For more than 260 years, South Church has been an active and vital part of the Middletown community. The story of its origins, struggles, dreams, and successes, is a rich patchwork of faith, one which the congregation continues to celebrate.
During the 1740s a number of itinerant ministers began preaching a message of personal faith and religious experience. This “Great Awakening” led to protest against the established Congregational Church of the day, which was closely tied to the colonial government and concentrated spiritual authority in the clergy. Desiring “liberty of conscience” and spiritual freedom, many broke away from the church. In Wethersfield, a group of these “New Lights” began to gather informally, and ordained one Ebenezer Frothingham to be their minister on October 28, 1747. Frothingham was an outspoken critic of the “Old Lights” and had been jailed two years before for preaching without license within the bounds of the Wethersfield parish. The New Lights or “Separates,” continued to experience resistance to their call for spiritual freedom and so relocated to Middletown in 1754 as the “Strict Congregational Society.”
Dissension within the congregation, the War of 1812, and difficult economic conditions in Middletown led the church to disband in 1812. In 1816, a small group consisting mostly of women reorganized the church and called Ahab Jinks to be their minister. Two years later, the Separates were finally recognized in a revised Connecticut Constitution, which stated, “No person shall be compelled to join or support, nor by law be classed with any congregation, church, or religious association.”
Newly invigorated, the Strict Society rewrote its Articles of Faith and Covenant in 1818, organized the first Sunday School in Middletown in 1828. In 1830, the church built its third meetinghouse, a Greek Revival edifice on the south side of the South Green, adjacent to where the current church building stands. The present structure was build in 1867 and dedicated the following year. Since then a number of changes have been made to the building, most recently the construction of classrooms and meeting space beneath the sanctuary in 1985, and the complete renovation of the landmark steeple in 1990.
South Church joined the United Church of Christ in 1965. Churches of the UCC share belief in both covenant and congregational freedom, tenets essential to South Church’s origins