Ministers: 1719-1969


1719-1722

Rev. Samuel Johnson (1696-1772) – He was raised a Congregationalist in Guilford and educated at the Congregational “Collegiate School” (renamed Yale). However, soon after being called as Minister here, he announced his interest in the Episcopal Church, and resigned in 1722. He became an Episcopal minister in England, with degrees from Oxford and Cambridge, and returned to Connecticut as an Episcopal missionary.  The first church he founded was the Episcopal Church here in West Haven!  He later became the first President of what became Columbia University!

 

Below is the Rev. Samuel Johnson, as provided from the Columbiana Collection of Columbia University in 1978

 


1725-1734    

Rev. Jonathan Arnold (lost at sea 1739) – He also resigned to go to England to become an Episcopal minister.  When he returned, he also served briefly at the Episcopal Church here in West Haven.


1738-1742     

Rev. Timothy Allen (1715-1806) – Though educated at Yale, he was prone to itinerant preaching without a required license. He was however, called and ordained here. He was an eloquent but controversial speaker influenced by the revival called the “Great Awakening,” whose adherents were known as the “New Lights.” His fervor, brashness, and imprudence antagonized not only members of this Church, but also ministers of the New Haven Association, which censured him in 1742, and members of our Church removed him.  He later repented and his censure was repealed.


1742-1758   

Rev. Nathan Birdseye (1714-1817) - Raised in Stratford and educated at Yale, he was called and ordained here at 28 years old, the first actual Congregational minister to serve here.  He had an effective ministry and favored early religious training for youth.  He resigned for family reasons to care for his late brother’s farm, but continued as a supply pastor in the Stratford area.  He is said to have had a remarkable memory, died at 103, with 200 living descendants at that time.


1760-1811    

Rev. Naschus (Noah) Williston (1734-1811) – Educated at Yale, he served as Headmaster of Hopkins Grammar School for 3 years before being called to pastor here. Rev. Dr. Boaz in his “History of First Church” said Rev. Williston “laid the spiritual foundation for our Church.” He was so friendly, caring, and of such exemplary conduct that he was deeply loved. He strongly supported religious training for children, meeting with them twice weekly.  He was among the first to take missionary trips to Vermont, the first being a year before the Missionary Society of Connecticut was formed. He preached 2 different sermons each Sunday at morning and afternoon services.  He outlived 3 wives, the last being the aunt of Rev. Lyman Beecher, who lived with them in West Haven for a year when he was 16.  Beecher was the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” considered the most influential abolitionist book and the most influential American book of the 19th century.  All this is in addition to his famous rescue by British Adjutant Campbell during the invasion of West Haven (& New Haven) on July 5, 1779.  

 

Below is “Rev. Noah Williston” as portrayed by Ed Doerr during a reenactment of the British invasion of West (& New) Haven [on July 5, 1779, in which the Reverend was rescued by British officer Adjutant Wm. Campbell.]


1815-1843    

Rev. Stephen W. Stebbins (1758-1843) – Pastor in Stratford for 29 years after graduating from Yale, Rev. Stebbins was the first experienced pastor hired by First Church, the result of the good position we were in following Rev. Williston.  Rev. Stebbins brought Evangelical fervor and a missionary zeal similar to Rev. Williston, but including such firsts as: supporting foreign missions, first Sunday School, and joining the American Bible Society, Sunday School Union, and Temperance Society.  He ministered with grace and tact, ably aided by his eldest son William, who also operated a prep school.


1843-1852    

Rev. Edward Wright (1815-1852) – Reared by an Uncle after his Father died, a local clergyman interested him in ministry.  After graduating from Yale, he was called to First Church, with retired Rev. Stebbins giving the charge at his installation.  He and his wife began to develop a Ladies Seminary and reorganized the Sunday School.  A resolution by Alexis Painter, severing ties of fellowship with “slave holding churches” was unable to pass.  Under Rev. Wright’s leadership, a new Church building, replacing the original building, was begun and nearly completed, when typhus brought the untimely death of Rev. Wright.  A major loss, he had shown every indication of a brilliant future career in ministry. 


1854-1856    

Rev. Hubbard Beebe (1808-1885) – The first minister of our Church not to have graduated from Yale in Divinity, Rev. Beebe received his degree from Andover Newton Theological Seminary in 1837.  He served in 4 pastorates (ranging from 7 years to 2 years) prior to his brief ministry here.  He served in administrative positions thereafter: American Sunday School Union for Connecticut, American Bible Society in New Haven, and American Seaman’s Friend Society in New York.


1856-1858    

Rev. Erastus Colton (1806-1892) -  After graduating from Yale in Divinity, he pastored 2 churches for a few years before becoming a regular supply or interim pastor in several churches including ours, not officially called. In addition to adding 62 members, he wrote the first scholarly history of our Church and the old parsonage (“home of the prophets”):  Discourse Historical West Haven, delivered on the eve of the old home’s demolition.  A few years later, he was an agent for the Freeman’s Union Commission, which assisted former slaves to become self-supporting.


1858-1869    

Rev. George A. Bryan (1819-1913) He was educated at Yale in Divinity. One year after arriving here, the 7 year old Church building burned to the ground, and under his leadership was immediately rebuilt. Rev. Bryan’s ministry covered the Civil War, a time of rapid growth in West Haven. The period was “troublous,” and many large contributions of money and clothing went from the Church to the war effort.  In 1869, after a serious illness, he asked to resign, and in its acceptance, the Church said he had been “an excellent pastor.” He later served in other churches and in the state legislature, and when he died was the last surviving member of his Yale class.


1870-1873   

Rev. George Dickerman (1843-1937) – Reared in Hamden and educated at Yale, he came to First Church when church discipline, including excommunication, were dividing the membership.  Caught in the middle, Rev. Dickerman tried to resign, but the Church rejected his request more than once. At his insistence he was finally dismissed.  After other pastorates, he worked for Southern Educational Fund and the Negro College Fund for 12 years to improve educational opportunities for Blacks. (He may even be related to the Dickerman family in this area from colonial times, a branch of which was in our 1969 (250th Birthday) Directory.)


1874-1880    

Rev. Wm. Eustis Brooks (1835-1906) – A veteran of the Civil War, he served as a supply pastor while at Yale. He came to First Church at age 45 and quickly became well established here and in the community.  Both the Church and the whole area were thriving with the prospect that Rev. Brooks would be here indefinitely.  However, he received a call from the American (Congregational) Missionary Society to become the first president of Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson U.), to train Black teachers for Texas schools.  He went to what was still the Wild West, he raised needed money, opened and enlarged the college, which after 5 years was well-established and supplying teachers to Black schools in Texas. He returned to parish ministry.


1881-1914 (Emeritus to 1919)  

Rev. Norman Squires (1841-1919) – Educated first at Methodist Biblical Institute and then at Wesleyan, he was singularly fitted in this time to lead the Church as Pastor, teacher, builder of the Kingdom of Christ. He was the first to come with a prepared educational program for adults and children. He was what Historian Ed Chase said would be called an activist today.  He attended every meeting: church, civic, community, Congregational area, state and interdenominational.  He spoke with authority, sometime impatiently, but was respected. He established and edited 2 monthly newspapers covering many topics of earthly and spiritual concerns, with exhortations to readers young and old. He was eminent in the pulpit and effective in his pastorate.


1914-1921    

Rev. Albert Brown (1876-1963) – Raised in the western pioneer life, he supported himself through Oberlin, was senior Class President, and graduated Yale Divinity in 1905.  After pastoring small churches out West, he came to First Church and led the building of the long-discussed new Parish House – Fellowship Hall – started in early 1915 and completed Nov. 1916.  From Jan. to June 1918, he had a leave of absence to serve the Army Y.M.C.A. during WWI. He returned to First Church, but resigned in 1921.  During his son’s commencement weekend from Yale Divinity in 1930, he preached that Sunday here.


1921-1930     

Rev. Wilmer Johnston (1881-1946) – Educated at Randolph Macon College, he studied Divinity at Vanderbilt University and at Yale.  At his request the custom of holding an installation service with the New Haven Association was revived. Rev. Johnson’s pastorate was notable with a substantial growth of membership and finances.  Most notable: Sunday School enrollment reached an all-time high (It was also over 500 in the 1950’s.), RANKING OUR CHURCH AMONG THE TOP 5 SUNDAY SCHOOLS IN THE COUNTRY, according to former Historian Ed Chase. Rev. Johnston’s resignation, due to ill health, was accepted with regret.


1931-1941   

Rev. Dr. Roy Boaz (1889-1963) Extensively educated with 2 degrees in education and a M.A., he served in the Army in WWI. He married into part ownership of a large family-owned fruit business and was encouraged to become an ordained preacher in the Church of the Brethren, and served 4 years as Principal of a Brethren academy, and in addition, preached extensively.  Taking a leave of absence in 1928, he entered Yale Divinity.  He became a student Assistant at our Church, and entered a Ph.D. program.  Upon Rev. Johnston’s resignation, he was asked to serve as Acting Pastor, and soon was called as our Pastor. He completed his Ph.D. and dissertation in 1939:   “Study of the Faith and Practice of the First Congregational Church, West Haven, 1719-1914”*.  His Pastorate was during the Depression, and he faced major reduction in Church income.  With his business and education experience, Dr. Boaz was able to rally the Congregation to meet the economic crisis. He became active in Rotary here, even reaching International Governor for Connecticut and Western Mass.  He resigned in 1941 to become Executive Secretary for the new Pittsburgh Christian Council, then a campus minister, and later returning to the family owned Dove Orchard Co., where he also served as a part-time interim in local churches. 

* from which much of the “Book of Ministers” was taken.


1942-1946   

Rev. Roswell Hinkelman (1904-1985) – Reared in Connecticut, he graduated from Wesleyan and Yale Divinity. Ordained in 1927, he served in 2 churches before coming to First Church, serving here, largely, during the momentous years of WWII.  His newsy and cheery letters that went out to over 200(!) of our young people in war time service!  His genial personality and sympathetic ministry were of inestimable value to numerous families, suffering under war time conditions.  During his ministry, the Messenger was revived, the Book of Remembrance was established, and a full-time church secretary hired for the first time.  He served as Pastor in 2 other churches before retiring in 1969 to Madison, CT., continuing to serve as Visitation Minister in Saybrook. He had been very active: 3 pastoral exchanges with ministers in England, including chaplain appointed by the Queen at a Royal Air Force Hospital, outstanding sportsman, Rotarian, Chaplain on cruise ships, and active in community and church affairs.


1946-1957   

Rev. Dr. Gerald Jud (1919-2019) – Son and grandson of Evangelical pastors, he served as a part-time pastor in one of his father’s former Texas churches after graduating from Baylor in 1940. After graduating from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1943, he came to Yale Divinity, and served as Student Assistant at our Church until 1946, when he became Senior Pastor here. He received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1950. He had been so diligent in his duties here, with wisdom beyond his years, while maintaining a notable scholarly record at Yale, he was the immediate and unanimous choice of the Pastoral Supply Committee – the youngest in over a century - upon the resignation of Rev. Hinkelman.  He met and married his wife Esther when both were at Yale Divinity – they were a strong team – and their daughter Carol was the first child born in the parsonage in many years.  Esther drowned in a boating accident while visiting West Haven in 1961 – hence the Esther Stuermer Jud Memorial Hymnal.

 

Rev. Jud’s ministry was innovative, loving, and profoundly inspirational.  He formed study groups that helped people meet life’s problems in Christ’s spirit, as well as Lenten home meetings. He began the tradition of holding periodic retreats. He developed the Colony System to further strengthen the spirit of togetherness, which he called the Beloved Community. His development of his Yale Student Assistants was widely recognized, with many of them making important contributions to ministry.  His Ph.D. being in the psychology of religion, counseling became increasingly important in his ministry.  His sermons were “spell-binding,” as well as scholarly. 

 

The great test of his leadership and inspiration was the rebuilding of the Steeple, destroyed by the hurricane in 1950, despite many financing and construction difficulties.  He achieved not only a better and more beautiful structure, but a more united community better able to do God’s work. He also inspired the initial work in raising funds and building the Education Building. In his time, our Church had 1500 members and 500 in the Sunday School.

 

From 1960 to 1975 he served in high positions in the UCC, as well as positions in the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Through these years he became increasingly interested in the Human Potential movement and since 1975  operated the Shalom Mountain Retreat Center, and since about 1990, the Timshel Center for the Study and Practice of Mysticism until shortly before the time of his death in 2019 at the age of 100. He authored 7 books and coauthored 6 books and many articles on church and culture.

 

He had planned to attend church here, give a mini-sermon, and have lunch on June 3, 2018, at age 99, but had to cancel due to last minute illness.


1958-1959   

Rev. Dr. Ross Milley (1916-1996) - Born and raised in Newfoundland, Canada, Dr. Milley showed an early interest in ministry even before college, traveling by boat to 3 small fishing villages to conduct services in people’s homes.  Attending college and divinity school in Canada, Dr. Milley received his Masters of Sacred Theology from Hartford Seminary and Ph.D. from Boston University.  While at Hartford, he served as part-time minister at Congregational Churches in Burlington, CT and Mills, MA.  After completing his education he taught at Springfield (MA) College and later in colleges in Missouri.  In 1952 he was called as Pastor at Grace Congregational Church in Holyoke (MA).  In 1958 he was called as Minister here at First Church.  He was dismissed to accept a position as a professor in a southern college.  He authored “The Prophets of Israel,” published in 1959, by Philosophical Library, Inc.


1960-1969   

Rev. Donald Frazier (1911-2000) - The son of a Congregational minister, who became Superintendent of both Vermont and later Connecticut Congregational State Conference, and retired as the Vice President and Treasurer of Congregational National Board of Home Missions, Rev. Donald Frazier inherited extraordinary financial abilities for a Pastor. He was educated at Oberlin College and at Yale Divinity School.  While at Yale, he was part-time pastor at Easton Congregational Church and taught history at New Haven College and Arnold College. From 1940 to 1959, he was Pastor at 3 Congregational churches. His third church from 1949-59 experienced extraordinary growth (10x) including building a church and parish house- constant fund-raising.  He became president of the Rotary Club, Chaplain of Police and Fire departments, Chair of the Public Library Board, conducted radio worship services and was guest preacher on “Church of the Air.” In a 2 year program as Executive Director of the Congregational College Higher Education Fund for Western States, he fully met his fund-raising quota.  Rev. Frazier arrived here in 1960, and his fund-raising leadership assisted the Church in paying off its debt for the Education building.  He had an ever-present concern for people as individuals, as well as for groups.  His early proposals for Senior Citizens Housing with church-federal financed programs, led to City senior citizens housing and the Davenport Village Project in Hamden, built by the Connecticut Conference of the UCC.  He was involved in establishing the West Haven Green Nursery School, and Coffee Hour, both in 1964. He played a major role in establishing our Endowment Fund, which has enabled our Church to continue to operate for many years. For 3 years after leaving our Church in 1969, he was Executive Director, Commission on Development, (National) United Church of Christ, helping state conferences and local churches establishing endowments, etc.  From 1972-77 he had a special role in establishing the Endowment at Albertus Magnus College.  Over the years, he wrote many study courses and articles for church periodicals.