Parish History:Laird Wingate Snell

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HERBERT LAIRD WINGATE SNELL, the son of the Rev. William W. and Elizabeth J. (Faye) Snell, was born 30 October 1870 in Rushford, Minnesota. Throughout his adult life, he was know simply as Laird Wingate Snell. His grandfather was the indefatigable Rev. Dr. Thomas Snell, who served as pastor of the First Congregational Church in North Brookfield, Massachusetts for 64 years, from 1798 until his death in 1862. His father was also a Congregational minister, who spent over 40 years as a preacher in the predominantly Lutheran community of Rushford, Minnesota. He prepared for college first at Mount Hermon School for Boys in Northfield, Massachusetts, then newly-founded by American evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, and later at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1895 with an A.B. degree magna cum laude with honorable mention in Philosophy and from Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts in 1900 with a S.T.B. (Bachelor of Scientific Theology) degree. He was married to Laura May Skinner, daughter of Charles P. and Sadie (Jernegan) Skinner of Westfield, New York, on December 24, 1900. They had two children.

After graduation in 1900, the Rev. Laird Wingate Snell was ordained and installed as minister of Tucker Memorial Congregational Church in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, organized in 1853 by a large minority of strongly abolitionist members who had split from the First Congregational Church. In February 1905, after considering reuniting with the First Congregational Church, the members of Tucker Memorial Congregational Church voted instead to join the Episcopal Church and to change the name to Christ Memorial Church. The "Springfield Republican" in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts reported at the time, "This is believed to be the first time in this country that so large a church has changed its faith without division among its members."

From 1904-1907, he was employed in social settlement work in New York City. In the present century, we have now nearly forgotten about settlement houses, the residential community centers located in inner city slums operated by social workers and volunteers. The purpose of the settlement houses was to raise the standard of living of the poorest city dwellers--generally immigrants--by providing schools, day care centers, and cultural enrichment programs. While involved in social settlement work, Snell likely met the Rt. Rev. Charles David Williams, newly-elected Bishop of the Diocese of Michigan and a social gospel advocate. The "social gospel" movement provided a religious rationale for action to deal with the poverty level and the low quality of living in the slums. Activists sought changes in public health, as well as enforced schooling, so that the poor could develop talents and skills, thereby improving the quality of their moral lives.

In any case, he moved to Michigan in 1907 and although not a member of the Episcopal clergy, was appointed by Bishop Williams as Priest-in-Charge of St. James Mission in Birmingham, Michigan. During his time there, the first church building was completed and consecrated. He was later appointed as Priest-in-Charge of St. Philip's Mission in Rochester, Michigan. The Rev. Laird Wingate Snell was ordained a deacon in October 1908 and a priest in April 1909 by Bishop Williams.

Perhaps because of an illness in his wife's family, in 1909 he took the position of rector at St. Luke's Church in Jamestown, New York, very close to her home town of Westfield, New York. Here, he came to understand the healing power of prayer. In April 1915, he published an article in which he wrote, "It is not without significance that the Episcopal church has been led to recognize the place within the church of physical healing by spiritual means, both by the Emmanuel movement and the restoration of the ancient office of healing by means of prayer and 'anointing with oil in the name of the Lord." There is a growing consciousness that the practice of the presence of God is [also] neglected as a cure for worry and other ills...."

In 1918, Laird Wingate Snell was called as rector by St. Peter's Church in Helena, Montana. It was a small stone church built in 1867, when Helena was still a gold mining settlement named "Crabtown", but was nonetheless described as "the oldest and richest in the state and...the unofficial procathedral of the diocese of Montana." He became known as a very positive force in the community and as a couple, he and his wife were very popular. Over time, he developed a series of lectures intended to attract newcomers to the parish. In one series, entitled "New Thought", he expanded on his ideas that physical healing could take place by spiritual means. In November 1926, after eight successful years, with both of his children attending Eastern schools, he announced his resignation to return to Massachusetts to become rector of St. Andrew's Church in Ayer and an instructor in Sacred Studes at Groton School in Groton.

During his time at St. Andrew's Church and at its mission in Forge Village (now St. Mark's Church in Westford, Massachusetts), Rev. Snell was an interested and faithful rector. He organized the Young People's Fellowship that was very active for many years putting on successful pageants and entertaining soldiers from nearby Fort Devens. Laura May Snell was thoroughly a clergyman's wife. She reorganized the St. Andrew's Guild, whose members worked to help the parish financially and to provide many beautiful furnishings for the church. As a branch of the Church Service League in Boston, the work of the St. Andrew's Guild was sent to many Episcopal missions throughout the world. Mrs. Snell was later named first vice president of the women's division of the Church Service League. Sadly, ill health forced her to give up the church work she loved so much. In March 1930, while vacationing in Florida in hopes of improving her health, she suffered a stroke and died. She was greatly missed.

Rev. Snell served St. Andrew's Church for four additional years after his wife's death, until the summer of 1934, when he was appointed as Priest-in-Charge of Trinity Seaview Mission (now Trinity Church) in Marshfield, Massachusetts. He retired from the ministry in the fall of 1939, spending summers at his home in Hingham, Massachusetts and winters in Fairhope, Alabama. Fairhope had been settled in 1894 by proponents of the single tax, a theory promoted by 19th economist and social philosopher, Henry George. The single tax attempted to replace unjust and economically destructive taxes on economic activity by taxing land at its highest potential value. For a number of years, he was in charge of services at St. James Episcopal Church in Fairhope. He was married second to Alice G. (Herring) Christopher, daughter of George W. and Martha G. Herring, a native of Connecticut, on 14 July 1940 in Hingham, Massachusetts. They had no children.

He was the author of several pamphlets and articles, including "Causality and the Christian Faith", 1909; "Mysticism and the Parish Priest", 1929; "The Method of Christian Science", The Hibbert Journal, XIII, 3 (April 1915), 620-629; "The Growth of National Self-Sufficiency--What Next?", The Hibbert Journal, XXXIII, 2 (January 1935); and "My Mystical Experience", The Hibbert Journal, XLIII, 2 (January 1945).

The Rev. Laird Wingate Snell died 24 March 1962 in Olney, Maryland at the age of 91. Funeral Services were held from St. James Episcopal Church in Fairhope, Alabama. He was buried in Fairhope Cemetery.
Sources:
1. Bennett, Mrs. Frank Silas History of St. Andrew's Church: Ayer, Groton, Forge Village 1892-1942 (Ayer, Massachusetts: St. Andrew's Church, 1944), 19.
2. The Clerical Directory of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. 1962 (New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation, 1962), 345.
3. Fiske, Jeffrey H., History of the North Brookfield Congregational Church. Serving Christ for 250 Years (North Brookfield, Massachusetts: North Brookfield Congregational Church, 2005), 62-63, 96-99.
4. Miller, Mrs. Everard P. From Little Flock to Great Parish: A History of St. Luke's Episcopal Church (Jamestown, New York: St. Lukes Church, 1959), 19-21.
5. "Rev. Snell Resigns His Helena Pulpit," The Helena Independent, Helena, Montana, 1 November 1926, 12.
6. "Seattle Man Offered Church," The Helena Independent, Helena, Montana, 14 February 1927, 6.
7. Snell, Laird Wingate, "The Method of Christian Science," The Hibbert Journal. A Quarterly Review of Religion, Theology, and Philosophy. , Vol. 12, No. 3 (April 1915).

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