Zion Episcopal Church, North Branford, CT
Zion Episcopal Church, North Branford, CT

Our History

The first Vestry meeting of "an Episcopal Society" was held on April 7, 1812. In 1818 the Parish bought a piece of land and the foundations were laid of red sandstone. The Church was consecrated on May 19, 1864. It had taken many years for this little country parish to complete it's building! The Parish size increased and declined along with that of the town, but after World War II, the widening of Route 80 necessitated a dramatic change.        

On June 11, 1957, the church was lifted onto rollers and moved in festive procession to its present site! The parish hall was completed, chiefly through contributed parish labor, by November of that year. In June, 2007 we proudly celebrated the 50th. anniversary of this milestone. We continue to care for and update this sacred space.In June 1957 Zion was lifted up on a truck and moved around the corner to it's new home on Notch Hill Rd. There were only a few inches to spare as the church traveled across the bridge over the Branford River!

 

 
 

Today Zion's interior reflects both the old and the new. The altar rail has been made handicap accessible and a new floor and pews were added.

Timeline

ZION EPISCOPAL CHURCH

 

1748:  First Episcopal (Anglican) service is conducted in Branford by Rev. Matthew Graves.

1765:  Regular mention of Anglican worshippers in the North Branford area appears in the records of the Congregational Church.

1812:  On March 12, 1812, Jonathan Foot, Jesse Linsley, Chauncey Linsley, Jonathan Rose and Augustus Baldwin meet and  petition Bishop Abraham Jarvis to form a new congregation.  Meetings follow to discuss reasons to form a distinct society, and on April 7, 1812, Bishop Jarvis approves establishing a Parish in North Branford.  The first Vestry meeting occurs on this day, and Wardens are appointed. The first financial report includes expenses and income, and $.06 remains in the treasury.

1813:  Rev. Elijah Plumb is the first Rector of the new Episcopal Church; but he is also rector of churches in Branford,Northford, East Haven, and Milford, and conducts services at all locations.

1817:  20 families are reported communicants at the Episcopal Society (no name) in North Branford. Rainami Baldwin is listed as Assistant Chorister.  She is the first woman to hold an official office in the church and is believed to be the last for many years.

1818:  Episcopal Society of North Branford votes to erect a Parish Church Building, to be 42 feet by 32 feet, with a suitable height in posts and a well- proportioned steeple.  On January, 1818, Mr. Jairus Harrison sells a piece of land for $26 to members of the Episcopal Society in North Branford to build a church and an adjacentcemetery. Construction work begins the spring of 1818 but comes to a standstill for several years due to lack of funds.

1819:  On January 4, members of Episcopal Society meet and converse on many subjects relative to the building.  Religious services are held at the homes of members.  Progress is slow, and members continue working together to complete the building and get a Rector.

1821:  The Parish votes to adopt the Constitution of the Episcopal Church of Connecticut.  The Church frequently lacks a priest. Lay reader Jesse Linsley frequently officiates.The Episcopal Society of North Branford has the services of a Rector, Rev. Origen Holcome, who also serves in Branford, Madison and North Haven. On September3, a fierce gale blows out windows, blow open doors, and results in necessary repair work at the NorthBranford Church.   Records show that construction work continues at the Church for years.

1828, April 10:  The Church is now referred to as Zion Episcopal Church, North Branford.

1828-1840: Due to scarcity of Episcopal ministers, Holy Communion is administered only 7 times during this 12 year period.  Open hostility toward the Episcopal Church remains, and ministers are not popular and are over-worked.   Connecticut retains a strong Puritan influence after 200 years.

1831:  The North Society and Northford Society merge and incorporate as the Town of North Branford.

1838:  Zion has 8 families and 9 communicants, and remains under construction.

1839:  The Building Committee pays $700 to complete the Church interior.

1840:  Zion Church building is completed, cemetery is put ln order, and members meet regularly in their new Church. Rev. David Baldwin agrees to serve as Vicar at Zion, and continues to do so for 22 years. He officiates half of the Sundays in North Branford and other half of Sundays in North Guilford.

1840:  Bishop of Connecticut andsubsequently  Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Thomas Church Brownell, visits Zion to perform Confirmations.

1844:  Rev. Baldwin comments on the commitment and faith of Zion parishioners: “This little band do not forget to assemble themselves together every Lord’s Day”

1849:  Rev. Baldwin writes “This little flock contributed $3.30 to the Diocesan ChristianFellowship Society and paid $90 to shingle the church.

1852:  Regular referral to Zion Episcopal Church, which has 13 families and 5 communion services.

1857:  Rev. Baldwin retires after 22 years; he has been Zion’s 2nd longest serving Priest.

1858-60's:  Zion endures a series of constantly changing Rectors.  Funds are scarce and often the church cannot afford to pay a spiritual leader.  Zion’s officers and Vestry serve many years without change.

1863:   Zion has 32 families, 24 communicants and 20 in Sunday School, which is conducted by 4 teachers.  The church is stronger financially and spends $600 to construct a Vestry Room (present-day Sacristy) and adds a recessed chancel with a chimney and stove.  It also performs repairs to the building, adds blinds, performs painting and installs new carpeting.  The recessed chancel marks a departure from the New England Congregational church design and reflects Zion’s growth and increasing strength.

1864:  Zion’s structure is consecrated on May 13 by Bishop John Williams, Assistant to Connecticut and later Presiding Bishop, Thomas Church Brownell.  Bishop Williams becomes Bishop of Connecticut  the next year. Zion purchases the present Bishop’s Chair, custom-made for $56.  Zion also purchases a bell for its tower.

1866:  Stained-glass windows are installed in the main Church.  They are hand-etched with a fleur-de-lis motif and are in place today. The original windows are those at the front of the church, flanking the door.

1869-71:  Membership declines to 16 families from 32 a few years earlier.  Rev. S.B. Duffield is called 75% time.

1870:  There are first weekly communion services but records indicate the Rector position is vacant this year.

1872 Zion’s first Rectory is established.

1865-90:  The region experiences a general population decline.  Returning Civil War veterans see little opportunity in towns like No. Branford and either head West or move to manufacturing jobs incities.  North Branford is a farming community again, as technological innovations in electricity, gas and railroads bypass it, forcing most of its small existing business base to close. Between 1880 and 1890, North Branford’s population declines 20% from 1025 to 825.  Many of Zion’s youth move away to build their lives elsewhere at times the church’s very survival is in doubt.  It was often listed as “vacant with services”. Few records are kept during this period; Annual Meeting minutes reveal scant information beyond Vestry and officers.

1879 Rev. Marks is called to be Vicar and splits time with St. John’s North Guilford.  Zion has 24 families.  He writes:  “Parishes have suffered from deaths, removals and general drift away by population.”

1883:  Rev. Marks resigns and Zion remains without a priest until 1886, using lay readers and supply priests.

1884:  Zion spends $52 to purchase a five-octave Melodeon to accompany music.

1888:  Zion’s interior is painted and refurbished.  More stained-glass windows are installed and the church is re-carpeted, Much of this work is the result of the Great Blizzard of 1888.

1890-1891:  Zion is listed as 1 of 12 aided parishes in the New Haven Arch deanery.

1899:  The church roof is shingled and the belfry is repaired for $191.44.

1900-1903:  Zion has only 13 families.  Rev. McDougal writes:“ Difficulty is lack of spiritual material in North Guilford and North Branford, condition of parish varies little year to year…still, on account of the loyalty of members, there is hope for the future.”

1908:  Zion is down to 10 families, yet Zion provides assistance to the North  Branford Congregational Church, when it is destroyed by fire. 

1908-1917:  Zion “holds its own” with mostly elderly parishioners; the younger ones flee to the city.

1917:  Senior Warden Jesse Harrison has served Zion since 1881 and he serves thru 1921. His example is followed by others.  At the 1917 Annual Meeting, Francis J. Smith is elected Moderator.  He is ordained in 1927 and becomes Zion’s longest-serving pastor, remaining with the church until 1957.  Under his leadership, Zion gathers strength, continues by subsequent priests and parishioners alike that sustain it into the21st century. A beautiful stained glass window on the north side of Zion Church is given in memory of Rev. Francis J. Smith, and exists presently.

1922:  Zion’s Ladies Guild is formed on April 30.  Zion’s women becomea major driving force and source of leadership for many of the activities, fundraisers and significant changes that occur during the next 90 years.  Zion’s women may be the most significant component of its survival and sustainment.  The Ladies Guild holds Zion’s First Annual Fair.

1925:  The chancel floor is expanded to include choir stalls.

1929-38:  The Great Depression is here and  townspeople are hurt by the economy.  Zion is constantly under threat of closure, since few funds are available to pay Rev. Smith.  He is never paid regularly but when he is paid, Zion’s Ladies Guild is the source of funds.  Zion’s Organist, Frederick Slater, serves without stipend for many years.

1933:  Zion’s exterior is painted at a cost of $150.

1934:  Ladies Guild purchases an electric blower for the organ, meaning young Ralph Colter no longer has to pump the instrument by hand.

1936:  Ladies Guild changes its name to Parish Guild.
1937:  Zion Church celebrates its’ 125th Anniversary.  On September, 1937, a large celebration is held including the rite of Confirmation at the morning service, lunch which is held at Town Hall, and an afternoon service including the Rev. Chauncey Linsley who makes a historical address, as well as other addresses by Archdeacon Kenyon, the Rev. Francis Liggett, and the Rev George Lesley.  North Branford is changing:  city dwellers are moving to the country, new industries spring up in the area, North Branford becomes a bedroom town, and a turnover of families coming to town and then moving on became the norm.  It becomes apparent that expanded educational and meeting facilities are needed at Zion.

1938:  Parish Guild pays to repair damage by the Great New England Hurricane that September.

1939:  Parish Guild pays to install a new oil-fired furnace and purchases the first tank of fuel oil.

1939-40:  Parish Guild makes payments to Rev. Smith’s back salary. 

1941-1945:  Zion parishioners, some with us today (Ralph Colter), serve in World War !!.

1954:  At the Annual Parish Meeting of January, 1954, the Rev. Smith reports on the Bishop’s request that the Parish procure more land.  A Building Committee is appointed, and the Rev. Nelson Pearson, Architectural Consultant to the Diocese, helps prepare plans. The land behind the Church on Rt. 80is owned by Mr. Frederic (Gus) Loeber.  MrLoeber makes a gift to the Church of a piece of property which makes it possible to move the Church back onto a new foundation, and provide a basement area for much-needed facilities.  The increased traffic on Route 80 is also creating a hazardous situation near the Church at its present location. So the Vestry, headed by Sr. Warden Earl Colter and Building committee headed by Ralph Colterfeel that the gift of land from Mr. Loeber is too small an area. They decline the offer and consider other alternatives. Plans go forward and a plan providing for the attached Parish Hall to be above ground reveals it could be carried out for $10,000.  The Zion Ladies Guild donates $1000, the Diocese loans $6000, and the Ladies Guild volunteer to underwrite the $6000 loan and pledge the sum of $600 annually, until the loan is repaid. 

1957:  The Vestry and Building Committee decideto move the Church onto a foundation at a new location, because the church was only 15 feet from a busy Route 80, it lacked any bathrooms and also educational spaces.  Financial support comes from the Diocese, increased membership and pledges, individuals’ contributions, North Branford Civic Association. Mr. Wallace Foote, a friend and Banker from Branford purchases and donates the land for a new Church and Parish Hall site on Notch Hill Road.  The land is bought from Mr. Gus Loeber.  Rev. Smith retires this year, and Rev. Donald Greene,  Zion Priest in charge,   procures Diocese approval by Bishop Gray as well as Diocese loans.  The Church’s foundation on Notch Hill Road is excavated, the footings poured, and contracts go out for moving the building to the new foundation.  The move takes place on Tuesday, June 11, 1957.  The Church is placed on large rollers and pulled to its present location by two trucks.  Assistance of this large project is received from many people and firms, including the New Haven Trap Rock Co who donated many tons of crushed stone for the pad upon which the foundation and floor are laid.  The First Selectman Alden Hill furnishes equipment and man power for many tasks at both the old and new sites.  Harold Wakely supervises the moving operation and construction at the new site.

 The people of Zion Parish do the rest, the plumbing, electrical work, painting and decorating along with the grounds work. A new parish hall, basement, connector, priest’s office and restrooms are installed alongside Zion Church.  Classroom spaces are eventually created for Sunday school classes and adult bible study, and meeting rooms provide outreach for Alcoholic Anonymous groups, civic groups to meet and use the facilities.

1960’s:  Zion’s altar is removed from the rear wall and becomes free standing.

1964:  Zion’s old weathervane, now lost, is replaced ty the gold cross, which remains today.

1971:  Nursery at Notch Hill is created, a nursery school located in Zion’s basement as a non-religious outreach to the community.  The nursery school is a non-profit church/vestry owned school run on an independent budget.  Although the school has never taught religion, its mission is to provide a special experience based on the Judeo-Christian values for children in the community.

1980's to present day:  2 major fund raisers are held yearly:  Fall Crafts Fair (female crafters headed by Erna Cocchiaro and many friends work year-long in preparation) and Annual Tag Sale (headed by Dave Bowen and many friends, who collect items throughout the year, and hold yearly event.

1981:  Zion church exterior is painted at a cost of $1500.

1982:  The Great Flood in June causes damage to basement and Nursery at Notch Hill totaling more than $20,000.  New drainage system is installed.

1982-1990:  Rev. Alan Broadhead is called to be Zion’s Vicar.  Rev. Broadhead’s ministry results in tremendous spiritual growth within the parish thru the introduction of the daily office, Lenten and Advent Bible Study, home communions and adult book reviews on Christian perspectives.  Youth activities includes yearly mission trips to New York city, 2 opportunities for the youth to visit England and for English friends to visit in Connecticut. Rev. Alan encourages greater participation by laity in weekly and Sunday services, and creates a deeper awareness of stewardship as it pertains to our time, talent, and treasures. He insists on financial transparency with the treasurer and wardens, instituting 2 signatures on every check by volunteer leadership. He envisions Zion Park, located next to the Church, which is created thru hard work of volunteers clearing of brush and wooded area, and is meant to welcome visitors as well as members of the parish.

1985:  Barbara Bowen is the first female Junior Warden and Minister of Communion at Zion.  She also became the first female Senior Warden at Zion in the later 1980’s.

1987:  Zion Park is dedicated by Bishop Arthur Walmsley in September, along with the 175th anniversary of Zion Church.

1988:  Handicapped ramp is built to easily access Zion Church for elderly and disabled persons.

1989:  The old communion rail (now structurally unsound) is removed and remodeled to allow for improved handicapped/ elderly access to communion.  Chancel is also expanded.  This work is done by volunteer parishioners, headed by David Bowen and friends.

1991-93:  Rev. Patricia Stevens is called to be the first female Vicar at Zion. She iswell received by the parish, but moves with husband in 2 years due to his job change.

1991:  Zion’s pipe organ is rebuilt and expanded.  A new part-time Music Director is brought to Zion.

1992 Vinyl siding is installed on Zion Church’s exterior walls, and also on the outsideof connector and parish hall.  The Church is not insulated and the vinyl siding prep work actually helps provide some protection to cold winters.  This decision is made to help answer lead abatement problems of an old exterior wooden building with many paint jobs over the years.  Also, it is a more economical use of parish monies, prioritizing spreading the word of God.

1994-2008:  Rev. Dee Anne Dodd is called to be the Vicar at Zion.  She continues with spiritual growth within the parish by expanding outreach opportunities, adding Healing prayer groups and encouraging lay leadership in this venture .  Her length of tenure helps  with stability of parish activities as well, including youth education and mission trips, adult education and outreach to others, including Chapel on the Green, Midnight Runs to New Haven homeless persons and weekly commitments to local food banks.  She forges friendships with Yale Divinity School, and begins Internships of 2nd year Yale Divinity School students at Zion, and is each Divinity student’s counselor.  She encourages expansion of the music program, including the NOIZ band. The interior of Zion Church is changes during her tenure, and the undercroft of the Church is enhanced to provide more classroom space for Sunday school and nursery school students, and meeting spaces for others.  The Memorial Garden is created at the rear of Zion Park.

1995:  Original box pews of Zion Church are replaced with present day pews.  New hardwood floor is installed in the Church as well.  This project solves interiorlead abatement problems as well, and provides a simple, comfortable and beautiful complete worship space.  

1997:  Colter Memorial Garden is planted in memory of Kenneth Colter, son of Ralph Colter, a long time parishioner.  The Garden presents a natural and welcoming message to all who drive along Notch Hill Road.  Zion is henceforth acknowledged as the church with the beautiful garden in front by passers-by.

1998:  “Wheels for Lauren”  is sponsored by Zion, and is a cross-country bike ride traversing 4500 miles, led by 3 Zion youth (21 -24 years old) parishioners. The goal is to raise monies for a handicap van for Lauren Smith, young parishioner with spina bifida, to commuteto college next  year.  $16000 is raised and a van is bought for Lauren.

2000:  Healing Prayer Group is formed and a team of volunteers, (led by Michele Kinrade)are  available after services each week to pray with members of the parish for concerns of all kinds.  Prayers are offered ranging from physical healing to emotional support, to family relationships and finding new jobs.  Healing prayer continues to this day, and currently is held second Tuesday evening of each month.

2004, August 29:  NOIZ (Zion spelled backwards) begins playing spiritual music with volunteer musicians playing a variety of instruments, including guitars, viola, drums, piano. They continue to add joyful music presently on special Sundays of the year.

2004: Zion Memorial Garden is created in the back of Zion Park, as a holy space to bury cremains of loved ones, and also a space to connect to God and the outdoor natural surroundings.  A wooden cross is built and stands tall in the front of Memorial Garden in 2005.

2007:  The Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts-Shori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church since 2006, visits Zion,celebrates at both services and baptizes Timothy Kinrade.  Her visit is the first known recent visit of an incumbent Presiding Bishop, although Bishop Brownell visited Zion in 1840.

2008:  Two new rooms are created in the Undercroft of Zion Church. One room is additional play  space for NONH Nursery School  and the other is named the Erna Room (honoring Erna Cocchario) and is used for meetings, crafts, adult education, meetings, healing prayer. Also 2 new contained storage spaces are also in the undercroft, one for nursery school and one for tag sale items (named Dave’s Cave, honoring Dave Bowen).  Also a new parking lot is created to improve hospitality and safety to all who enter Zion’s grounds. Landscaping behind parking lot is improved for runoff of water during storms.

2011 to present:  Rev. Lucy LaRocca is called to be Vicar at Zion, serving 75% of time.  She emphasizes worshiping  and serving God, reaching out to others in community and world, revises Christian formation of youth including mission trips for older youth and Godly Play groups for younger children on Sunday school days which include Godly Play worship space.

2013:  Zion becomes a registered Integrity Episcopal Believe Outloud Congregation, a designation earmarking Zion as an open and affirming congregation for those seeking a safe place to worship and grow in Christ.  "We believe that every human being is a beloved child of God. The Zion community welcomes all who seek the healing love of Christ regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or socioeconomic status."

2014:  Route 80 intersection is expanded by the State of Connecticut., and local Boy Scout Troop 453  who uses Zion Church for meetings helps with rhododendron plantings on the side of Notch Hill Road  at Zion Cemetery. Scout leaders encourage local community projects  in North Branford, and Zion Church is a  recipient of volunteer Scout work from high school Scouts. Eagle Scout Ed Boughton III leads building a handicap accessible walkway across back of Zion all the way to Memorial Garden.  This provides safe access to Zion Park or MG by elderly or handicapped persons.

2015:  Another Eagle Scout project is completed by Zion parishioner Kyle Ford, by leading construction of a brick patio at the entrance of Memorial Garden.  This provides a beautiful entrance to the MG at the end of accessible walkway.

2015:   Madonna of the Orchard is given to Zion, a100 year old wooden statue made out of a fallen hickory tree and carved into the likeness of the Madonna.  She is placed in the front of Zion Park, and is seen by all passers-by.  She is dedicated in August, 2015.

2016:  Thanks to a generous grant from the Foote Family Charitable Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee, the Zion sanctuary is insulated and air conditioned.  In addition to regularly serving at Chapen on the Green in New Haven, Zion parishioners volunteer at Loaves & Fishes, a food pantry and clothes closet at St. Paul and St. James Episcopal Church in New Haven.

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