Reclaiming the Spiritual Heritage of Connecticut

Following a Reclaiming Our Spiritual Heritage Tour, in October of 2007, one of the participants, Wesley Rowe, publisher of the Torrington (Connecticut) Register Citizen, requested this writer to submit a series of spiritual heritage articles for his newspaper. The articles would run for seven consecutive Sundays, beginning November 5, 2006. Each article would be featured prominently on the first page of the Sunday newspaper. The articles are presented as submitted, however, the titles or headlines were composed by the newspaper staff.

Dr. Ed Eastman
Spiritual Heritage Series: Part One of Seven, November 5, 2006

Northwestern Connecticut is rich in history and culture. The region’s religious or spiritual heritage, though seldom popularly studied, is a significant part of that history. The abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, and the foreign mission movement in America cannot be explained without understanding the religious currents that prevailed in northwestern Connecticut in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Such things are not typically the subject of documentaries on the History Channel. We are the poorer for not knowing about them.

The story of America’s Second Great Awakening in New England is the story of explosive growth in the churches of northwestern Connecticut in the years 1798-99, followed by at least five subsequent waves of revival over the next thirty years. Comparable numbers of new believers were added to church rolls in Berkshire County, Massachusetts to the north over the same period.

At the close of the American Revolution and for at least a dozen years thereafter, residents of Connecticut lost interest in Christianity and churches began to falter. In the words of one pastor, “The doctrines of Christ grew more and more unpopular; family prayer and all the duties of the gospel were less regarded; ungodliness prevailed, and particularly, modern infidelity had made, and was making alarming progress among us.” Jeremiah Hallock of Canton Center was one pastor alarmed by the effects of French Enlightenment thinking on his congregation. Like his colleagues in ministry, he saw the horrors of the French Revolution as demonstrating what happens to a people when true religion is abandoned. Fearing the influence of infidelity in his own parish, Hallock longed for divine intervention. That longing meant prayer and fasting, and seeking after God.

In 1794, Rev. Walter King of Norwich circulated a letter among Connecticut Congregationalists calling for a quarterly “concert of prayer” for God’s reviving of the churches. The Hartford North Association to which Hallock belonged responded positively to the call, and sent a letter to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and the Convention of Clergy in Massachusetts, to which they also responded affirmatively. Hallock met regularly with fellow pastors Alexander Gillett of Torrington, Ammi Robbins of Norfolk, Peter Starr of Warren, and Samuel J. Mills of Torringford. In mild weather they would meet in a secluded grove, lie face down on the ground, and pray with tears for the outpouring of God’s Spirit in revival upon their people. The prayers of these godly men were powerfully answered. Throughout the area, wherever churches and pastors participated in the Concerts of Prayer, nearly every church shared in the great revival of 1798-99.

Respected church historian David W. Kling notes that we cannot pinpoint

“exactly when and where the Second Great Awakening in Connecticut began, but traces left . . . all point to its beginning at the West Simsbury meetinghouse of Jeremiah Hallock on the second Sunday of October 1798.” That was, however, only the beginning. During the next three years, the Lord added nearly 80 new believers to the Canton Center church, and over the course of Hallock’s ministry in Canton Center, nearly 20% of the town’s residents were added to the his congregation.

Hallock did not confine his efforts to Canton Center. He traveled regularly throughout the region, visiting and assisting other pastors by preaching and participating in small group gatherings called “conference meetings.” His biographer Cyrus Yale notes that Hallock ministered in a team effort with pastors in virtually every town in northwestern Connecticut, helping to bring religious revival in many if not most of those locations. His philosophy of ministry was that “a minister should not only be willing to go from a cold to a warm moral region…but equally ready to go from a warm to a cold region…to diffuse any warmth of heart which God may have given for the benefit of other churches.” For this reason he often visited distant towns, even in stormy winter weather, which were then blessed because of his ministry.

He was also warmly receptive to visits from neighboring pastors who assisted him in Canton Center. Like the other pastors with whom he partnered, Hallock understood that reports of God’s working of revival in one town would provoke people in another “to pray for similar development in their own community,” which is exactly what happened.
Upon Hallock’s death in 1826, after a fruitful ministry which included an extended missionary trip into the frontier of Vermont, the church at Canton Center asked
God for an Elisha to follow their Elijah, and prayed that Jeremiah Hallock’s spiritual mantle would fall on his successor. Rev. Jairus Burt followed Hallock, and as the carved cloak draped over Burt’s tombstone in the Canton Center cemetery still testifies, Hallock’s mantle did fall upon him, and Burt enjoyed a long and fruitful ministry as well.

Next week we will learn how the current of spiritual awakening spread to nearbyNew Hartford, and its pastor, Edward Dorr Griffin. You can learn more about Jeremiah Hallock on line at http://www.cantonmuseum.org or http://www.cantoncenterchurch.org where you will find a superb short biography by Lawrence S. Carlton, MD.

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