On April 2, 1796, residents of Bantam, or Bradleyville as it was called then, signed a contract for a new church to be built on a hill across the street from the current Bantam Cemetery. This new church was known as West Church and was designed and built by a local contractor, Giles Kilborn. West Church had a tower, a spire, and approximately 1,800 square feet of space furnished with “a high pulpit, reading desk, pews with doors but without cushions, deep galleries and a capacious sounding board,” according to historical records.
Yet, it was not until October 30 1797, after the West Church was completed, that a group of 55 people petitioned to establish the Second Episcopal Society and to be exempted from paying taxes to the first group. The First Episcopal Society of Litchfield, currently known as St. Michael’s, granted the petition and the Second Episcopal Society was formally organized on November 14, 1797.
On September 10, 1799, West Church and St. Michael’s Church were reunited and the articles of union were ratified. Under this new agreement, Rev. Truman Marsh became the first rector of the Bantam parish and served in this part-time position until 1810. Rev. Isaac Jones served at West Church from 1811 – 1826, followed by Rev. John S. Stone from 1826 – 1829. During this time, duties were divided three ways: two-fifths to St. Michael’s, two-fifths to West Church and one-fifth to Trinity Milton. The first twenty-five years of the West Church’s history saw its membership increase in tandem with the “Golden Age” of manufacturing in the Litchfield area. However many families left the church in the early 1820s in protest against the Rev. Isaac Jones and joined the Congregational Church. In 1826, the three churches separated and West Church in Bantam began to operate independently. The Rev. David G. Tomlinson became the first resident pastor of West Church in 1831and served until 1836. During his tenure, the first vestry was elected in 1832. The Rev. Amos B. Beach served West Church as pastor from 1836-1837, the Rev. Hillard Bryant, 1837-1840, and the Rev. Emery E. Porter, 1840-1843. However, due to a change in the economy and population of the surrounding area, membership at West Church had declined to only 30 communicants by 1843. This led to a loss of financial support as well.
In July 1843, due to declining financial support and disrepair of the church, the congregation voted to tear down the church building and erect a new building on the present site. The new church was built by Royal A. Ford of Litchfield, was smaller than West Church, and was ready for worship services Christmas Eve, 1843. Soon after, the name “St. Paul’s” was adopted, and on November 1, 1884, Rt. Rev. T.C. Brownell, Bishop of the Diocese, consecrated the building. The original church bell from West Church, cast in 1802 by Fenton and Cockran of New Haven, was transferred to the new bell tower and is still used today.
Between 1836 and 1873, St. Paul’s parish was served by 14 different rectors, with nine of them serving two years or less. In 1873, Rev. Hiram Stone became rector and he then served for 30 years. This marked a turning point for St. Paul’s — membership doubled; a Rectory was willed to the parish in 1897; stained glass windows and an organ were installed in the church; and in 1897, a detached Parish House was built to mark the church’s 100th anniversary.
In 1903, the Rev. Stone resigned as rector, at the age of 79. Over the next two decades, the church saw six ministers serve as rector. In 1912, an addition to the church was built, which allowed for a chancel, organ loft, sanctuary, and choir room on the east end of the building. A stained glass window of The Good Shepherd was incorporated as part of this renovation as a memorial to Rev. Stone, after his death.
In 1923, the Rev. James W. Diggles became Rector for the next 14 years. His successor, the Rev. H. Waldo Manley, proposed creating a church building fund in 1944 to accommodate the growing congregation. At this time, there were 154 families and 60 church school students attending St. Paul’s. During 1952 and 1953, the congregation attended services at Trinity Church in Milton and later at the Bantam Theater while the Parish House was razed and the Undercroft area excavated and constructed for expansion of the church building. Once the Undercroft and the original church area renovations were completed, the Rt. Rev. Robert M. Hatch, Suffragan Bishop of Connecticut dedicated the church in June 1953. The upper addition was not completed until 1963, which included the chancel extension, sacristy, pastor’s den, parlor, church office, and two church school rooms.
The parish continued to grow and prosper under the leadership of Rev. Manley (1938-1954), Rev. Joseph P. Matthews (1954-1959), and Rev. Daniel R. Colley (1960-1968), at which time the church rolls listed 423 baptized members from 109 families. After the arrival of Rev. William G. Sorrells (1968-1972), membership decreased to 70 families by 1972. In 1971, St. Paul’s explored sharing church services with other rectors and split responsibilities for services at St. Michael’s and Trinity Milton. Between 1972 and 1974, St. Paul’s was served by a series of supply priests until a new part-time clergyman could be found.
On February 24, 1974, the vestry agreed to the bishop’s appointment of St. Paul’s first vicar, the Rev. Richard T. Nolan. He was a full-time professor of philosophy at Mattatuck Community College in Waterbury and an ordained Episcopal priest. This new arrangement of a part-time ministry allowed Father Nolan to serve St. Paul’s 2.5 days each week. Under his guidance, the parish developed a strong lay ministry and financial worries improved with the sale of the Rectory. Father Nolan continued to serve the parish until 1988. During his tenure, he invited other part-time priests to join St. Paul’s ministry and championed the idea of televising St. Paul’s Sunday services on cable television. Again, membership increased to 150 people by 1984.
The Rev. Thomas L. Kilbourn was appointed Vicar of St. Paul’s Church in February 1989 by Bishop Walmsley and was installed in March 1989 by the Rt. Rev. Clarence Coleridge. Father Tom, born and raised in Bantam as a member of St. Paul’s Church, served as Vicar along with the Rev. Elbert B. Hamlin, as Liturgical Associate and Rev. John Kenny, Jr. as Deacon. Father Tom remained as Vicar for 17 years while continuing to teach high school English and the church continued to prosper for most of this time.
The Rev. Betsy Starbuck served as Vicar from April 2007 to August 2008. Following her tenure, St. Paul’s returned to being served by supply clergy until October 2009, when the Rev. Christopher L. Webber agreed to come out of retirement (for the second time) and serve as our part-time Vicar. He was installed on January 13, 2010 by the Rt. Rev. Laura Ahrens. Father Webber has spent the last several months meeting current congregants and connecting with former members as he familiarized himself with our lay ministry.