Two Anniversaries: Haystack 200th Celebrated On The Eve of UCC 50th

Two Anniversaries: Haystack 200th Celebrated On The Eve of UCC 50th

Edward Dorr Griffin, president of Williams College, 1821-36, started his career as a young minister, fresh out of Yale in 1794, at First Church, Farmington, Connecticut where he lasted less than a year because people were critical of his evangelical, “New Light” leanings. This was during the period of the “Second Great Awakening” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Griffin was immediately invited to First Church, New Hartford/Canton where he was pastor from 1795 to 1821, the year he was named president of Williams. I mention this because the Reverend Griffin was well acquainted with “Father” Mills, pastor of the Torringford (Torrington) Church and his family in the early 1800s. It was Griffin who counseled “Father” Mills and his wife, Esther, to send their young son, Samuel, Jr., to newly founded Williams College, a place of piety and learning.

The rest of the story is full of history and legend. Samuel Mills, Jr. and four other Williams students met regularly for prayer meeting and discussion. In the late summer of 1806 their meeting was interrupted by a severe thunderstorm; they took refuge under a haystack at Sloan’s Meadow, continued their prayers and discussion, and vowed to make overseas missionary work the major goal of their lives. This was soon followed by the formation of The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions in Farmington, which became the cornerstone of the American Missionary Movement.

The Haystack Bicentennial was celebrated on the weekend of September 22-24 in Williamstown with 300 people in attendance for at least one event from as far away as Hawaii with the emphasis being celebratory, not academic. Williams Chaplain “Rick” Spalding and the Reverend Carrie Bail, First Church, Williamstown were co-chairs of the planning committee. The committee which met monthly for almost two years included members of the World War 2 generation, Baby Boomers and the current X generation of college students as well as evangelical, conservative, liberal and progressive Christians, all of whom worked well together and showed great respect for each other.

The weekend celebration included workshops, seminars, dining opportunities, a jazz concert, traditional and newly composed church music and opportunities for worship. UCC president & General Minister, John Thomas, participated in a panel on the meaning of mission today with liberation theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Timothy Tennant, professor at Gordon Cornwall Seminary and the Reverend Kealahou Alika, pastor of Keawalai Congregational Church in Makena, Maui, Hawaii. The Reverend Thomas also delivered a moving sermon, “Receiving The Child,” at First Congregational Church.

The Saturday afternoon panel on the meaning of mission today was followed by a silent procession to Mission Park and a moving, twilight vesper service conducted by retired College Chaplain John Eusden and students. It was during this service that the Hawaiian delegation presented a lovely music offering of Hawaiian chant, a Hawaiian pule (prayer) and a ho’okupu, an offering of fresh flowers, salt, and ti leaves, a tribute to Christ as the center of our faith, to be placed at the foot of The Haystack Monument.

Carrie Bail and others expressed the hope the Hawaiian delegation will be available for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the formation of the United Church of Christ at the General Synod to be held in Hartford in 2007 to present the story of mission in Hawaii and its aftermath, and an offering of Hawaiian chants and prayers.

Written for Contact, a CT UCC bi monthly publication, by Howard Smith, a retired UCC clergyman, living in Great Barrington, MA.

Bibliography: History of Farmington Church, by Noah Porter, Oct 16, 1872; Religious History of The American People, Sydney Ahlstrom; 200th Anniversary of Haystack, United Congregaional Church, Torrington, CT.