The Church of Marsh, Billings and Rockefeller
The testimony of Julia Billings still speaks at the River Street Cemetery in Woodstock.
Just as the legacy of Marsh, Billings and Rockefeller, commemorated at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park and Billings Farm & Museum, is tied to one house and one property, so are they also joined through one church and one faith.
As early as 1773, Woodstock had a “gathered church”–a group of believers associated for worship and fellowship, but without any formal organization. Services were held in a barn, private homes, the Court House and a log meeting house. In 1781 the First Church of the North Parish was organized with 19 members and in 1800 the members voted to accept the Congregational plan as “most agreeable to the Word of God.”
Charles Marsh, Woodstock’s first attorney, a leading citizen and father of George Perkins Marsh, visited every householder in the village in 1805 telling each one that he would not live in a town where there was no place of public worship. He donated the land on which to build “a meeting house for the worship of Almighty God.” The church’s first Articles of Association, drawn up by Marsh, began with the preamble that was his creed: “Whereas, it is the duty of all men, as much as in them lies, to promote the preaching of the Gospel of Christ in every community in which they are members.”
The frame of the church was raised on Independence Day in 1806, and finished enough so that the Vermont legislature met in worship here on election day in 1807. In 1808, the building was completed and dedicated. The framework of this original building, which was very soundly built, remains today.
Frederick Billings, builder of the Northern Pacific Railroad, returned to his home town of Woodstock and purchased the Charles Marsh homestead, the childhood home of George Perkins Marsh. A highly principled man of deep Christian convictions, Billings erected the existing Billings Chapel in 1880 as a memorial to his parents. At the service of dedication he charged the church not to let its light go out but to “keep close to the old meeting houses, where… God was worshiped by devout hearts, and a religion was preached that had in it the Ten Commandments, as well as the Sermon on the Mount.”
Julia Billings was a strong supporter of Dwight L. Moody, one of America’s best known evangelists of that day with a wide appeal like Billy Graham, and she and Frederick invited Moody to preach revival services at this church in the fall of 1886 and again in 1887. Frederick Billings also financed the renovations of the church completed in 1890, but was too ill to attend the services of dedication.
Laurance Rockefeller was married to Mary Billings French at this church in 1934, beginning a long and affectionate commitment to the town and the church in the tradition of Mary Rockefeller’s grandparents, Frederick and Julia Billings.
At a memorial tribute to Mary Rockefeller at the completion of the restoration of the Billings chapel in 1997, Laurance Rockefeller remarked,”As we as a family reflect on Mary’s life, we rejoice in her unswerving and undaunted love of the Lord throughout her life… Mary was very aware of the power of prayer, so that at the Town Meeting held on August 12, 1991, to consider the National Park proposal, Mary welcomed everyone and opened the meeting with a prayer of gratitude for the privilege of living in this beautiful part of the world.” Her simple prayer, spoken from the heart, was, “Thank you, Lord, for the land and our heritage. We pray for guidance on how best to preserve it for future generations, knowing that trust in Thee and Thy love will be our strength.”
Although the legacy of Marsh, Billings and Rockefeller has greatly blessed our fellowship, the true work of this church is told in the lives and testimonies of the more than 2,000 saints who have been members since its founding in 1781.
Learn more about Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller, and how the history of conservation stewardship in America is rooted in a Christian and Biblical worldview.
Link to: Bristow, P., The Root of Our Ecological Crisis, Journal of Creation [formerly TJ, the Technical Journal of Creation], vol. 15(1), 2001, maintained on the Answers in Genesis website (www.answersingenesis.org).