Guilford and Madison to Unite in Interfaith Prayer Service on July 13

by Dennis Culliton

Painting of St. Magaret's of Ockley_300_v2In celebration of Guilford’s 375th anniversary, the churches in Guilford and Madison are planning an interfaith prayer service to be celebrated on the Guilford Green on Sunday, July 13, at 1 pm.  The event is being organized by the Interfaith Committee.

Led by ministers, priests and rabbis of Guilford’s and Madison’s many faiths, the congregants will celebrate their freedom of religion, freedom of expression and spirit of tolerance through this prayer service.   The event will incorporate the various faith traditions found in Connecticut’s shoreline communities.  A 14th generation direct descendent of Francis Bushnell, a Baptist minister, is also planning to join the prayer service.

As part of the interfaith activities, the churches will conduct a fundraiser in participating churches during May and June for St. Margaret’s Church, Ockley, Surrey, England, which is about 32 miles south of London.  St. Margaret’s is considered to be the mother church of the shoreline faith communities.   The church is more than 700 years old and is in need of renovation.  Upon learning of the plight of the church, the Interfaith Committee thought it would be an appropriate tribute to help defray the cost of some of those renovations.

St. Margaret's Ockley Photo

The Reverend Whitfield, who came from St. Margaret’s, founded the Congregational Church in Guilford. From that church were founded the Congregational churches in Madison and North Guilford.  The Madison church spawned the North Madison Congregational Church.

A congregant of the Congregational Church, Samuel Johnson, who was educated at Yale, converted to the Anglican faith. He was ordained in England and brought the Anglican Church to Guilford, where he was involved in the founding of Christ Episcopal Church.  From this religious ancestry came both St. John’s Episcopal Church in North Guilford and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison.

Finally, the benefactor of the founding of St. George Catholic Church in Guilford, George Hill, was of local Puritan or Congregational stock.  When Catholics in Madison wanted to build a church, St. George Church bought the property there and donated it to them to build St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church.

St. Margaret’s Church in Ockley was originally built in the 13th century, underwent many renovations and additions and is considered a significant heritage site in England.  According to the 2011 census, the population of Ockley is under 900. The parish is small with only 80 adults on the rolls.  The expenses for the numerous improvements, renovations, and restorations needed to maintain and grow the parish physically and ecclesiastically are high.  Gordon Lee-Steere, chairman of the Friends of St. Margaret’s registered charity stated in a recent communication with the Interfaith Committee:  “I cannot emphasise (sp?) enough how thrilled we were to get your email and to think that our American cousin’s (sp?) were thinking of us. Henry Whitfield’s transatlantic journey has certainly born fruit.”  And it has; and our actions are evidence of that!

The Interfaith Committee hopes to collect enough money to help the church through the Friends of St. Margaret’s charity reach their goal of providing a new meeting room, a toilet facility, new lighting, upgraded heating, and safety upgrades.  Although The Friends of St. Margaret’s, a registered charity in the UK, has collected some funds, contributions from the United States can improve their local campaign and their ability to receive grants.  The group has developed plans for all of the work that needs to be done.  What they need is help from the parishioners, local citizens, preservationists, and friends from both sides of the pond (Atlantic Ocean).

People who wish to contribute to directly to the fund may send their donations to: Friends of St. Margaret’s Ockley, c/o St. George Church, 33 Whitfield Street, Guilford, CT 06437.  Those with questions should contact Dennis Culliton at info@historicguilford.org.  Shoreline residents’ and church members’ individual contributions combined can make a big difference in the future of St. Margaret’s Church and to those in England who are striving to preserve part of Guilford and Madison’s heritage.

Dennis Culliton is a history teacher at Elizabeth C. Adams Middle School in Guilford.  He also chairs the Guilford Preservation Alliance’s Historic Walking Tour initiative.

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