Our History

Margaret “Maggie” McClellan Tourtelotte wrote a historical account of events in the life of the First Congregational Church of Woodstock in 1976, as part of the national bicentennial celebration.  In her opening paragraph, she says: 

Like countless Congregational churches in New England, [the Hill Church] has never had an interruption in its existence.  Though its life at times has been turbulent, at others languishing, yet to have let it die away would at all times have been unthinkable.


The Mayflower lands at Plymouth, Mass.


John Eliot of Roxbury, Mass., visits the area that became Woodstock and preaches to the Wabbaquassets.


The thirteen “Goers” arrive  from Roxbury after King Philip’s War and the departure of the native population, and build Wabbaquasset Hall.


The name of the town is changed from New Roxbury to Woodstock by Judge Samuel Sewall.  Woodstock is still part of Massachusetts.


The new meetinghouse is built on Plaine Hill.  Josiah Dwight, age 20 and a graduate of Harvard College, is named the first minister.


A new, unheated meetinghouse is erected on the site of the present church at considerable cost to the town.


Reverend Dwight is dismissed in an atmosphere of discord.  Amos Throop takes over the pulpit, though he dies at age 34 in 1735.  His grave is located in the Hill Cemetery.


West Woodstock becomes a new parish with its own building.


Woodstock becomes part of Connecticut, along with Somers and Enfield, the other so-called indented towns, the “teeth” along the otherwise straight Massachusetts border.


Under Reverend Abel Stiles, lengthy and heated squabble over the Cambridge versus Saybrook Platforms results in the establishment of the North Parish.  Both churches call themselves “First.”


The first choir is formed.


Reverend Abiel Leonard is granted a leave of absence to become chaplain in Washington’s Continental Army.


“Priest” Eliphalet Lyman begins his pastorate, which is to last until 1824.


Woodstock Academy is founded.


The first women’s group is established.


The third, and present, meetinghouse is built.


North and East Woodstock churches are established.


Heat is installed in the Hill Church for the first time.


The church has interim ministers, but no settled pastor.


The church interior is remodeled.


The Civil War begins.


The meetinghouse is again remodeled, this time in high Victorian style with stained glass windows.


The church poll tax is discontinued.


The church purchases the house next door to the south as a parsonage.


The church is incorporated.


The town legally transfers ownership of the church to its body.


First Board of Deacons is formed.


In the devastating Hurricane of 1938, the steeple is blown off, to be rebuilt the following year.


Boy Scout Troop No. 27 begins meeting in our church.  The Hill Church is named its Chartered Sponsoring Organization in 1958.


After the removal of Victorian elements, the Colonial restoration of the sanctuary is accomplished.  The John Eliot window in the balcony is the only remnant of the previous era of decoration.


Rev. Harrison serves as chairman of the Town Tercentenary Celebration Committee.  The mayor of Woodstock, England, and his wife visit as part of the festivities.


The addition at the rear of the church is dedicated, including the new Great Room, now named Harrison Hall after the Rev. Dr. James Shepherd Harrison, who served in the second-longest ministerial tenure from 1975 through 2010. Eliphalet Lyman served 45 years, ending in 1824, when he was “invited” to leave the pulpit.


The Children’s Center daycare facility opens in August.


The church becomes an Open & Affirming Congregation.


In an attempt to decentralize and streamline the inner workings of the church body, the church adopts a team approach to ministry, a format abandoned soon after.  UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams win the national championships, and the Red Sox win the series.


New furnace and hot water system are installed.  Elinor Donahue introduces the Rotational Workshop curriculum for Church School.  Charles Bottieri wins the “Kiss the Goat” contest, a fundraiser for Silver Lake scholarships.


The Children’s Center closes its doors.


The Rev. Dr. James S. Harrison retires after 35 years of ministry in Woodstock.


After a three-year interim period and search, the Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer is called to become the first female minister of the Hill Church.


Solar panels are installed on the south roof of Harrison Hall.