Montgomery — Churches
Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.
Directly after the incorporation of the town, in November, 1780, the question of providing for public religious worship was earnestly discussed, and in December of that year an appropriation of £6 was made "to promote preaching in this town." It is probable that preaching was procured without delay, and that services were held on occasional Sabbaths in dwellings, and such places as were available. In 1783 the town directed a committee to make a contract with Rev. John Ballentine to preach twenty Sabbaths at $2 each Sabbath. Who Mr. Ballentine was, or where he resided, cannot now be told, since the records dealing with his ministerial engagement in Montgomery recite no more touching him than is above given. Rev. John Ballentine, who was the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield from 1741 to 1776, died in the latter year, but it may have been one of his sons who preached for the people of Montgomery. Mr. Ballentine probably preached occasionally previous to the time of making the contract alluded to, and as there is no evidence to the contrary, it is safe to assume that he preached through the twenty stipulated Sabbaths.
From this date (1783) the ecclesiastical history of the town is a blank (as far as the town records deal with the subject) until January, 1788, when the town for the first time discussed the advisability of erecting a house of worship. Up to that period, the people seem to have been content to worship here and there, as they could secure a place.
It was, as related, resolved to build a meeting-house "as near the centre of the town as possible," and the committee appointed to fix the location reported that they had chosen a spot "on the hill near Trueman Mallory's." Over this report, however, arose a strong discussion and violent opposition. Some wanted the church located in one place, others wanted it located somewhere else, and the result was that half a dozen different factions were clamoring to have the church built upon half a dozen different spots. As time passed the conflicting elements grew more inharmonious, and nothing could be done about building the church, because no agreement could be reached touching the place where it should stand. Thus for nine years, or until 1797, the fruitless controversy was carried on, when, the dispute wearing itself out, a church was built in the centre of the town, near where the church of the Second Adventists now stands.
Meanwhile, the business of providing religious instruction was by no means neglected; and it would appear from the best evidence obtainable that Rev. John Ballentine preached at least every summer, while it is not clear that much preaching, if any, was enjoyed by the people in the winter season,—presumably because of the uncertainty of communication, during the months of snow, between hilly Montgomery and the valley towns. As an evidence, however, that some other preacher divided the religious labors in the town with Mr. Ballentine, and as an evidence of the singularly liberal spirit in which the town conducted church matters, it may be observed that at a town-meeting in 1789 it was voted to select a committee for the obtaining of preaching, and that the committee be instructed "to obtain a preacher of the standing order (Orthodox), and one of the Baptist persuasion, for alternate Sabbaths."
At the period of the erection of a Congregational church structure in 1797, a church society was organized with a membership that included the names of but five men. Occasional preaching was provided until 1801, when Rev. Seth Noble, son of Thomas Noble, of Westfield, was ordained as the first pastor. Mr. Noble's pastorate continued until 1806, when he was dismissed. It is related of this divine that he was exceedingly fond of the tune of "Bangor," and being once upon a time a preacher at what is now the city of Bangor, in Maine, he was charged by the people of that place to present to the General Court a petition for the incorporation of the territory into a town, with the name of Surfield. He erased the name Surfield in the petition, and, substituting that of Bangor, obtained the passage of the act, and so perpetuated the name of his favorite tune, although, it may be supposed, his patrons must have been both astonished and indignant at the result. Following Mr. Noble, the pastors were Revs. John H. Fowler, Solomon W. Edson, and Caleb Knight, the latter retiring in 1839. The church was at no time very prosperous, and during the period of thirty-three years, from Mr. Noble's dismission in 1806 to Mr. Knight's retirement in 1839, the regular pastors were but three in number, and their combined term of service but fourteen years, so it will be seen that for nineteen of the thirty-three years the church was without a settled pastor. In 1839 the church membership had declined to 24, and it was only with aid received from the Home Missionary Society that preaching could be hired for even half the time. Matters improved after a while, the membership increased, and in 1848 a new church building replaced the old one, which had stood since 1797. For some reason this new era of prosperity which promised so well failed to fulfill its promises, and after a precarious existence of twenty years more the church and society passed out of existence. The church building is now (1879) used by the Second Adventists, who hold ccasional services therein.
A Methodist Church was erected in 1849 at the town centre, opposite the First Church, and since that date religious services have been held each year during the summer and autumn months, no attempt being made to have worship in the winter seasons. Preaching was supplied in the autumn of 1878 by Rev. S. Coles, pastor of the Methodist Church at Russell.