A New Start for the Congregational Church
History of Congregational United Church of Christ, Ogden
A Continuing Series by Dr. Gordon Harrington
Copyright, 2011, Gordon Harrington
The Pastorate of Henry F. Thayer, 1883-1886
In September 1883, the Rev. Henry E. Thayer, newly graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio, arrived in Ogden. Sometime in that month, he began to hold services in the two-room New West Ogden Academy at 25th Street and Adams Avenue. Church services and Sunday school were both held there.
A formal structure for the church was needed, and thus on January 4, 1884, in the classrooms of the Ogden Academy, an organizing ceremony was held. Witnessed by representatives from other churches, and with the Rev. D. L. Leonard, Supt. of Rome Missions in Utah, acting as moderator, and the Rev. F. T. Lee serving as scribe, the following persons became founding members of the church. Of the twelve listed ten were women.
- Mrs. Alex Bruckman
- Miss Virginia W. Ludden
- Mrs. Jane Taylor
- Mrs. R.J.F. Emerson
- Miss Fannie E. Piper
- Rev. H.E. Thayer
- Mrs. Mary Emerson
- Mrs. M. Piper
- Mrs. Louise Thayer
- Mrs. Addie Linders
- Prof. H.W. Ring
- Mrs. Aura Thompson
On January 20, 1884, a communion service was held, using for the first time the new communion set given the church by Judge Philip H. Emerson. Judge Emerson had been appointed by President U.S. Grant in 1873 as Associate Justice of the Utah Territorial Supreme Court.
The Congregational Church was small in its beginnings. By the opening of 1884 it had sixteen members. However, the membership was active in attempts to upgrade the moral character of Ogden, which was now a rough railroad community. Lower 25th Street made Ogden the sin city of the Rockies. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, prostitution and every other type of lechery were offered the many railroad passengers and workers who passed daily through the city.
Members of the church, along with those of other denominations, were actively involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In the Ogden Daily Herald, it was reported that the WCTU had opened a reading room on November 13, 1883. The room had a free library of 275 books, and was open from 1 to 9 p.m. The opening ceremony of the Reading Room was enhanced by remarks by the Rev. Thayer and other local ministers. Mr. Thayer had a lot to do with the WCTU. Newspaper reports indicate his frequent presence at meetings. Also, he had a reputation as a singer since he was reported as having presented a vocal solo at the WCTU Reading Room.
Demon Rum was a major concern among all Christians of that day. However, not everything was as grim. The Ogden Academy flourished, with the student body reaching one hundred ten by January, 1886. A tuition fee was charged but children whose parents were unable to pay were admitted free.
Church services continued to be held in the Ogden Academy. Isabelle Martindale recalled there was no kitchen where food could be prepared. She reported that “food brought in was served on covered school desks since these were the only tables available.” She remembered that “Oil lamps gave most of the light and a big dinner bell called the company to their places.” Music and singing were part of the life of the church. A small organ and a melodian, belonging to Miss Ludden, enlivened festive occasions and deepened the spiritual mood of church services. As one looks back at this time, one gets the impression of a warm, deeply personal relationship among members of the church during Pastor Thayer’s ministry.
Pastor Thayer left Ogden in January 1886, having accepted a call from the Park Avenue Church in Denver, Colorado. For almost a year the Rev. D.L. Leonard, Superintendent of Home Missions in Utah, served as acting minister. A Ladies Sewing Society was organized, dedicating itself to raising money for the church.