October 21, 2014
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Then and Now
A church for all faiths
Terry D'Amato Spencer

The church corporation indicated that it was to be interdenominational, and this met with the approval of those who attended the meeting. Immediately after, an application for a charter was made and it was granted on May 21, 1907.

A plan for the building met with unanimous approval, and Clarence Leighton of Conimicut was designated as the contractor. The church’s cornerstone was laid on Nov. 9, 1907 with the appropriate ceremonies. Mrs. Tarring notes that Rev. E.T. Root of Providence delivered the dedicated address and that Rev. Charles A. Denfield of Edgewood and Rev. W.H. Lane of Shawomet Church assisted at the occasion, thereby emphasizing the ecumenical aspect of the ceremony.

By 1908 a Ladies Aid Society and a Men’s Club were quickly organized to help with the upkeep of the church, and the spirit of community action was well underway. A bell was donated by David Wilmot, and inscribed on its sides was, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord,” from the first verse of Psalm 122. Mrs. Tarring notes that on the first Sunday of its use, “the speaker, without knowing about this inscription, used that same verse as the text for this sermon.” The bell quickly became part of the Conimicut way of life as an addiction to calling the parishioners to the meetings, it was the signal for a fire and was rung at weddings at both Woodbury Union Church and for those at St. Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church at 135 Beach Ave. before it had a bell of its own. One memorable bell ringing was on Nov. 11, 1918 at the end of World War I when the bell peeled for two hours.

For the first l7 years following the dedication as the Woodbury Union Church of Conimicut, the services were interdenominational and its members included a number of Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians as well as others of differing affiliation. All enjoyed the services and the sense of belonging and cooperation in both religious and secular events. There was no regular pastor, and usually the worship service was held at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoons with various clergymen of different denominations carrying the message.

After a great deal of deliberation in 1925, the church corporation felt it had time to engage a regular pastor for the church. As a result, Rev. A. Gordon Batstone, a student at Gordon College in Boston, came to the church. Rev. Batstone served from May until December 1925 when, unfortunately, he became too ill to continue. He was followed by Rev. Ralph Shurman and then by Rev. James W. Marlin in December 1926.

Before Rev. Marlin a person became a member of the church by being voted into the corporation. This changed in 1927 when the doors of the church were first opened for members. On Sunday, April 23, 1927, the popularity of the church became evident as on that day 95 people joined the congregation.

From the time the first church was built in 1927, Woodbury Union Church witnessed a large growth in membership, four pastors, a disastrous fire and rebuilding. In 1927 when the church opened its doors to new members and 95 persons joined and the church carried its message to Conimicut in a variety of ways.

One of the village’s main attractions in the first two decades of the 20th century was the fall bazaar sponsored by Woodbury. In typical New England fashion, the consuming of large amounts of clam cakes and chowder was part of the festivities. In addition, a variety of other food was available and the women of the church provided baked goods. In a 1982 interview, Lily Tarring recalled how hard the women worked to make the event a success. She remembered how her mother would use Lily’s brother’s red wagon to traverse the neighborhood to collect the cakes and pies the women made for the church supper. In time, the church bazaars and other fundraising activities became so popular that the little 1907 church building could not accommodate the large crowds. As a result, the women held their events at the old Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company hall at Ocean Ave. (now called Ardway Ave.).

As the church congregation grew, it became desirous to have a regular pastor. The search seemed to be over when the Reverend Arthur H. Wilde came to Conimicut to accept the post as pastor following the Rev. James W. Marlin’s resignation in 1928.

Rev. Wilde was with the church for nine years. During that time there was both pain and progress. The pain came when the ever-growing congregation was shocked on Jan. 11, 1933 when a fire broke out near the front of the church. Thomas F. Silva, the proprietor of a nearby drugstore in the village, saw the blaze and reported it around 3 a.m. Despite the efforts of four Warwick volunteer fire companies, the blaze destroyed the organ, piano, pulpit, altar, furniture, Sunday school room and part of the main room. The shock was great but, as Grace Tarring stated in her 1982 history of the church, “The church is really the people, and we rose above adversity.”

Undaunted, Pastor Wilde called for the Sunday school to meet at the Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company hall and held church services at Stinson’s Funeral Chapel. Within a very short time rebuilding began. In 1935 a basement was constructed at the front of the church to serve as a Sunday school and assembly room. The old organ, which had short-circuited and caused the fire, was replaced by the lovely pipe organ that is in use to this day. Renovations and improvements were made, and the church continued to serve its parishioners as usual. It was then that the church changed its address from West Shore Road, where its original entrance was, to Beach Ave.

When Rev. Wilde left Conimicut for another church, Mr. Horace McMullen, a senior at Andover Newton Theological School, took his place as pastor. While progress was made during his tenure in the field of more church societies and community participation, Rev. McMullen’s tenure also saw the disaster of the Hurricane of 1938 that ravaged Warwick. Conimicut was severely damaged by the storm, as 123 houses were destroyed and 22 people lost their lives. The Conimicut Volunteer Fire Company provided prestigious and continuous service for 23 days. During those difficult times caused by the hurricane and tidal waves, Woodbury Union Church aided the many victims in the area and allowed the building to be used by the National Guard as a headquarters for 10 days during the period following the devastating storm.

The stories of Warwick’s Houses of Worship will be continued.


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