GREENWICH, Conn. -- One of the primary missions of the Second Congregational Church of Greenwich is its commitment to the community, both locally and worldwide. With a history dating back more than 300 years, that’s a long litany of service.
“Our general mission, like a lot of other churches, it to proclaim the Gospel and and to encourage and foster love of God and neighbor,’’ said Max Grant, the church’s Senior Pastor. “What that means for us is to do so by coming to church, but also finding a way to to be active in the community in Greenwich, of halfway around the world. That service component has always been an important part of who we are.”
The Second CC of Greenwich was the first home for the Greenwich Library in the early 1800s, when it was one of the town’s first book-lending institutions. The church was also a key player in the formation of Greenwich Academy, which opened n 1827.
The church’s commitment has evolved over time, and it now hosts community forums that are less religious but are important community concerns. It held a forum last year on opioid addiction, and this fall hosted “Girls Who Code,” a national non-profit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology.
Events at the church range from meetings of scouting organizations, singing groups and classes for children. On Saturday, it is hosting a Broadway & Chili, a dinner and musical event that features the church’s Chancel Choir directed by its Music Director, Alex Constantine.
“What the Gospel means for us is not one thing,’’ Grant said. “It’s a way to get people thinking about God is in their life. Opportunity and access and justice touch down in people’s lives at a lot of different places.”
The church formed in 1705. The settlements of Old Greenwich and Greenwich had grown so much that one minister could not adequately serve both regions. The Colonial Governor -- 71 years before the Declaration of Independence -- and the General Court of Hartford approved the town’s division into two ecclesiastic societies, with the First Society forming East of the Mianus River. The church’s original name was “The Church of Christ in the West Society of Greenwich.” Second Congregational had seven other names before its current name was approved in 1900.
In one remarkable 86-year span from 1732-1818, the church had just three ministers. The Reverend Abraham Todd served for 40 years, beginning in 1732. Rev. Johnathan Murdock, a paroled prisoner of the British, served from 1774 to 1786 and was followed by Rev. Isaac Lewis, who served the church for 32 years, until 1818.
Lewis helped usher in the era of Sunday School at the church, becoming one of the first in the nation to extend religious learning to children.
“The idea that child needed to learn the stories of the Bible, hear messages of the Bible and tailored to them was not obvious to most people,’’ Grant said. “Teaching them how to be Christian had to happen in a different way, and it became a national movement. Our church was included very early on in identifying that.”
The church was also also among the first to send missionaries to Hawaii, China and elsewhere overseas. The church also distinguished itself with a large, stone, gray gothic structure that pivoted away from the classic white clapboard design that is still the hallmark of many congregational churches in New England.
“It made people take another look,’’ Grant said. “It was unusual and bold and in its day. There was something about the pride of the community and wanting to show people to build something for this community. That continues to this day.”
Grant came to the church in 2008 as the struggling economy started to impact people everywhere. Slowly, the feeling in the church has changed, he said. “The whole region was in that defensive crouch when the bottom fell out,’’ Grant said. “A lot of people weren’t sure what the future would hold for them or their family. The community was most certainly reeling. It feels like that anxiety has diminished, and people have a little bit more energy. They’re thinking about ways they can reach out to help their neighbor.”
Grant’s career in the ministry started as the Chaplain for Pediatrics at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He was also the School Chaplain and Religion Department Head at College School, an independent day school in New York City.
“You would have these incredible moments with people, students and families,’’ Grant said. “But 5 p.m. would come, and I would go home. That connection was lost. You journeyed with families while they were at the hospital, and with the school, we’d be in school together. But then they go home, and you don’t have the same kind of deep relationship of being in this safe community together. Week in and week out, year in and year out, to be rooted in this place and standing along side them for a much longer arc is much different. That’s what I found myself wanting.”
More than 300 years after establishing its roots in Greenwich, Grant feels the church remains true to its history.
“We still want people to take a second look,’’ Grant said. The Bible isn’t simply what we expect. That’s our conclusion as we talk to one another. Faith touches down in our own lives at different points. It’s surprising and powerful, and that has never gone away.”