Founded in 1731, one year before George Washington was born, 13 families asked the towns of Greenwich (known then as Horseneck) and Stamford for a new parish in the back country of Connecticut. In those days a New England town could not exist without a church, and the government had to approve any new parish. Though the town of Stanwich no longer exists, the legacy of the little church built in the back country lives on today by the full grace and blessing of God.
The founding families worked together to build the first meeting house, a simple structure on the corner of Stanwich and North Taconic Road. In 1804 the Meeting House was torn down to build a larger church on the same site. The new building was known as one of the most beautiful landmarks in Greenwich. It contained an excellent library, and was the spiritual, intellectual and social center for families in the back country.
In 1895, an unoccupied Methodist chapel located at 237 Taconic Road, which was built in 1846, was purchased by three members of Stanwich and donated to the church for a neighborhood community center. The congregation had no idea at that time that this building would become their new church home less than 30 years later.
On August 22, 1923, a bolt of lightning struck the Stanwich steeple in the early morning hours, and hundreds of spectators stood helpless in the wind and rain as their beloved church burned to the ground. Though stunned and grief-stricken, the 150 church members went ahead with a fair that had been planned for that very day, relocating it to the old Methodist chapel. Though the building had burned down, the real church – the body of believers – relied on their faith to press on and say by their actions, “Yesterday is gone. What is God calling us to do today?”
The old Methodist chapel was rededicated as the new home of Stanwich Church in 1923. It was renovated several times, including the addition of a steeple in 1927, an adjacent parsonage in 1939, a second floor for the kitchen, vestry and Upper Room in 1960, and renovation of the horse shed into Sunday School classrooms in 1964. The building could not be expanded further, and adjacent land could not be purchased due to state restrictions on watershed areas. For several years, members of the congregation searched the roads surrounding Stanwich for property large enough to build a new church, but nothing was available. Meanwhile, the congregation continued to grow, adding many new ministries as well as a second morning worship service and a contemporary evening service. The evening service grew so successfully that in 1999 Stanwich “birthed” Trinity Church in Greenwich, and sent many from the congregation to continue to grow this new church.
In July of 1999 a split in the main truss of the sanctuary roof was discovered. Though emergency measures were taken to add steel reinforcements, the added weight in the roof could not be borne by the aging walls for very long. At this juncture we began to sense God’s divine hand leading us where we never expected to go. Within a week of learning about the main truss, 30 acres of land on Taconic Road were put up for sale. An anonymous group of “Friends of Stanwich” appeared from within the congregation to invest in the land at their own risk until such time as the congregation could consider such a bold solution. Although the land was eventually found to have drainage problems that could not sustain a church and parking lot, the excitement of new possibilities had begun to grow. The congregation authorized church leaders to spend six months looking for land “in the neighborhood.”
Within weeks, a four-acre parcel at 202 Taconic Road came on the market, which was not adequate for an enlarged church facility but was ideal in every other way. The “Friends” agreed to purchase the property and hold it until an adjacent parcel became available, leaving the timing and financing in God’s hands. Only a few months later, an adjacent lot at 190 Taconic Road became available, but it was being sought by a local developer and beyond the capacity of the “Friends” to purchase. Purely out of obedience to the possibility that this might be God at work, an announcement was made from the pulpit that a new set of “Friends” was needed if we were to secure this land for Stanwich before it sold. Amazingly, the phones began to ring the next day, and within a week a second group of “Friends” had successfully contracted for the property. When the congregation was called together to be updated about God’s remarkable provision of land, they prayed together and voted unanimously in favor of building a new church.
Plans were designed to nestle the church among the mature trees on the property and recreate the ambiance of the original Stanwich hamlet of 1731. It would welcome twice as many worshippers without sacrificing the intimacy and holiness of the existing sanctuary. It would retain the glorious play of light on the altar wall through triple-hung windows, and would retain the quiet and holy focus of communing with God by keeping the altar wall free of all adornment except the cross. Additional areas for Christian education, fellowship and offices would continue the historic style of separate buildings in a community setting by attaching buildings of slightly different roof lines around a simple, open-air cloister. While the entire facility would be built to look old, it would house state-of-the-art technology and safety features, and would provide handicap access to all areas. The beautiful iron bell, whose deep, rich tone had been ringing at Stanwich since 1926, would be moved into the new steeple to continue the long tradition of welcoming worshippers, visitors and friends.
Of course this wonderful plan had a significant cost. We needed a miracle, but with God, nothing is impossible. Through His amazing blessings, the Let the Light Shine capital campaign received pledges and sacrificial support from the congregation and friends of Stanwich, and from organizations and friends Stanwich had helped in the past.
Construction was completed in 2006. The congregation gathered for a consecration service on April 1, and the following day celebrated the first Sunday worship service in our new sanctuary. What a joyous time for Stanwich, and an amazing privilege to experience God’s power at work.
God’s plan for Stanwich is so much bigger than we ever imagined. Within our walls He has assembled a growing congregation with diverse talents and gifts, each playing a key role in the life of a back-country church that continues to step out boldly in faith to build His kingdom. Now we have received this amazing blessing of a beautiful new building right down the street from our original site. As we continue this next chapter of our history with gratitude and joy, we ask God to bless us with renewed faith, so that Stanwich will continue to be a light in the back country and throughout the world that will shine for generations to come. That light is the love of Jesus Christ, and it will never go out.