Asylum Hill Congregational Society Forms a Committee to Recommend a Pastor

11/02/1864 |

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John Beach, Erastus Collins, A. G. Hammond, J. R. Keep, and J. S. Tryon were appointed to a committee to recommend a pastor for the church.

Trust but verify

Here’s where Horace Bushnell begins to enter the picture as a foundational figure in the history of Asylum Hill Congregational Church.  Atwood Collins describes Bushnell’s participation in Twichell’s selection as having three parts:

  • Twichell was well-known in Hartford, having visited while a student at Yale and as a seminarian. By this point, he had already become friendly with Bushnell.
  • A “daughter of Dr. Bushnell” told Collins that she recalled Twichell took part in a midweek service at North Congregational while visiting the home of Austin Dunham.
  • A member of Asylum Hill Congregational recalled Bushnell telling her father that he knew “no young man of greater promise as a preacher than Mr. Twichell.”

Collins could find no record of any other person being considered other than Joseph Twichell, and he believed that the search for the new pastor began with Twichell already in mind.  But to be clear, at this point this is Atwood Collins’s theory. 

Put into context

Horace Bushnell was an important and controversial figure in Hartford.  He was nearly put on trial for heresy, but the trial never took place because the requisite three people in his church would not accuse him.  By 1864, Bushnell was no longer quite so controversial:  as Collins put it, “[i]t was no longer a misfortune for a young minister to enjoy the favor of Dr. Bushnell, nor a detriment to be known as his disciple.”  Whether or not Twichell was Bushnell’s disciple, he had Bushnell’s support, but Collins’s statement reflected the beliefs of the founding members of the church as well as that of their first pastor.  “Among the founders of this church were many who had been brought up under Dr. Bushnell’s religious tuition … In planting a church out here, almost in the countryside, with room all around them, the founders seemed to have left all the old dry bones of contention down in Main street, and, all unconsciously, perhaps, to have taken an important step in the way of new freedom and progress.”  The founders had made a political statement by inviting Bushnell to preach in the chapel, and they made a political statement by calling a minister who had Bushnell’s support to be their pastor – and it was a political statement that the members still understood 50 years on.

Question to pose

Where was Francis Gillette?  In August 1865, Twichell would address his letter of acceptance to Gillette in his capacity as chair of this committee.  When was he appointed to the committee to recommend a pastor?  Did he replace someone?

Atwood Collins’s father Erastus was on the committee.  Atwood could find no record of any candidate  other than Twichell being considered – he never thought to ask his father about this?

And if Twichell really was the only candidate, why did it take them nearly nine months to extend him the offer?

Speculating without fact

On the other hand, it is horribly tempting to believe instead that AHCC, in the 21st century, lays claim to Bushnell’s foundational role because he is locally very famous.  He is, after all, Bushnell Park and the Bushnell Performing Arts Center, and it makes a certain degree of sense that Asylum Hill Congregational Church would want to hitch its wagon to Bushnell.  Doing so, however, overlooks how Bushnell was viewed by the members of Asylum Hill Congregational Church in 1864, and while the politics of Bushnell may no longer be remembered in Hartford, they were uppermost in people’s minds 120 years ago.

Sources

Unattributed, “Rev. Dr. Joseph H. Twichell Honored at Anniversary of His Church,” Hartford Courant, March 24, 1915, page 16.

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