Among the first structures built in Wethersfield was its meetinghouse, so-called because here the settlers gathered for public events-like the town meetings held to decide how they were to be governed-as well as for Sunday worship. Also, some of the earliest Puritan meetinghouses were built for use as shelter in the event of attack. The present brick church, built in 1761, when shelter from attack was no longer a priority, is the third Meetinghouse used by this congregation since its founding in 1635.
How has the interior changed?
When the present Meetinghouse was built, pew boxes were used for all of the congregational seating, except in the balcony. Originally, there were 58 pew boxes. In those days, the custom was for each family to rent a particular pew box from the Church on an annual basis. Well-located boxes cost more than others. In the time before central heating, enclosed pews provided a little protection from winter drafts as well as a sense of privacy.
In 1838, the pew boxes were replaced by 84 short pews, including ten along the north wall on each side of the pulpit, facing the pulpit, and the high Georgian pulpit was replaced by one at floor level. From 1882, the height of Victorian era, until 1971, the décor was Victorian and the pews were arranged in a semicircle, elevated toward the back and centered on the area where the pulpit is located today. This has always been the spot from which services have been conducted. In the time before electronic voice amplification, this central location made it easier for the preacher to be heard by all.
The restoration of the Meetinghouse, completed in 1973, resulted in the reinstallation of the old Georgian pulpit and of what remained of the original flooring, the reintroduction of some pew boxes, and the installation of the long slip pews in the center and the so-called "roller-coaster pews" that are short and face in from the sides at the front of the Meetinghouse.
More recently, a few roller-coaster pews were removed to make space for wheelchairs. This is the arrangement today. The small metal plaques on pews and pew boxes tell about donations made in the early 1970s to cover the cost of constructing the pews and pew boxes and do not indicate that these are reserved.
In 1896, the church discontinued the practice of leasing pew space. All are free to sit wherever they can find space, except where pews are marked off for special purposes. For instance, the pew box immediately to the left upon entering the Meetinghouse from the Connector is usually reserved for families with infants.
Why the prominent pulpit?
Our Congregational tradition focuses on God's Word as found in the Bible. The pulpit is prominent in the First Church Meetinghouse because it is from here that God's saving Word is preached. The candle and hourglass are on the pulpit to remind us that, because our time on earth is fleeting, we should not delay in focusing on God's message for us coming from the pulpit and represented there by the large Bible.
Why only a small cross?
The only cross that is part of the present Meetinghouse décor is the small, plain wooden cross that stands on the communion table. There was no cross displayed in the Meetinghouse from 1761 until the 1880s, because the Congregational tradition arose in part from a rebellion against the practices and decoration of both Roman Catholicism and its direct offshoot, the Church of England.
In the 1970s, when the interior of the First Church Meetinghouse was restored to look more like it had in the 1760s, the cross was again eliminated, because there was no cross in the Meetinghouse in its earliest days. The present small wooden cross, handmade by the late First Church member Dr. Ted Truex, was added in 1987. Also, it is a tradition to have a large cross, formed with flowers, below the pulpit at both Christmas and Easter.