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A History of St. Paul’s Church of Palmer

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St. Paul’s Church of Palmer was organized on May 28, 1876 as a Universalist Church.  Universalism first came to the Palmer area in the 1830’s via Thomas Whittemore, a radical Universalist and disciple of Hosea Ballou. Whittemore was on the wing of the faith known as Ultra Universalism which held that sin was its own punishment and that once freed from the flesh, all people would know union with God.  At the time, this truly was a radical idea and Whittemore and Universalism received much verbal abuse from established clergy in the area and early followers met with much resistance. Finally in the 1850’s Universalism gained a toe-hold in the area and in February 1860 a Universalist Society was formed in Palmer.  

 

Still, there was a great deal of opposition from orthodox clergy whose opposition, combined with the pressures of the Civil War and Reconstruction, took a toll on the Society and, for a period, services were discontinued.  However, even then outstanding liberals from outside town were drawn here.  Ralph Waldo Emerson and Quillen H. Shinn helped cheer Universalists during those dark days.  Although activities slowed down, they did not cease; and the birth of St. Paul’s Church was just around the corner.


Why the name St. Paul’s?  We know that late nineteenth century biblical analysis pointed to the strong Universalist strain in Paul’s epistles.  Encouraged by this, “St. Paul’s” Universalist churches sprang up throughout the country.  The Massachusetts State Convention was very much behind this effort, so probably had no small role in the naming of our church.

 

St. Paul’s Church was off and running.  In February of 1877, less than a year after its organization, St. Paul’s Church called Charles H. Eaton as its first minister and by 1878 land was acquired on which to erect a church building. On June 12, 1879 the first cornerstone was laid.  Construction was done by the Flynt Building and Construction Company, with Mr. France as architect.  Our Gothic style church is built of Monson granite and measures 111 feet by 80 feet. There are two towers, the taller 130 feet high, the smaller 80 feet high.  To this day, the church building is one of the most beautiful edifices in the area with gloriously colorful stained-glass windows.  The service of dedication for the new church building was held on May 12, 1880.

 

The sanctuary was remodeled in the 1954, just a few years after the 75th anniversary of the founding of St. Paul’s Church.  In 1957 the house at the corner of Converse and Central streets was purchased by the church and in the summer of 1960, construction began on a hall expansion to the house.  Dedication of the newly constructed Fellowship House took place in August 1961. Fellowship House remains an excellent parish hall, religious education facility, meeting space and office area which currently is also utilized by a number of Palmer area non-profits .

 

1961 was a year of significant change for St. Paul’s Church and its congregants as the current day Unitarian Universalist Association formed through the merger of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association. Initially the merger was not looked on favorably by most of the members.  In a straw vote taken of all Universalist churches in 1960, St. Paul’s voted overwhelmingly against the merger.  However, it did not withdraw from the newly merged denomination and in 1962 affirmed its ties by joining the Connecticut Valley District of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and with a St. Paul’s member serving as the second president of the district, ties were further strengthened. St. Paul’s Fellowship House housed the district offices for several years beginning in the late 1990s carrying forward those ties.


Beginning in the early 2000’s, St. Paul’s embarked on a multi-phased restoration of the church building. In consultation with Columbia Restoration, the beautiful Monson granite blocks were give some much needed TLC, which included foundation work, re-pointing of the granite edifice, as well as major repairs, restorations and upgrades to the bell and bell tower.  A major restoration of the church’s beautiful stained-glass windows was also undertaken during this time period. In 2023 restoration of the church's interior, plaster repair, painting and refinishing of wood floors was completed.

 

Today the building stands as strong as ever, lending its elegant beauty to the Palmer landscape.


(Notes and excerpts from Updated History of St. Paul’s Church of Palmer
Massachusetts 1876-2003, complied by Robert G. Faulkner Sr. and Joan Marcy.
Allen, May 2003. Updated January 2023 by Steven W. Sousa)  

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