Shelton church’s mission is to be ‘a beacon of love and light’
Huntington Congregational Church has a history that goes back to pre-Revolutionary War times.
The church’s future focus is bringing in more members to a congregation that the Rev. Lucille Fritz says has much to offer.
“I feel this church is a very loving, caring church,” Fritz said. “We are very open and non-judgmental. We don’t tell people what they have to believe.”
The current church building, at 19 Church St. facing the Huntington Green, is in Gothic revival style and was built in 1892.
It’s the Huntington’s Congregationalists’ fourth church building and the third on the site, said Fritz, who has served for five years as pastor of the United Church of Christ congregation.
The congregation’s first meetinghouse was built in 1724 about a fourth of a mile northeast of the Green, where it still stands today.
'Reaching New People' effort
There are 340 people currently on the church membership rolls, but attendance at services hovers around 100 people.
The Huntington church is active in the “Reaching New People” campaign, along with seven other area churches, Fritz said. “It’s about becoming visible in the community,” she said. “You have to build relationships.”
She’s working hard to bring young families into her church. “We have a good Sunday School and a very caring congregation,” Fritz said. “We try to be as welcoming as we can be. There are a lot of really loving, caring people.”
The Sunday School has “a lot of good teachers and a good curriculum,” she said, under Kirsten Keith, the Christian education director.
Older baby boomers
Church members comprise a wide range of ages, but the bulk are “older baby boomers in their 60s,” Fritz said. Those in leadership positions are in their late 50s and 60s.
“My thing is we are all God’s beloved children,” said Fritz, an ordained minister for 27 years. She has served in Connecticut since 1998 and most recently was pastor at the Oxford United Church of Christ.
“I love this church and the people,” she said. “I’m committed to the ministry of serving the community and the world, which is serving God. I refer to us as being a beacon of love and light.”
The church has embarked on several outreach activities to draw in new members.
During the concerts on the Huntington Green this past summer, the men’s group sold $1 hot dogs, and members of the church’s Vitality Group handed out free water bottles in the church parking lot.
There was a sign-up for free gift cards. “There was a lot of goodwill, and we got our name out,” Fritz said.
In April, she and about a dozen church members conducted a prayer walk around the Green, sharing information about the Huntington Green’s history along the way.
Plans are afoot to conduct another prayer walk, and Fritz said she’s trying to get more media exposure for the church.
Pumpkin and Holly Fair
Annual church events bring in community members and include the Pumpkin and Holly Fair, a fund-raiser set for the weekend of Nov. 21.
The fair features crafts, food, a white elephant sale, and “renowned” homemade jams. “We have a really good time,” Fritz said.
The church also sponsors a St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage dinner in February.
The message “Love God, love your neighbor and love yourself” permeates the life of the Huntington Congregational Church, she said, and youth group mission work reflects that message.
The young people of the church have done mission work with the homeless in Boston, performed beautification and cleanup work at a nursing home in Maine, worked on community projects in New Hampshire, and helped Native Americans at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota as part of the Simply Smiles program.
This year they repaired houses and fences and worked at the soup kitchen at HOME (Homeworkers Organized for More Employment), a volunteer cooperative community in rural Maine.
Young people in grades eight and nine attend confirmation class at the Huntington church from October through Pentecost in the spring, when they’re confirmed. They also attend a retreat in November, and young people spend a week at the Silver Lake Summer Camp Conference Center in Sharon.
Fritz supports the idea of young people taking communion, which is served the first Sunday of the month at the 9:30 a.m. church service.
“Our women’s fellowship is No. 1 in the region for Church World Service projects,” Fritz said.
The women collect items for layette, health and school kits, which they pack up for people in impoverished areas in the United States and abroad. The women’s fellowship also runs the Pumpkin and Holly Fair.
The men’s group is brand new and is planning more activities. It takes part in fellowship and fund-raising, and helps with repair work around the church.
“We have a wonderful choir and director, James Bruni,” Fritz said, and there are special worship services at Christmas and Easter.
The church runs a vacation Bible school in June that has been filled to capacity, enrolling up to 60 students a summer. “The kids just love it,” she said, and many children from the community attend.
Boy Scout Troop 101 meets at the church during the year, and the church runs a nonsectarian nursery school for 3- and 4-year-olds, five days a week.
Infrastructure needs and finances
A steeple repair project is on the horizon, as well as possibly replacing or repairing the Reuman House, the nearby church-owned building used for fellowship and church school classes.
“Finances are always a challenge,” Fritz said. “It takes more than people are giving. It’s very discouraging.”
The stewardship program is now known as “generosity season.”
“Generosity is a mark of being a Christian,” she said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to emulate Christ’s generosity.”