Our Parish History
The first worship service of the Episcopal Church was held in the old town hall in East Webster on July 18, 1869, with the rector of Grace Church Oxford, The Rev. Dr. William Henry Brooks, officiating. On January 3, 1870, the Church of the Reconciliation was formed. William Slater, a grandson of Samuel Slater, who founded the American textile industry, purchased property on North Main Street and presented it to the parish. James Howe and William Slater were among the many townspeople who marched from the Samuel Slater House to celebrate the building of a house of worship on that site. A fund-raising committee was formed and the great Gothic revival architects Richard and R. M. Upjohn of New York were commissioned to design a wooden church in the neo-Gothic tradition with a 52-foot bell tower and seating for 300 people. The cornerstone was laid on July 18, 1870. The interior was finished entirely with chestnut. Lovely stained-glass windows were given as memorials over the next century. To this day, the church retains at the center aisle the four distinctive original gaslight candelabra, which have been electrified. From its beginning, the parish has been a hospitable place for all sorts and conditions of people in town, and this warm ministry of hospitality has continued into the twenty-first century.
When the church was completed and consecrated on January 3, 1871, it was fully paid for, and Dr. Brooks moved from Oxford to become its first rector. The Church of the Reconciliation was a full-fledged parish from the beginning. The tower bell was first rung on Christmas, 1884. It was given by Mr. H. N. Slater.
Lydia Slater donated a magnificent Hook and Hastings pipe organ in 1873. The instrument was enlarged and refurbished by the Slater family in 1912 and rebuilt by the Morel Organ Company in 1964. The organ was re-leathered in 1999. In 1899, a boys’ choir had been established. Worship in the parish has had a vested choir ever since that time.
The parish hall was given in 1898 in memory of William Slater by a gift of his five sisters. In 1914, through a gift of Georgia Slater Bartlett, in memory of Katherine Slater Brown, it was enlarged and raised with a basement gymnasium and kitchen. The gymnasium was the first in Webster and was used by neighborhood boys for basketball and good healthy exercise. Young ladies learned their “stitches” from the Slater sisters. Music recitals and plays were held in the upstairs hall. Later, a local Greek Orthodox church held services in the basement until they built their own church. More recently, Shared Blessings Kitchen served meals there three times weekly to needy persons in the community from 1982 to 1994.
The parish has been served by fourteen rectors since Fr. Brooks. These clergy have been actively involved in the community and in ecumenical activities. The longest- serving rector was The Rev. S.Walcott Linsley, who served devotedly from 1910 to 1938. The Rt. Rev. Robert Rusack, Bishop of Los Angeles from 1974-1986, grew up in our parish and was ordained deacon here in April 1951 by Bishop W. A. Lawrence. Another son of the parish, Albert Denham, entered the vocational diaconate and served the parish until his death in 1979.
On June 7, 2008, the Church of the Reconciliation celebrated the ordination and installation of its first female rector, the Rev. Janice C. Ford. The primary focus of the parish at this time is outreach to those suffering from addiction. The members of the parish are working and praying in the community and endeavor to live up to the words painted on the arch at the entrance to the chancel: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.”
The Church of the Reconciliation
21 North Main St.
Webster, MA 01570
9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
and by appointment