The First Ecclesiastical Society of Bethel, was organized November 12, 1759, the society having its legal origin in an act of the General Assembly of Connecticut, passed the October before.
The church was organized November 25, 1760, which consisted of seventy-one persons, duly recommended from the church in Danbury. At this date the church was recognized by a council of the Eastern Consociation of Fairfield County, of which Rev. David Judson of Newtown, was moderator. This council also ordained as pastor of the church, Mr. Noah Wetmore, a licentiate, Rev. Ebenezer White of Danbury, preaching the sermon. Articles of belief and a covenant were adopted. Deacons were not appointed until the following February, when Capt. John Benedict, and Capt. Ebenezer Hickok, were ordained with the laying on of hands.
The first thirty years in the history of the church presents a struggle against peculiar hindrances, which tested its life and the spirit of the brethren who founded it. Its most severe test was under the practice, common with the churches of the colony, of admitting to its membership persons who sought the rights of citizenship only, or "The Half-Way Covenant," as it was called. Theological controversy, originating in the preaching of Robert Sandeman. was disturbing this and the neighboring churches. The colony was suffering from the burdens of the Revolutionary War, and particularly this locality. In the year 1775, a malignant disease caused the death of more than fifty members of the society. It was found at the close of Rev. Mr. Wetmore's ministry, that the roll of the church had decreased from the original seventy-one members to thirty-six, but these had confessed the full covenant.
The details of these earlier years of trial, and the succeeding years of growth and progress, are preserved in the admirable centennial discourse of Rev. L. P. Hickok, D.D., preached November 30, 1860.
At the first meeting of the society, November 12, 1760, measures were taken to provide for a place of worship, and for a preacher of the Gospel. Capt. Ebenezer Hickok gave the society land for a site for a meeting-house, and sufficient land for a burial-ground. The meeting-house was completed, so far as to be occupied the following summer, and was located in part upon the site of our present house of worship. The house remained unfinished in its interior until the year 1796, when pews were added, a pulpit and the gallery. A steeple was erected in 1818, and a bell procured ten years later. In the year 1832, extensive repairs were made and slips substituted for pews. This building was burned July 21, 1842.
A second and larger house of worship was erected in the year following, and dedicated June 1st, Rev. James Knox preaching the dedicatory sermon. During a gale of wind in the spring of 1865, the house was injured by the falling of the spire, and was not further used for purposes of worship. Having been repaired, it was sold to the town, and now stands a few rods west of its former site. The third and present house of worship was erected in the year 1866, and has been refitted from time to time, as the increasing demands of the parish required.
A parsonage was built in the year 1850, which was occupied for fifteen years, when it was sold and a second property purchased. This latter was occupied for three years and was likewise sold. The present parsonage, on Chestnut street, was built by the. society in the autumn of the year 1873, and enlarged in the year 1883.
1. "Historical Sketch," Manual of the Congregational Church in Bethel, Conn. Containing Historical Sketch, Articles of Faith, The Covenant and Rules of the Church, with a Catalogue of Officers and Members from its Foundation, 1887, pages 3-11.