In the year 1820, two hundred years ago, a group of twenty-four (24) free men/women and former slaves met with their lay-leader, Simeon S. Jocelyn — a young white man, and formed the African Ecclesiastical Society. Their paramount desire at the time was to worship God and serve humanity. There were approximately 1,000 Negroes in New Haven at the time, and they were unwelcome in the established white churches.
One of the earliest entries in an old record book, dated February 8, 1820, records money received from the Society, indicated a possibility that they were organized prior to that date. Early records also mention how Mr. Jocelyn endured the hostile attitude of many whites, who resented any effort to teach and instruct this group, and how the men of the Society had bodyguards to protect him as they met from house to house until 1824. Thereafter, they rented a little frame church on Temple Street, grew and prospered and in 1829, they were accepted as a Congregational Church. For 15 years, Mr. Jocelyn served without any compensation and in 1835, Mr. Jocelyn ended his official relationship with the church and became a charter member and the first corresponding secretary of the American Missionary Association. Mr. Jocelyn was succeeded by the Rev. Dudley who remained less than a year.
In 1837, the Rev. Dr. James W. C. Pennington became the first African-American to serve as pastor. Although born into slavery, Rev. Pennington was a gifted linguist, an eloquent preacher and was widely known in this country and in Europe, where he frequently spoke. On his second trip to Europe, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Heidelberg. Following Dr. Pennington, there was a brief term of service by the Rev. Dobie.
From 1837 to 1857, the Church was served by the Rev. Amos G. Beman. It was during his pastorate that the Church became the outstanding civil rights organization in New England. In the famous Amistad Case, pioneer crusaders of the church were a part of the defense effort. From that period on, fugitive slaves and the newly emancipated found a haven in the church. It served as a station in the Underground Railroad, as slaves sought freedom. It was under Rev. Beman’s pastorate that the little frame church on Temple Street, first rented and then bought, gave way to a modest brick structure with basement, which cost the congregation the sum of $2500. The building was completed and was dedicated May 23,1845. It was in August, 1854 that the church was called to mourn the death of Mr. Bias Stanley, its first deacon and a major pillar of the founding and growth of the church. History records indicated that in 1878, under the ministry of Rev. Mathew Anderson that the first steps were taken for acquiring property on Dixwell Avenue. However, in early 1879, Rev. Anderson resigned. Rev. J. E. Rawlins was called and though he remained only two years, the property was bought and plans to raise the money were carried forward. Rawlins was succeeded in 1881 by Rev. A. P. Miller, who served as supply minister until 1883, when he was called to the regular pastorate. The property was purchased at 100 Dixwell Avenue. The church was erected and dedicated in December, 1886. Rev. Miller served until 1896 and was succeeded by Rev. T. Nelson Baker who served until 1901. Under the leadership of the Rev. Edward Goin, who served for 40 years, Dixwell Church continued its long history of working for social betterment. Led by Rev. Goin, the land adjacent to the church was given and the funds raised for the erection of the Dixwell Community Q House.
After Rev. Goin’s service, the church was led by Rev. Henry C. McDowell, who had a “brief but effective ministry” from 1943 to 1947 and the vibrant pastorate of the Rev. T. S. Ledbetter from 1948 to 1958.
In 1959, the Rev. Dr. Edwin R. Edmonds, civil rights activist, was called to pastor the Dixwell Church. During his pastorate, the congregation sponsored the building of the Florence Virtue Homes, the formation of the Dixwell Housing Development Corporation, as well as sponsoring and housing within the church, the Dixwell Day Care Center and the Dixwell Children’s Creative Arts Center. Rev. Edmonds also spearheaded the development and construction of our present edifice at 217 Dixwell Avenue, which was dedicated in 1970. Rev. Dr. Edmonds retired with Emeritus status in 1995.
The Rev. Dr. John Henry Scott, III served as the Dixwell Church pastor from August, 1996 to June, 2011. During his tenure, the Church established a First Fruits Fund, a Wellness Program, a Capital Building Campaign which funded renovations of the building and grounds of the current structure and the Tree of Life Memorial. The Church received UCC Empowerment grants secured by Rev. Dr. Scott. He also designated the second Sunday of each month as Youth Sunday.
During the winter of 2011, Dixwell Avenue Congregational UCC suffered significant water damage to the entire first floor of the church, which required major structural repair and reconstruction. We were blessed that the Lord decided to Revive Us Again, and we were able to return to worshiping in our sanctuary in the fall of September, 20ll.
The Rev. Dr. Frederick Jerome Streets began serving as the Acting Pastor on December 1, 2011. In March 2013, Rev. Streets was elected by the congregation to be its Senior Pastor and installed on October 20, 2013. The former Chaplain of Yale University and Senior Pastor of the Church of Christ at Yale, Rev. Streets served in this capacity from 1992 until his retirement in 2007. Prior to his tenure at Yale, he was the Senior Pastor of the Mount Aery Baptist Church for over l7 years. He was also an intern at Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church from1972 -1975 while a student at Yale Divinity School. Since coming to Dixwell, the Rev. Dr. Streets has been instrumental in reviving the community through the formation of the Dixwell Center for the Arts, Education and Social Services and an after-school program called DIXWELL SUMMER STREAM for teaching science, technology engineering, the arts, creating a joint series of Sacred Conversations on Race with a neighboring and predominately white church, establishing a Committee for planning and implementing of a 200th Anniversary Celebration , implementing a faith-based drug rehabilitation program for the New Haven community and leading the congregation in the development of a strategic plan for the Church – to mention a few.
Dixwell Avenue Congregational United Church of Christ was founded for the purpose of binding “together followers of Jesus Christ for the purpose of the worship of God and the making of His will dominant in the lives of His people”. We continue that mission for the present and future as we acknowledge two hundred years of service to God and community.
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