Our History

Orient Congregational Church is over 300 years old.

The oldest Congregational church in New York State

The Orient Congregational Church was first gathered together as a worshiping fellowship around the year 1700, when the present land was purchased from David Youngs for five shillings.

The oldest church of its denomination in New York State, this fellowship built its first meetinghouse in 1717. One hundred years later, in 1817, the first building was replaced by a larger one. In 1843, the second building was torn down, and the original part of the present structure was erected.

The church’s closeness to the sea inspired its carpenters as they constructed the ceiling reminiscent of ships’ timbers, and the entryway in the shape of a pilot house.

The stained glass windows were erected in the 19th and 20th centuries, and have an unusual three-dimensional appearance with the glass, particularly in the robes, thick in some places and thin in others. The church has had a succession of pipe and electronic organs, with the present Allen organ installed in 1996.

This church, though geographically isolated, has always been concerned for the whole Church. The Orient Congregational Church is a member of, and financially supports, the Long Island Council of Churches and the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ. Our outreach to the local community includes, among other things, support for CAST, and the housing of John’s Place Homeless Shelter in the winter months. We are a part of The United Church of Christ, which is a 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

1700 – 1750


1700 – Land is purchased from David Youngs for $1.25

1717 – The first Meeting House is built; its dimensions, according to Augustus Griffin’s diary, are 28 feet by 30 feet. Daniel Brown of Rocky Point (now East Marion) is in charge of construction.

1725 – Augustus Griffin writes that the first Meeting House was “finished off” in April, 1725, by a Daniel Brown. He goes on to say, “This curious building … was raised in 1717 … but it appears did not reach a partial finish until 1725, which was twenty five years after the ground was bought for one dollar and twenty five cents to set this edifice on.”

1735 –The Congregational Church in Oyster ponds is officially organized. It is the oldest congregational Church in New York State. Rev. Jonathan Barber, a graduate of Yale, is its first Pastor. Augustus Griffin writes that Barber “a man greatly and beloved by his congregation”

1739 – The Congregational Church Bank Articles are drawn up on May 1, 1739, by Rev Barber as a way of paying the minister and financing the church for future generations. Subscribers raised 616 pounds, 8 shillings. The Bank Articles state that the minister had to be a “dissenter of the Congregational Way.”

1740 – George Whitefield, an Englishman, is one of the most widely known clerics of his day. In 1740, he travels to America and preaches as part of the religious revival known as “The Great Awakening.” The old Meeting House in Oysterponds (now Orient) is the site of one of his revivals.

Growth & Changes

1751 – 1800

Circa 1757 – Rev. William Adams becomes the second Pastor of the church.

Sometime between the end of Rev. Adams’ pastorate and 1775, Rev. Joseph Lee becomes the third Pastor of the church, through 1775.

1763 – The Seven Years’ War in Europe and The French and Indian War (1754-1763) in the American Colonies conclude with the Treaty of Paris in February. Southold Town had sent 150 men to Ticonderoga (1758 or 1759); several died during that campaign. Most likely there were men from Oysterponds in the militia at that time who took part in the campaign.

1765 – Due to the cost of the war, Britain taxes the American Colonies. The Stamp Act in particular brings open opposition in Boston, precursor to the American Revolution.

1775 – On August 8, Rufus Tuthill, while unloading sheep from Plum Island upon the north side of Oyster Ponds Point, is fired upon by a British ship. The British seize his boat and about 20 sheep. Three days later, the British squadron, having passed through the gut, engages the American troops as they attempt to go across to Plum Island to retrieve livestock. That night, the British steal more livestock and sail away.

1776 – The British defeat the Americans in late August at the Battle of Long Island, which concludes with the American troops retreating during the night to the mainland. Immediately, Long Island comes under British control. Those who could afford the passage leave the island and take refuge in Connecticut and elsewhere on the mainland. Until the Treaty of Paris in September, 1783, the people who remain on Long Island live under martial law and experience much hardship.

1780 – Rev. John Davenport becomes the fourth Pastor of the church through 1783.

1785 – Rev. Alexander Cadwell becomes the fifth Pastor of the church, through 1788.

1789 – A fire at the home of Deacon Azariah Tuthill of Rocky Point (now East Marion) destroys the earliest church records.

1792 – Rev. Nehemiah Cook becomes the sixth Pastor of the church.

1794 – Rev. Isaac Overton becomes the seventh Pastor of the church, through 1796.

1797 – Rev. Jacob Crane becomes the eighth Pastor of the church.

1801 – 1850


1801 – Rev. Emerson Foster becomes the ninth Pastor of the church, through 1806.

1807 – Rev. Anderson becomes the 10th Pastor of the church. His first name is not recorded.

1808 – Rev. Ezra Haynes becomes the 11th Pastor of the church, through 1812.

1812 – Rev. Lemuel Smith becomes the 12th Pastor of the church, through 1815.

1815 – Rev. Nathan Dickerson becomes the 13th Pastor of the church.

1818 – The old Meeting House is taken down in the summer. The second church building is erected on the same site. The builder of the second edifice is Joseph Glover, Jr., of Southold. Augustus Griffin describes it as being “finished in a plain, substantial manner,” but no image of it has been discovered.

1819 – Rev. Thomas Deverel becomes the 14th Pastor of the church.

1823 – Rev. Jonathan Robinson becomes the 15th Pastor of the church, through 1828.

1828 – Rev. Edward Harris becomes the 16th Pastor of the church. His pastorate ends the same year.

1828 – Rev. Phineas Robinson becomes the 17th Pastor of the church, through 1832.

1828 – A formal re-organization of the Church is attempted, but was not accomplished for several years. One of the current windows (Christ Holding the Lamb), pays tribute to those who initiated this. The dedication on the window reads, “Deacon Peter Brown (1781 – 1857) Phoebe Rackett– his Wife (1782 – 1860) with three others re-organized the church – 1828.” The window itself dates from the early twentieth century.

1832 – Temperance becomes an integral part of the re-organized church. A resolution adopted states: “Resolved unanimously, that no person hereafter be admitted into this Church without expressing the determination never to use Ardent Spirits as an ordinary drink …”

1833 – Rev. Jonathan Hunting becomes the 18th Pastor of the church.

1835 – Rev. Reuben Porter becomes the 19th Pastor of the church, through 1836.

1837 – Rev. Smith P. Gammage becomes the 20th Pastor of the church, through 1838.

1839 – Rev. Daniel Beers becomes the 21st Pastor of the church, through 1845.

1840 – The church is reorganized as “The Orient Congregational Society” by Rev. Daniel Beers.

1843 – The second church building is demolished on August 1, 1843. It stood for only 25 years. On August 26, 1846, Augustus Griffin writes, “They raised the New Church on the site of the one just taken down.” The building is still in use today. According to Augustus Griffin, the reason for building a new structure was that certain members of the church “wished a handsomer and more stately place of worship.” Joseph Lamb of Sag Harbor is the builder of the church. On November 29, Griffin writes: “This day Joshua Payne put on the spindle on the Steeple of our new meeting house – perhaps its [sic] 70 feet high.” He states that the church “had a bell, too, to notify the hour for worship.” The new church is dedicated on December 28, 1843. Additional land is acquired at this time for carriages and a shed. The cost is fifty dollars. The new church has an organ, and according to one source, “a graceful gallery around three sides of the interior.” The Ladies’ Benevolent Society is founded, and continues for well over one hundred years. The Society charges a membership fee of 12 cents for women, and 25 cents for men.

1846 – Rev. Phineas Blackman becomes the 22nd Pastor of the church, through 1848.

1849 – Rev. Henry Clark becomes the 23rd Pastor of the church, through 1856.

1849 – Augustus Griffin writes in his Journal that from 1849 to 1855, Orient has the finest church choir in this part of the world.


1851 – 1900

1852 – There is a scandal in the village: all parents who were allowing their children to attend a dancing school in the village are reprimanded by the church with the following resolution: “Resolved, that it is with unfeigned grief and sadness of heart that we have heard that there is a dancing school in our village to the detriment of our fair name and the injury of the morals of the inhabitants.”

1856 – Rev. Albert Fitch becomes the 24th Pastor of the church, through 1862.

1862 – Rev. Elijah S. Fairchild becomes the 25th Pastor of the church. His pastorate ends the same year.

1863 – Rev. James B. Finch becomes the 26th Pastor of the church, through 1865.

1865 – A committee is established to provide a plan for enlarging and improving the church.

1866 – Rev. Frederick W. Williams becomes the 27th Pastor of the church. His pastorate ends the same year.

1867 – The church building is lengthened by 16 feet. A pipe organ is installed. A quote from a church publication at this time says that the “audience room has been entirely renovated, beautifully decorated, and furnished throughout in the very best manner.” The cost is about $8500 – a considerable sum at the time. The builder is J. H. Young of Orient; the interior work is done by O. H. Clewes of Greenport.

1867 – Rev. Theodore A. Gardner becomes the 28th Pastor of the church, through 1871.

1868 – On January 22, the church is rededicated.

1871 – The church sells a parcel of land just to the east to the school district for a new school building.

1872 – Rev. Charles J. K. Jones becomes the 29th Pastor of the church, through 1874.

1874 – Rev. Henry R. Harris becomes the 30th Pastor of the church, through 1875.

1876 – Rev. William Joslyn becomes the 31st Pastor of the church, through 1877.

1877 – Rev. Henry R. Harris returns and becomes the 32nd Pastor of the church, through 1879.

1879 – Rev. James M. Simonton becomes the 33rd Pastor of the church, through 1882.

1881 – The church is draped in mourning in late September on the occasion of the death of President Garfield.

1883 – Rev. William H. Woodwell becomes the 34th Pastor of the church, through 1887.

1887 – Rev. David N. Vanderveer becomes the 35th Pastor of the church, through 1894.

1885 – The 150th anniversary of the official organization of the Congregational Church in Orient is celebrated on October 20 and 21.

1894 – Rev. Elijah S. Fairchild becomes the 36th Pastor of the church. His pastorate ends the same year.

1895 – Rev. Jay Taft becomes the 37th Pastor of the church, through 1899.

1896 – The Women’s Home and Foreign Missionary Society is founded as part of the Congregational Church.

1898 – The church is draped in twenty-five great flags to celebrate the U. S. victory in the Spanish-American War.

1899 – A new pipe organ is placed in an extension at the rear of the building. Many familiar Oysterponds names are listed as donors to the new organ.

1901 – 1950


1900 – Rev. William O. Berckmann becomes the 38th Pastor of the church, through 1904.

1904 – In December, one of the Sunday services is conducted over the telephone party lines because the roads were impassable.

1904 – Rev. John O. Gray becomes the 39th Pastor of the church, through 1908.

1905 – A newspaper article reports on a renovation that was underway: “When the work is completed, the old church will be almost a new church, new seats and entirely new furnishings.”

1906 – The renovated church is finished and the church is re-dedicated for the second time. New memorial windows are unveiled. Two of the stained glass windows were made by the Payne Studios of Paterson, New Jersey. The makers of the other windows are unknown, but may also have been the Payne Studios, a well-known manufacturer of church windows. The choir space is enlarged. New pews (those still in use today), a new pulpit, and a new gas plant are all installed. An Acousticon is installed (a sort of hearing-aid system). New oak wainscoting is fitted.

1907 – The Parsonage is destroyed by fire on June 2. An Angel of the Resurrection stained glass window is erected in memory of William Youngs and his wife, Polly Maria Petty, by their children.

1909 – Rev. William H. Longsworth becomes the 40th Pastor of the church, through 1915.

1910 – A new Parsonage is built for $4,200. The builder is Brewster Smith. The architectural plan chosen (Kriths # 892) had been published by an architectural firm in Minneapolis. The structure is the current Parsonage.

1915 – Rev. Edward P. Hance becomes the 41st Pastor of the church, through 1919.

1919 – Rev. Dr. Robert J. Kent becomes the 42nd Pastor of the church, through 1926.

1924 – The Ascension stained glass window is erected in memory of Ernest Preston Beebee and his wife, Maud Latham.

1926 – Rev. Robert R. Hartley becomes the 43rd Pastor of the church, through 1929.

1930 – Rev. Herbert B. Morrell becomes the 44th Pastor of the church, through 1934.

1932 – The Play Shop is organized at the Congregational Church by Mrs. Herbert Morrell, wife of the minister. This group organizes theatrical events in Orient for years to come.

1935 – This year marks the 200th anniversary of the organization of the Congregational Church in Orient. A brochure with the history of the church is published.

1935 – Rev. Dr. William E. Park becomes the 45th Pastor of the church, through 1938.

1937 – A Hammond organ is purchased to replace the pipe organ that had been installed in the year 1899. Fund raising by the Play Shop pays for the new organ.

1938 – The church loses its steeple in the great hurricane of 1938.

1938 – Rev. Dr. John F. McClelland, Jr. becomes the 46th Pastor of the church through 1944.

1939 – A new steeple is built, and dedicated on July 23. The builder is Harold Reeve, and the cost is $2,007.65. A sealed, copper-lined box containing a history of the church, records of various church organizations, and a poem is secured within the peak of the forty-two foot high steeple.

1943 – The 100th anniversary of the church edifice (the third church building on the same site) is celebrated on August 15. The Ladies’ Benevolent Sewing Society of the Congregational Church celebrates its 100th anniversary.

1944 – Rev. Dr. Lawrence Durgin becomes the 47th Pastor of the church, through 1947.

1947 – Rev. John A. Harrer becomes the 48th Pastor of the church, through 1951.

1949 – Another major renovation takes place. The old organ pipes are removed. The north wall is pushed back about nine feet into the area formerly housing the works of the pipe organ, creating an apse-like space. The re-decorating of the interior begins in January. The total spent for the project was $6,600.98. The first service in the newly-redecorated church takes place on April 10.


1951 – 2000

1951 – Rev. Edwin Richard Engstrom, Jr., becomes the 49th Pastor of the church, through 1955.

1955 – Rev. John Sargent becomes the 50th Pastor of the church, through 1959.

1958 – A special meeting is held on December 28, regarding a “resolution to change the name of the Society to the Orient Congregational Church and to authorize the trustees to do and perform every act and thing necessary in order to complete such a change of name.”

1960 – Rev. Frederick S. Lowry becomes the 51st Pastor of the church, through 1965.

1960 – On November 3, members of the church vote to join the United Church of Christ, which was formed in 1957 when the General Council of Congregational Churches in the U.S. merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

1961 – The name is officially changed from the “Orient Congregational Society” to “The Orient Congregational Church, United Church of Christ” on August 25.

1965 – Rev. Edward F. Dibble becomes the 52nd Pastor of the church, through 1969.

1967 – The 250th anniversary of the construction of the first Meeting House in Oysterponds is celebrated.

1969 – Church member Ed Latham donates a piece of property, 300 feet long by 50 feet deep, which adds much needed space to the north edge of the church property.

1970 – Rev. Bert Logan Duncan becomes the 53rd Pastor of the church, through 1971.

1971 – Rev. Harry Gaylord Dorman becomes the 54th Pastor of the church, through 1979.

1976 – Eighty six Memorial Bibles are purchased for use in the pews.

1976 – The church prepares a Resolution on Spiritual Priorities, which is presented to the Suffolk Association, and later to the NY Conference Annual Meeting. Its adoption by that body is a satisfaction for this church.

1979 – Rev. Milton Heitzman becomes the 55th Pastor of the church, through 1988.

1988 – Rev. Donald Hamblin becomes the 56th Pastor of the church, through 1991.

1989 – The “Playschool” (which was later renamed “preschool”) is founded.

1990 – Under the leadership of Moderator Janet Van Tuyl, the church’s governance is changed from a bicameral to a unicameral board system.

1991 – Rev. Gary Haase becomes the 57th Pastor of the church, through 1994.

1995 – Rev. James H. Cavanaugh becomes the 58th Pastor of the church, through 1999.

1996 – Plans begin for the construction of a building to house the pastor’s study, the secretary’s office, and a meeting room. The building is named in memory of Janet Van Tuyl, our 33-year-old Moderator, who died tragically in an automobile accident in 1994.

1999 – The congregation votes to replace the old Pilgrim Hymnal with The Chalice Hymnal. On April 18, the congregation adopts nine goals to be worked on in the coming years. These goals include: the adoption of a mission statement; the calling of a minister who would serve for at least 5 years; to offer more children’s programs; to support a strong and imaginative music program; to work on outreach; to become an Open and Affirming church; to become more informed about our covenant relationship with the UCC, to work on communication and transparency; and to recognize that stewardship is a Christian responsibility.

1999 – Rev. Louise Armstrong is Interim Pastor of the church, through May, 2001.

2001 – present

To the future

2001 – Rev. Dr. Ann Van Cleef (Pastor Ann Sutton, at the time) becomes the 59th Pastor of the church. Her pastorate continues through the present time.

2001 – On September 11, the World Trade Center towers were attacked. The church holds a special prayer service that evening.

2002 – The church enters into an agreement with the Sprint Corporation to install a cell tower in the steeple of the church building.

2003 – The interior of the church is wallpapered and painted. The Women’s Fellowship Group provides the funds for new carpeting throughout the sanctuary.

2004 – Re-decoration of the church basement (Fellowship Hall) begins. Storage cabinets are added, rest rooms are upgraded, and a handicapped accessible rest room is installed.

2005 – On April 10, after several years of discernment, the members of Orient Congregational Church vote to declare theirs an “Open and Affirming” church: “We are an open church, affirming the dignity and worth of every person.”

2009 – The Men’s Fellowship Group constructs a prayer garden on the north end of the church property. The congregation now uses this area as a worship space in the summer months.

2010 – In January, the church begins a partnership with St. Agnes Church to become an overflow site for their “John’s Place Homeless Shelter” project.

2011 – A Peace Garden is installed on the church grounds to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the events of 9/11. It is given by Ann and Bob Van Cleef on the 10th anniversary of Ann’s Pastorate.

2012 – A “thirty-year roof” is installed on Van Tuyl Hall and on the garage building.

2015 – The church raises $75,000 to repair and restore our stained glass windows. State-of-the-art protective glass, able to withstand projectiles blowing at 135 mph, is installed over each window.

2017 – The church celebrates its 300th anniversary.

The bulk of this timeline was researched and constructed by William McNaught, Curator at the Oysterponds Historical Society. Additional information was provided by Carol Gillooly, Diane F. Perry, and Ann Van Cleef.