This brief history of our church was originally compiled for our 350th anniversary year — 1994. The information comes from many sources and represents much research done in the past by Mary Louise Tredinnick, who wrote a similiar booklet 45 years ago. Material has been added to update this chronicle to the present time.
We hope that this compilation will prove informative to our members, both old and new, as well as to those who are visiting and have an interest in the “when and now” of First Parish Congregational Church during its first 360 years of service to its people and their God.
England, in the 1620’s during the reign of Charles I, was feeling the unease that was a prelude to the revolution, eventually resulting in Cromwell victory. For the stewart yeoman of many a British town, the unrest in the government and the pressure of religious persecution became intolerable. To this discontent the rosy claim of such astute gamblers in the American Dream as the London Company and the Plimouth Company sounded a siren call.
Independent young family men of standing and some substance in their communities answered this summons, and sought peace, freedom of worship and the gold at the end of the rainbow in the new world.
John Endicott, a staunch Puritan, sailing on the “Abigail” with a party of about fifty, established the Salem settlements of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628. Lynn was settled the next year.
In 1639, some of the Lynn settlers expressed dissatisfaction with the coastal lands allotted them and requested permission to settle further inland. A grant of land was recorded in 1639 to these Lynn families, “extending six miles to the west to Reddings two ponds.” The court, in granting land to the Lynn petitioners, did it “on condition that they shall within two years make some good proceedings in planting so it may be a village fit to contain a convenient number of inhabitants which in due time may have a church there.” This expression of intent to have a church (1639) is the first recorded thought of a church or meetinghouse in this locality. After the data of this grant, a number of families from Saugus and from England joined the original petitioners and settled nearby.
On November 5th, 1644, forty-one (41) men and women organized a church and the same year erected a meetinghouse. The names of the persons who organized it are not among existing records, but four years later forty members were recorded as brothers and sisters of the “Church of Redding”, now First Parish.
In 1686 a payment was rendered and a deed recorded to several Indian owners of the tract comprising the Lynn and Redding settlements in the amount of 10 pounds and 16 shillings. One of the signers was James Quonophit, a member of John Elliots praying band and for whom Lake Quannapowitt is named. Samuel K. Hamilton, in a commemorative address in 1919, commented “It is pleasant to know that this Parish holds the land on which this building stands by right of purchase from its lawful owners.”
The following is the earliest known list of First Parish members compiled in 1648, four years after the church was established. There well could be others who came earlier and left before 1648. The date after the name indicates the time of arrival in “Redding” as listed in Eatons History of Reading and Wakefield.
- Francis Smith, 1647
- Mrs. Frances Smith Green, 1645, widow of first minister
- Deacon William Cowdrey and wife Joanna, 1642
- John Pearson and wife Maudlin (one of earliest settlers)
- Brother Dunton, 1647, probably Robert was selectman
- George Davis, prior to 1648
- Deacon Thomas Kendall and Rebecca, an original settler
- Deacon Thomas Parker and Amy, prior to 1644
- William Hooper, very early settler
- Mary Swain, wife of Jeremiah, very early settlers
- Joan Marshall, wife of Thomas Marshall, arrived before 1648
- Sister Martin, no records
- Thomas Hartshorne and wife Susanna, prior to 1648
- Edward Taylor and wife, no record of arrival
- Lieutenant Thomas Marshall, before 1648
- Elizabeth Wiley, wife of John, one of the earliest settlers
- Elizabeth Hart, wife of Isaac, 1647
- Lidia Larkin, no records
- Eliza Hooper, no records
- Deacon Zachery Fitch and wife Mary, 1644
- William Eaton and wife Martha, probably prior to 1648
- John Batchelder and Rebecca, prior to 1651
- William Martin, one of earliest settlers
- Lieutenant Thomas Bancroft, prior to 1648
- Jonas Eaton and Grace, prior to 1644
- Judith Pool, no records
- Abigail Damon, wife of Deacon John Damon, arrived early
- Lieutenant John Smith and wife Catherine, prior to 1648
This church was the 23rd church established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thirteen of these churches are still active congregations.
The First Meetinghouse
The church in Redding was “gathered” in 1644, and this log meetinghouse was built the same year. It was located at the northerly corner of Main and Albion Streets.
The first meetinghouse, erected near the northerly corner of Main and Albion Streets, was constructed of logs and was probably the joint work of the pioneer settlers, as there is no record of costs. This building was used until 1689, with the help of a gallery added in 1657.
At the present time there are eleven known members of First Parish who are descended from the earliest settlers. It should be understood that while the church was organized in 1644, there is no true list of members until that recorded in 1648.
The Second Meetinghouse
From 1658 to 1679, there was agitation over the need of a new meetinghouse. In 1688 a subscription from 108 subscribers, 72 from Redding, 26 from Linn End (Lynnfield), and 10 from Charlestown (now Stoneham), amounted to 207 pounds, 1 shilling. The probable cost of this second Meetinghouse was between $400 and $600.
The town voted that this meetinghouse should be “set up” at Hart’s Corner or thereabouts. This is what is now the corner of Common and Church Streets, but the building was actually erected near the location of the burying ground. It was a square house with a hip roof and a small tower. A painting of it by Franklin Poole (from another painting) still exists. This second meetinghouse served the Parish for eighty years. The first meetinghouse was sold in 1629 for 25 shillings and was used as a “watch house” (police station).
From the settlement of the town to about 1713 the public provision for the erection of maintenance of a meetinghouse and the support of preaching the Gospel was paid for by all the voters of the town. Recognizing the injustice of requiring those who had no interest in religious instruction to share the expense, the people of the church adopted the English practice of having all Ecclesiastical affairs managed seperately from civil affairs by a body called “The Parish”, a vogue in England for more than a thousand years.
Our Parish was not incorporated until the 1769-1770 session of the General Court, but many years before then the Parish had taken over from the town the responsibility of maintaining the Meetinghouse and supporting the minister.
The Third Meetinghouse
In June 1768, the Parish (not the town), voted to build a new meetinghouse with a steeple and a porch. This building was erected that same year, facing west. Some of the local stone used for the foundation of this third meetinghouse has been retained in all later structures. The handsome steeple end was adorned with a gilded weathercock. The great gale of 1815 blew down the steeple, which was later replaced with a dome, less beautiful, but considered safer. The building was the property of the Parish, and the pews were sold at an appraisal of “100 pounds, old tenner”, except for number 1, which was set aside for the minister’s family. The numbers on the pew doors showed the financial standing of the pew holder. Pews sold from 100 pounds to a bit more than 5 pounds, and the title to them would descend, on the death of the owner, as title, as any real property would do. A row of horse sheds was attached to this Meetinghouse, reflecting the presence of church members living at a distance.
In 1815 a new bell, cast by Paul Revere, was purchased and was rung at 9 P.M. every day until 1859 when it was removed from to the Town House. The Town House stood near the present bandstand on the park. Later, the bell was removed to the High School (today the William J. Lee Memorial Town Hall) and may now be viewed at the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library.
By the mid-1850’s, there had been a growing feeling against private pew ownership, and the Parish in 1858 assumed ownership of pews, a policy which exists today.
In 1859 the third Meetinghouse raised up, turned around, enlarged, and supplied with a new spire, tower and clock bell.
The Fourth Meetinghouse
In 1890, the third Meetinghouse was demolished to give place to the first stone building, the Fourth Meetinghouse. The enterprise of building a Fourth Meetinghouse had it’s birth in 1886, but a contract for the building was not signed until May 6, 1890. The old building had to be sold or demolished, but the only offer to buy was from who wished to use it as a skating rink. This was deemed sacreligous, and the offer for the building was refused. George M. Maddock, a prominent church member, matched the offer, and the building was demolished. Part of the timber was used for construction of a house for the sexton, on Curve Street, and the stair railing to the auditorium of the Third Meetinghouse is said to be still in that house.
Farewell services in the old Meetinghouse were held May 24, 1890, and the corner stone of the new building was laid on October 11. The first stone church, the fourth Meetinghouse, was dedicated on March 10, 1892. The newest edifice stood upon the same site as the present one, was the same shape and covered the same area (prior to the Tercentary building program). It was the same architectural style, Byantine-Romanesque. The interior presented the same general appearance as the present one before the Tercentary additions. For the first time, rich memorial windows adorned the sanctuary, and are described in detail in S.K. Hamilton’s commemorative booklet. This Meetinghouse was erected by means of three year pledges. The cost of this building, exclusive of gifts and memorial windows, was $106,392.71.
During the occupancy of the Fourth Meetinghouse, money for the support of religous services was raised by voluntary subscriptions, and the Parish assessors assigned pews to their subscribers.
The Fifth Meetinghouse
On February 21, 1909, this beautiful stone Meetinghouse, the Fourth Meetinghouse, was destroyed by fire. At a Parish meeting held in the Methodist church on March l, 1909, church members voted to rebuild. The same firm of architects which had designed the Fourth Meetinghouse was engaged. The Fifth Meetinghouse, a near replica of the Fourth, was dedicated February 1, 1912 during the pastorate of Rev. Austin Rice.
This church, founded in 1644 by 41 members, in 1912 could now claim 493. A pageant covering more than three centuries of unremitting devoted Christian service, pursued with vigorous faith, is recorded from a log hut to today’s (2003) massive structure serving 1,011 active and inactive members.
During this three-century span, the church has had five parsonages. The first was erected at the corner of Main and Albion Streets, and ten acres of land were allotted to parsonage use. The second stood at the corner of Common and Lafayette Streets and the third was on Church Street. The fourth, a gift of Mrs. Alice Walton de Anguera, still stands at the corner of Common and Church Streets, no longer the property of the church. The present parsonage is at 27 Curve Street.
In November 1948, the late Eva Gowing Ripley wrote a historically valuable monograph on the discovery, in the Emerson Manse at Concord, of ancient letters including one by Parson William Hobby, Pastor of this church from 1733 until his death in 1765. In the letter to his congregation he says, “There is a kind of Omnipotence in Prayer.” Through prayer and works, the impossible had been accomplished. The Fourth Meetinghouse, destroyed, had been replaced. Yet in the Tercentenary year of 1944, membership of the church had doubled since the building of the Fifth Meetinghouse. Expansion became urgent.
The first move toward the Tercentenary Building Program came from the 9:29ers (men’s group) in 1941 with a vague suggestion of the need of a “Parish House.” This suggestion gained impetus, and on November 28, 1943, the 9:29ers voted to name a Tercentenary Building Committee. This committee immediately called for a financial canvass early in the Tercentenary year of 1944. This campaign, which raised 530,000, was followed by a more ambitious one in 1951. An impressive gift providing funds with which to build a chapel, was received at the outset of the second campaign, from Mrs. Anna J. Covell. The gift was in memory of her husband, Rev. Arthur J. Covell, D.D., who was for many years a Congregational minister and later a member of the Board of Pastoral Supply of the Massachusetts Congregational Conference.
Church organizations and church members made special gifts to the campaign. Individual pledges amounted to $100,396. Construction started in May of 1952, and dedication services for the greatly enlarged facilities were held on January 25, 1953. The total cost of the entire project was $211,179.89.
The Tercentenary Building Program provided the following changes:
Remodeling of church school rooms into the new Covell Chapel; new lighting in the sanctuary and vestry; renovation of the organ; new broad staircase to replace the old winding staircase in the southwest corner; and modernization of the kitchen.
In the new addition:
Basement – a music room and fellowship room
First Floor – church parlor, kitchenette, library, and two offices for church staff
Second Floor – additional classrooms for church school.
This brief chronicle of events in the history of First Parish has included much concerning the growth and nature of the physical plant and of the building of the membership. That growth has been healthy and constant. From the roots of the little 1644 fellowship have sprung five daughter churches: 1720-Lynn End (Lynnfield), 1720-North Reading, 1729-Charlestown (Stoneham),1733-Wilmington, and 1770-Reading.
Faithful in war and peace, First Parish sent men to King Phillip’s war. In 1775, First Parish equipped a company of militia of 85 members and Parson Caleb Prentiss, with his gun, was with them at the battle of Lexington and Concord. Similarly, the patriotic men of this church have been in the forefront in every succeeding war.
Through its 360 years of Christian devotion, the church has retained its independence of action and belief. From the early days when severe Puritanism hanged Quakers, this fellowship has worked toward a breadth of view and an ecumenical concept of worship.
Formation of the United Church of Christ
Because of the similarity of beliefs and practices, a union of the Congregational and Christian Churches seemed natural, and the two denominations came together in 1931 as the Congregational Christian Churches. Informal conversations about the desirability of uniting the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church began March 18, 1941, in Columbus, Ohio. After many conferences between representatives of the two groups, a Basis of Union was adopted in 1948. The union took place in 1957 in Cleveland, and the constitution was adopted in 1961 in Philadelphia. The Wakefield church voted to join the United Church of Christ at a special meeting held on December 18,1960.
Tradition was challenged at the Annual Meeting of the First Parish in April 1940. At that meeting, after several years consideration, women were privileged to attend and participate with full rights.
It was not until 1964 that First Parish became known as The First Parish Congregational Church of Wakefield. The parish, which had held title to the church property since the 18th century, was responsible for the raising and expenditure of funds for the upkeep and maintenance of the church buildings, insurance, salaries, music and current expense items. The Church was a separate organization and responsible primarily for religious activities. Upon completion of three centuries, in 1944, a movement was started to consolidate the two bodies into one. At the Annual Meeting of the “Church” in 1964, the membership recommended that the merger be effected, provided similar action be taken at the Annual Meeting of the “Parish.” Each being in agreement, the way was cleared to merge into a state-chartered corporation known as: The First Parish Congregational Church of Wakefield, a member of the United Church of Christ. The church received its charter from the Secretary of State in June 1964. Completion of the merger was formally recognized at a well-attended commemorative service held at the church on the 320th anniversary of the founding of the church, November 5, 1964.
Soon after the occupancy of the Fifth Meetinghouse, a strong-minded men’s club developed. This men’s club gave way in the early 1930’s to a younger group called the 9:29ers, meeting on Sunday mornings at 9:29 o’clock for “God, Fellowship and Loyalty.” In 1956, several of the group, under the direction of Charlie Nute, formed a banjo club which achieved notable success as it expanded into the entertainment field over a wide area.
Women’s activities, too, expanded and in early 1935 their efforts culminated in the formation of a federation. In 1949 the Women’s Guild was formed, with its many circles and joint activities.
In 1939, a Couples Club was organized to attract a segment of the church not reached by any of the established groups. In recent years the name has been changed to the Adult Fellowship to attract unmarried and widowed persons.
During the 1950’s, several youth groups functioned, thus expanding the work of the former Christian Endeavor, which had long been the only young people’s organization. Later the Pilgrim Fellowship was formed, followed by the present Junior and Senior High Fellowships, known as the Youth Group.
The Men’s Breakfast Table, a relatively new program, convenes the second Saturday of every month (except July and August). The men of the Diaconate prepare a full breakfast followed by an inspirational message from a guest speaker.
No church can fully justify its existence without reaching out with the hands of Christ to help our less fortunate fellow man. First Parish has an active Outreach program which helps to meet the needs of people in our community as well as throughout the world. Some of our involvement includes: Rosie’s Place in Boston; Heifer Project; Cambodian Fellowship in Lynn; 735 House; City Missionary Society; Salvation Army; Habitat for Humanity; World Wide Missions; and others.
In 1986, the boards of deacons and deaconesses took under consideration unifying into a single board. After much consideration by both boards, the proposal was presented to the congregation at the 1988 Annual Meeting where it was approved. The present Diaconate now consists of nine men and nine women.
Pastorate over 370 Years
Rev. Henry Green 1645-1648
Rev. Samuel Haugh 1650-1662
Rev. John Brock 1662-1688
Rev. Jonathan Pierpont 1689-1709
Rev. Richard Brown 1712-1732
Rev. Reuben Emerson 1804-1860
Rev. Alfred Emerson 1845-1853
Rev. Joseph D. Hull 1853-1856
Rev. Joseph B. Johnson 1857-1860
Rev. Charles R. Bliss 1862-1877
Rev. David N. Beach 1879-1884
Rev. Robert W. Wallace 1888-1893
Rev. Albert P. Davis 1894-1905
Rev. Austin Rice 1907-1944
Rev. R. Norris Wilson 1945-1948
Rev. Kenneth Clinton 1949-1955
Rev. Forrest Musser 1956-1964
Rev. John Prescott Robertson 1965-1982
Rev. Richard A. Weisenbach 1983-2013
Rev. Ronald Cousineau – Pastor of Transition
Rev. Alfred Emerson 1845-1853
Rev. Richard A. Wolf 1940-1944
Rev. Frederick C. Wilson 1946-1949
Rev. Edmund W. Nutting 1953-1957
Rev. Roy A. Johnson 1957-1960
Rev. Ernest H. Hayhow 1960-1964
Rev. Lowell D. Ferris 1966-1969
Rev. Osborne Crowe 1970-1976
Rev. James Marks 1977-1981
Rev. Douglas Teuting 1985-1986
Rev. Kevin Leach 1987-1991
Rev. Gail Miller 1993-1995
Miss Sandra Bisson 1998-2002
Rev. Daniel R. Ledwith 2002-2008
Assistants to the Minister
Robert Woodyard 1981-1984
Dennis Carter 1983-1985
Mr. C. Albert Jones 1927
Mrs. Marion C. Hamlin 1927-1929
Mr. Nelson Ash 1929
Mr. Donald M. Murray 1932-1944
Miss Myrtle Richardson 1944-1947
Miss Ellen Bakelaar 1947-1949
Miss Amy Park (Mrs. Richard Jones) 1949-1951
Mr. Stephen Ortlip 1951-1955
Mr. Albion Metcalf 1955-1975
Mr. Paul Thistle 1975-1977
Mrs. Alice LaFleur 1977-1985
Miss Martha Sobaje 1985-1988
Dr. Frederick Broer 1988-2000
Mr. Mark Peterson 2000-2002
Mr. Donald Hodgkins 2002-present
First Compiled by Mary Louise Tredinnick in 1963; revised in 1969; revised in 1993 (published through a gift in honor of the 90th birthday of William E. Jones, former Church Historian and member of the Historical Records Committee); current edition updated to April 2009.