The beginnings of Pilgrim Congregational Church

The Sunday School of Pilgrim Congregational Church got it’s start in May of 1883 with 11 children and 2 teachers, who gathered at 6 Hancock Street at the home of Fannie Mighill. In several weeks the numbers grew to 69 children and the Sunday School moved into the third story of the Woodland Street school house.

Pilgrim Church was recieved into the congregational fellowship and a pastor was installed on March 19, 1885 by a council of 25 churches and 4 individuals. The original chapel seated 400 and became crowded very quickly. In 2 years time over $13,000.00 was pledged for a new building and oon October 22, 1887 the cornerstone was laid and on July 1, 1888 the new buildiing was dedicated with Rev. George W. Phillips preaching the sermon.

The architect of the church was Stephen Earl (1839-1919) who designed buildings in Massachusetts and Connecticut that were built in the late 1800s, many are in Worcester. Among the buildings that he designed were university buildings, commercial buildings and churches. One of the universities that he designed is Clark University.

I found an article online about Charles M. Southgate, who was the first minister of Pilgrim Congregational Church.  The article was published in The New York Times, July 28, 1895.  The Article reads as follows:

A New Preacher for Brooklyn

The Good work Mr Southgate Has Done In Worcester

His Congregation Reluctant That he Shall Leave them after nearly eleven years’ service

From the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram.

       There is much interest and some diversity of opinion at Pilgrim Church on the question whether  the Rev Charles M Southgate, who has been pastor of the church since it was organized, will accept the call which has been extended to him from Puritan Church, Brooklyn.  The consensus of expressions already made, however, is that Mr. Southgate will decide to go to Brooklyn.

       If he accepts the call, there will be many regrets not only on the part of his own congregation, with whom he has labored for nearly eleven years, by thousands of congregationalists and members of other denominations in this city and county, who have long regarded the Rev Mr. Southgate as an able preacher, intensely sympathetic in all that he undertakes and does, and the best organizer among all the preachers of Worcester.

       On the other hand, there will not be found any who will begrudge the Rev. Mr. Southgate his promotion to the enviable position of pastor of the Puritan Church.  There is not a minister in the city that has worked harder for his church, whose efforts have been accompanied with more glorious results than Mr. Southgate.  His relations with the members at all times have been of the most satisfactory and pleasing character, and that is saying a great deal of a Worcester pastor.

       He is a sympathetic preacher, full of enthusiasm and zeal, and why he might not be reckoned as great a pulpit orator as some with whom he may be associated in Brooklyn, he posseses a magnetism that is peculiarly his own, and can always command the close attention of his hearers, young and old.

       As has already been indicated, he is one of the most aggresive minister’s in the city, and is at all times found in the vanguard of everything that tends to make the work of a church more effective.  Pilgrim Church is the only “institutional church” in Worcester, and one of the very few in the northern part of the country.  The girls’ industrial class gathers more than $200 in its annual sessions.  Those who attend represent about a dozen nationalities, scores of churches, and the class is open to Roman Catholic as well as Protestant.  The Pilgrim Cadets is one of the flourishing organizations in the church.  In Pilgrim Hall there is a finely equipped gymnasium and baths.  There is a carpenter’s shop and a printing office, where instruction of a practical nature is given.  A reading room is very much taken advantage of, by old and young.  The men’s association ranks with any of it’s kind in the city, and there is a Sunday School with fully 720 students.

        There is the Southgate class, thoroughly equipped and doing untold good under the leadership of Arthur E. Gray; class no. 75, the young ladies class; the Christian Endeavor Societies, senior, intermediate, and junior; the Maternal Association, the Woman’s Missionary Society, the Ladies aid society, and the various committees of the church, including benevolence, visiting the sick, visiting strangers, hospitality, temperance, and associated charities.

      In every one of these societies and committees the influence and energy of Mr. Southgate is felt.  He is an ideal organizer.  Pilgrim Church has many departments and organizations which are all doing work of a practical christian nature, so that the church is a perfect model of what a nineteenth century church should be,  from the church organization itself down to the smallest circle.  What is still more pleasing, the society, with all it’s departments, is not unwieldy. Everyone has its place, and there is a place for every one.

       The church had its inception on May 13, 1883, from a meeting of 11 children and 2 adults as teachers of a Sunday School.  There were 13 present, and it was the 13th day of the month, so that the unlucky number was a lucky one this time.  Soon after there was an attendance of 69 in the school.  Mrs Fannie H. Mighill, widow of the Rev Nathaniel Mighill of the Old South Church,  was the first Superintendent of the school, and she was followed by Arthur E Gray.   Prayer meetings were then held, and the first sermon was preached by the Rev Albert Bryant, who followed by the Rev W.T. Sleeper as Superintendent of city missions.

        A church was formed and the Rev Mr Southgate was called on July 17, 1884.  He began work among them on November 16.  A chapel was erected and occupied for the first time in 1885.  In 1887 the fine edifice now known as Pilgrim Church was built, and it was dedicated July 1, 1888.  Ever since it’s inception, the church has been a grand success,  and not a single communion has passed without additions to its membership.  There have been 519 members enrolled from the beginning of the church, 27 have died and the total membership to date is over 450.  These figures are a most convincing testimonial in favor of the work performed by Mr. Southgate since he came to Worcester.  They are also an indication of the aggressive and harmonious manner in which the members of the church have pulled together since they became an organization, without which, of course, Mr. Southgate’s work would not be seen to such advantage.

        When Mr. Southgate came to the city, all the salary that was pledged for him was $700, and Francis B. Knowles stood at the back of that.  Double that amount was recieved the first year.

The Congregational Way

The Congregational Way is a way of following Christ. People of a Congregational Church do not seek to be led by a creed, but by the Spirit. Ours is the tradition of a free church, gathered under the headship of Christ and bound to others by love, not law.

Some of them (Puritans in England) tried to purify the English Church from within. Others, known as Separatists, left the state church and formed local groups of believers bound together by mutual covenants. They found warrant for these gathered churches in Matthew 18:20, which says, “for where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Taken from the NACCC website

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