Cobblestone Church turns back the clock 150 years at service today

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 June 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

GAINES – Lee Richards, pastor of the Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, preaches from the pulpit at the Cobblestone Universalist Church today.

The Pullman congregation twice a year has church at the cobblestone site in Gaines, a building from 1834. That church is oldest cobblestone church in North America and is a National Historic Landmark.

Universalists met at the cobblestone site until the new Pullman church, built with money from Albion native and business tycoon George Pullman, opened in 1895.

The Albion congregation of Unitarian-Universalists has been holding services twice a year at the cobblestone church for at least four decades, with a service the fourth Sunday in June and a patriotic service the first Sunday in July.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, Richards prepared a sermon as if it was June 28, 1865. He spent a month researching that time frame, looking up sermons, essays and newspaper reports.

Richards dressed as a preacher would in that era, with a large loose tie, a vest and some wild hair. Richards said people in that era hadn’t updated their clothes in years because of the war and they went without haircuts for extended periods.

The church presented a program from June 28, 1865, with the minister at that time named Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham. The church is located in a hamlet that was known then as Fairhaven.

The Cobblestone Universalist Church had endured many ministers who stayed briefly from 1834 to 1865. The church would close in 1865 and reopened in 1874 after a new minister, Rev. Nelson Snell, instilled a newfound zeal in the congregation, according to the church program from today.

During his sermon today, Richards spoke as if it was 1865 and the impending closure of the church would be “one more travesty of the terrible war that just concluded.”

The community and country, at that time, needed religion “now more than ever,” Richards said.

Richards noted the war claimed half a million lives, and left countless others wounded – missing limbs, eyes and bearing invisible scars: “from taken up arms against friends and family.”

Richards’ prepared a sermon from June 28, 1865, which was about two months after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated – “taken from us so suddenly and so shamelessly.” The country desperately needed Lincoln’s leadership for reconciliation between the north and the south, Richards said.

In his sermon, he advocated for rights and education for women and “people of the African race.” He noted that Universalist seminaries were preparing women to preach and lead churches at that time.

Jeremy Rath plays the organ in the balcony of the historic church.

Judy Wenrich dressed as a Native American woman for the service to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Wenrich said many Native Americans were assimilated into Christian churches in the 19th Century.

Lee Richards, right, chats with his wife Louise Wu and Matt Ballard, director of the Cobblestone Museum, following the service today. The church will hold its annual patriotic service next Sunday at 11 a.m.

Adrienne Kirby holds her daughter Rosemary after today’s service. Kirby’s father, Bill Lattin, was the Cobblestone Museum director and curator for about 40 years.