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This striking Adirondack architecture made for an inspiring home for the First Congregational Church of Ivoryton for more than a century, but rising costs led the modest congregation to decide to part with the building. The church hosted its final service, along with three other local congregations, on Oct. 1. First Congregational Church of Ivoryton now holds services at the First Congregational Church of Essex. (Photo courtesy of Bob Wigham )
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The members of the Ivoryton First Congregational Church were joined by three local congregations for one last Sunday service at the historic building on the Falls River in Ivoryton on Oct. 1.
While the mood could have been somber for long-time Ivoryton Congregationalists as they said goodbye to their beloved church, the support of the First Congregational Church in Essex, the First Baptist Church in Essex, and the Trinity Lutheran Church in Centerbrook led to a final sermon amid an optimistic air.
“We had over 170 people including those from other local churches last Sunday,” said First Congregational Church of Ivoryton Reverend John Van Epps. “They moved their services for one day to be with us. It was a wonderful experience of the Essex Community. It was a sad time being the last service, but also it was a celebration of looking towards the future.”
The destiny of the displaced congregation is to move its Sunday services to the First Congregational Church of Essex, but maintain autonomy as a separate congregation.
All of this was by choice, but the process leading to the change wasn’t an easy one, according to Van Epps.
“It wasn’t contentious, but it was a difficult decision for the members who have belonged for 40, 50, 60, maybe more years,” he said. “The genesis came last year when the approximately 25 active members found it too much to support upkeep of the building. They decided that it would be better stewardship to sell the building and continue to worship in another space.”
Upkeep had proved a significant cost on the old church over the years, Van Epps explains. It isn’t energy efficient, given its striking, all-wood Adirondack style with little insulation.
Heating and cooling costs were literally going through the roof of the much-loved church, so the congregation made the choice to list it.
The 1870s church building went on the market in early 2017 and multiple offers were presented within days. The quick interest surprised the congregation that oversees ownership of their own building. After all, another local church was on the market for more than five years before it received bids.
The new owner, who will remain anonymous until the escrow of the sale is completed later this month, reportedly intends to preserve the architecture while converting the building into modern condominiums.
Like the Ivoryton Playhouse and many other historic buildings in Ivoryton, the construction of the First Congregational Church was paid for and built in latter part of 19th century by the Comstock Piano Keyboard factory for the workers it employed in the area.
The original very first Congregational Church to the area began in Centerbrook Village in the early 18th century. Ivoryton Village and Essex Village each eventually broke off to start their own independent churches, related to one another through their mutual membership in the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ. The original 1830s Centerbrook church building was sold into private hands after dwindling to just a handful of members with no regular services. The Ivoryton congregation did not want to see its ministry suffer the same fate. As for the funds from the sale of the building, the Ivoryton congregation will be using them to pay for the rental of the church in Essex Village and contribute to the ongoing ministries of the church. Van Epps says that the congregation also hopes to see the funds possibly opening up new missions for the church now that members have freed themselves from the burden of the upkeep they maintained for over a century.
As of early October, First Congregational Church of Ivoryton will hold services at the First Congregational Church of Essex, 6 Methodist Hill, Essex Village, from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m.
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