of the church worked hard to put on those meals, preparing the food, carrying all of the dishes, food, beverages, etc. up the old staircases, as well as clearing all of the plates, silverware, and glasses afterwards. When the church was renovated in 1923, resulting in the high ceilinged space being divided into two floors (the space between the balconies was floored over), the worship space was moved upstairs and the dining/social hall downstairs. A few years later, in 1937, additional renovations were completed to the upstairs sanctuary.
Back in 1842 the church had a single minister appointed by the Conference. A parsonage committee was appointed in 1876, and between 1882 and 1884 a parsonage was built on land just north of the church at 230 College Highway. After WWII three construction projects were undertaken. The sanctuary barely held the congregation; every nook and cranny on the first floor had a Sunday school class; social events were cramped. In 1954 the construction of the parsonage to the south of the church started, allowing for the minister to be onsite for the first time. The second big project was to build the Wesley Fellowship Hall in 1957. This provided space for Sunday school for the kids, as well as a place to have dinners, Lenten talks, church events, and space for civic organizations to meet. The third project addressed the worship space. The renovation of the existing church building was done in 1961, with dedication in 1962. The first floor was converted into a secretary's office, pastor's study, choir room, nursery, and entry foyer. The second floor sanctuary was fitted with a drop ceiling, new lighting, raised floor for the choir, minister, pulpit, altar, and organ. The pews were reconfigured, new pews installed in the rear, and aisles carpeted.
In the 1980's, making the fellowship hall and sanctuary accessible to all people became a priority of the congregation. The first project was a steel and concrete ramp up to the main floor of the Wesley Fellowship Hall. This was followed in 1987-88 by the installation of a ramp and elevator for the church, through the generosity of George M. Steere. This not only allowed for the elderly or other individuals with mobility issues to attend worship in the sanctuary, but also caskets could be brought up and funerals held in the sanctuary for the first time since the building was split into two floors.
Vital ministries continued into the 1990's and 2000's. But with diminishing numbers and an aging population, by 2019 church members began to recognize that we could no longer do what we once did. So we have come to the end of an era: the closure of the church on July 1, 2022.