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Snippets from UU Church Histories
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First Congregational Society, Unitarian
Chelmsford Massachusetts

Organized 1644

Church Web Site
Chelmsford MA UU church

It was during the pastorate of the Rev. Samson Stoddard (1706-1740), our third minister, that a new Meeting House was erected in 1712 (one source says 1710). Like the first one, it was on the approximate site of our present church building. Mr. Stoddard drowned himself in a well after three or four years of partial derangement. The town of Stoddard, N. H. was named in honor of Col. Samson Stoddard, Jr., son of the minister

The tower of the third Meeting House was over 60 feet high and "joined to the Steeple by a belfry yet (Aug. 1793) destitute of a Bell, but they have not a pleasing effect together. The pews are square and inconvenient." The men sat on one side of the sanctuary, the women on the other side. There was a men's gallery, a women's gallery and also men's stairs and women's stairs.

In 1819 a request was made for a stove for the Meeting House, but the article was dismissed. The following year a group of citizens was granted the privilege of installing a stove "under the direction of the selectmen as to the place where it should stand, on the condition that it be no expense to the Town." Prior to this, foot stoves and live dogs had been used to provide heat.

"On the night of February 13th (1842), about midnight, the Centre Meeting-house belonging to the First Congregational Society and Church, was discovered to be on fire, and in a few hours was entirely consumed." "The house with all its contents, Sunday School library, folio Bible, psalm books and bass viol were destroyed." The heat was so intense it melted the bell. Set on the southwest "porch, "it was believed to be "the work of an incendiary" possibly enraged over the dismissal of the minister, Mr. Russell.

Until 1823, our church had its tithingmen, equipped with a two foot long black staff with a brass knob on one end and a foxtail or rabbit's foot on the other. The knob was used to awaken men by tapping them on the head and to correct wicked boys. Women were awakened brushing the foxtail or rabbit's foot against their faces. Normally there were two tithing men but in 1815, 21 were chosen - apparently there was a strong need for discipline.

In the old days, seating in the Meeting House was assigned by a Town committee. Persons were given preference "according to their estate, office, or social standing." Some pew owners were allowed to cut a door for a private entrance to their pews.

During the 1860s the Collector's "job" was bid on by members of the parish, the lowest bidder getting the position for the year. The winning bids ranged from 1 to 3 cents on the dollar collected. The Collector was then expected to obtain the promised money from each subscriber

In 1890 it was reported that, "the present parish embraces a varied constituency, that may be roughly classified as Unitarian, Universalist, Materialistic, Spiritualist, and Agnostic, but amid all this contrariety of opinions, there has been a marked growth of unity and organization."

Foxborough Massachusetts
Universalist Church
Organized 1837

Church Web Site
Foxborough 1879

Originally there was a spire on the church but during a severe gale in 1853 that was blown off. During the pastorate of Rev. C. A. Bradley, 1860 to 1865, the society suffered severe loss from a fire that damaged the auditorium and ruined the organ. Interesting incidents of the fire was the heroism of Albert F. Belcher who crawled in on his hands and knees and dragged out the small organ, and Lewis Pond who rescued the pulpit Bible, running his fingers along the edges to put out the fire. The Society, undaunted by this disaster, bravely repaired the damages. The minister, having learned the mason's trade in his youth, replastered the church himself.

Special mention must be made of the music, which had an important place in the Sunday service. This church has the honor of having the first pipe organ in the town. The day the organ arrived was indeed a red-letter day. The school children came in during recess to look at the great organ. This organ, called the White Organ, was later damaged by fire. The present organ was purchased during the pastorate of Rev. James H. Little, which was in the eighteen seventies. The bass viol, violin, flute and other musical instruments assisted the large choir which occupied the entire gallery. This was truly a volunteer choir; for example, one man, Mr. Edmund Carrol, was leader for 21 years. Others, whose names might be mentioned if permitted, gave their services as freely and generously. To quote a lady who was in that choir, "and when we sang an Easter hymn, you could feel it". But alas, this good music caused one poor girl an extra walk. She went out of her way in coming into town, so as not to go by the Universalist Church, as it was so much like a theatre. Times and people have changed since those early days, for now the congregation is composed of people of all denominations who sometimes go out of their way and come early to attend our Vespers
First Parish Church of Groton, UU
Groton Massachusetts

Organized 1655

Church Web Site
Groton MA UU Church

In the summer of 1795 lightning struck the church. The ensuing fire was said to have been extinguished with milk from a nearby farm, the thought being at that time that water would not put out a fire ignited by lightning. Charred timbers may still be seen in the belfry.

The town clock in the belfry was made by Francis Ridgeway and placed in position in 1809. The Paul Revere bell was cast in 1819 and has been in use since then. The clock and bell are still wound by the Keeper of the Clock twice a week.
First Church, Unitarian
Littleton Massachusetts

Organized 1714

Church Web Site
UU Church of Littleton MA

The second Town Minister was also a graduate d Harvard College. Reverend Daniel Rogers was ordained here in March, 1731/32. His years of service to Littleton included the time of the Revolutionary War. By then he was an old man; he had been the minister for many years and was well-loved and respected. However, he was a Tory, as were many others in town. A proclamation had been issued to be read in all the churches on Thanksgiving Day, 1775. When Reverend Mr. Rogers finished reading this, he supplemented "God save the people" with "God save the king" His parishioners rose in rebellion and asked for a retraction, but Mr. Rogers fled to his home. An armed group of men followed him there and demanded that he come out and state his position. When he hesitated, shots were fired into his house. The front doors, complete with bullet holes, are in the possession of the local historical society.
First Parish Unitarian
Northfield Massachusetts

Organized 1718

Church Web Site
UU Church in Northfield MA

The reason for placing the first and then the second church in the middle of the road is unclear, but it invites metaphor. It is certainly central, evoking the importance of the church to the Puritan founders of Northfield: it served as meeting house not only for spiritual instruction, but as the meeting place for secular concerns and debates as well. It was indeed the place to which all roads – literally, it seems, converged in Northfield, and the place in which all concerns – spiritual, political, economic, social, and practical – were aired, debated, and thrashed into consensus during the eighteenth century. It was also the place where moderation (the middle of the road) was esteemed and sought with fervor, if not always with success.

Being smack in the middle of the road made it hard to ignore, as well. And Northfield Puritans, like all their fellows in Massachusetts Bay Colony, intended that church be attended to with regularity and vigor. All town residents and visitors were expected, on penalty of a fine and without regard to their personal religious opinion or preference, to attend its services twice every Sunday, with a brief intermission for a modest meal at mid-day. In addition, all residents were expected to support the church financially through taxes collected by the town. The town also regulated church practices, helping to enforce conformity to the Calvinist principles upon which it originally rested.

Whether Arminian or Calvinist, Tory or Patriot, early Puritans shared a conviction that they, as God’s elect, were all equal in the eyes of God—a conviction that fostered egalitarian values within the church community, but these values proved harder to practice than to espouse since the impulse to enjoy special favors is hard to resist. For Puritans, this impulse manifested itself prominently in the matter of church seating arrangements. Throughout the eighteenth century seating controversies were a constant, arousing as much or even more passion than any dogma. In Northfield’s first church, no sooner had benches (without backs, presumably to prevent slouching) been installed than the problem of who would get the best seats reared its head. The town appointed a committee to assign seats according to distinctions such as age, wealth, and "respectability" – a term fraught with the potential to inflame controversy. Single or widowed older ladies enjoyed the honor, along with men of property, of being seated in the front, near the pulpit where they could be admired and envied most easily. But the young folks were seated together in the distant galleries, each to his or her assigned seat, where their decorum could be readily enforced as need be. Northfield’s youth were noted for their decorum it seems, for they required far less "reproval as in older Northampton, where ever so often the town meeting had to condemn the galleries’ disorderly conduct and finally [even order in the] the constables to help the tything men to suppress it." The middling remainder had to content themselves with being scattered about the less pretentious pews.

Many however, would not rest content, and so the seating assignments could trigger "strange complications, and jealousies, and heart burnings, and strifes…" according to a paper given by Mr. Charles Calvin Stearns to the Northfield Historical Society in 1945. People offended by the indignity of poor placement would often apply to the Town for different seats, or just ignore their assignment and seat themselves as they liked despite the certainty that they would then be "taken into hand by the tything man." With an inducement, such as the offer to donate a new window or provide janitorial services, a disaffected churchgoer might cajole the Town into allowing them a pew of their choice. When the second church was built, a committee headed by Captain Samuel Hunt took on the task of seat assignment. Presumably, the Town hoped that a battle-hardened veteran of the French and Indian War was just the man to enforce respect for the invidious distinctions to be found in the simple act of sitting in church. Seating was reviewed every few years by a committee appointed for the purpose of assuring "careful consideration to the distinction due leading citizens." Indeed the whole matter was of such importance then that "in some instances it was the only business of the town meeting called for the purpose."

While eighteenth century Puritans are often thought of as seriously sober folks with a passion for plainness, the Northfield church reveals them to have been divided in their allegiances to the plain and simple life. An intolerance for self-indulgence expressed itself to be sure, especially in the matter of whether to provide warming stoves during winter when a righteous minority denounced the idea s "an unholy innovation and a sign of modern effeminacy…." In the 1780s, however, the church ventured into frippery and thereby inaugurated a new fashion in town; namely, "coloring" houses. In 1787, the town voted to finance, by the sale of surplus flax seed, the painting of the church. It took two years to grow and then send to Boston 42 ½ bushels of flaxseed which were exchanged for linseed oil and "dry red"—which when mixed was applied to the plain, weathered boards of the church. It must have been a fine, admirable sight, for some house owners soon followed suit and so did the school, although either of the costs or conservatism held back the majority so that most buildings in Northfield continued to present the varied browns, grays, and dapples of exposed boards. |

As the eighteenth century drew to a close, the now reddened church stood squarely in the middle of the road, still the center of the town’s spiritual, economic, political, social, and geographic life. It had weathered dogmatic and political and social strife—each time seeking and finding a compromise that most could accept more or less graciously as they were wont. The nineteenth century church would face new doctrinal controversies and schism, adapt to the separation of church and state, see the end of assigned seating, recover from a terrible fire, and find a new location—no longer in the middle of the road, but still occupying an important and respected role in Northfield town.
First Parish Church
Norwell, Massachusetts

Organized 1642

Church Web Site
UU Church in Norwell MA

Originally Scituate included what are now the towns of Hanover, Norwell, and Scituate. Hanover became a separate town in 1727, our section became South Scituate in 1849 and the name was changed to Norwell in 1888. The First Parish of Scituate was established in 1634 and the meeting house was erected on Meeting House Lane just below the old cemetery as you go toward the ocean. The spot is not marked but there is a hollow place on the right hand side which is where most believe the meeting house stood; also a tablet in the graveyard refers to it.

The Scituate church was not a united one from the first. Mr. Giles Saxton served as minister for a short time followed by Mr. John Lothrop, who a few years later because of disagreement in regard to baptism, moved with quite a number of the congregation to Barnstable. This is the same issue Mr. Lothrop experienced in his church in England. Mr. Lothrop belonged to the liberal party, and wearying of the controversy, took a major portion of the congregation to Barnstable. In 1641, Mr. Charles Chauncy, a man of most distinguished talents became the next pastor. Possessed of an ardent temper, and impatient of opposition, he thought that his own talents should be enough in themselves to overcome any opposition to his views. He soon found himself in trouble with the authorities in England, and finding no security there, he fled to the new world, reaching Plymouth in 1637. The Rev. Charles Chauncy was a scholar and theologian, also skilled in law and medicine who held many strong opinions, the most controversial of which was the form of baptism. The gist of the controversy, as noted in Bradford's History, was that Mr. Chauncy held that baptism "ought only to be by dipping, and putting ye whole body under water, and that sprinkling was unlawful." The dissidents, who were the liberal faction, wanted freedom of choice in the mode of baptism and preferred the simpler method of "sprinkling." They admitted that "immersion or dipping was lawful, but in this coulde countrie be not so conveniente." Mr. Chauncy, who was a progressive and intelligent churchman in so many ways, was stubborn and unyielding when it came to the question of baptism. It was his way or no way. The end result was that the sprinklers moved up river to form a more liberal church.

During the ministry of Deodate Lawson (1694-98) the parish had a problem with the long and continued absence of their pastor. He would disappear for months at a time, never letting his congregation know when and where he was going, nor when he might return. He was presumably engaged in more lucrative secular pursuits, completely disregarding his parish obligations. They were finally advised by the Elders of neighboring churches to "use all Evangelical endeavors to settle themselves with another Pastor, more spiritually and...fixedly disposed."
First Parish UU Church
Scituate, Massachusetts

Organized 1634

Web Site
Scituate, Massachusetts UU Church

First Parish, Scituate is over 350 years old. A group of Nonconformists started meeting in London in 1616, led by Rev. Henry Jacob. He was succeeded by Rev. John Lothrop, a former rector in the Church of England, in 1624. Discovered worshipping clandestinely in 1632, 42 members of the congregation were arrested and jailed. After two years in jail, Rev. Lothrop was released from jail with the proviso that he leave England forever. With a majority of the members of his congregation, he sailed for New England and arrived in Scituate in September, 1634. They joined a small congregation that had been worshipping under the leadership of a layman, Giles Sexton. A small log cabin on Meeting House Lane served as the first church. The site is marked today by a monument that lists the early members of the parish, "The Men of Kent," and by gravestones from the 17th century.

Over a span of some 60 years and the succession of six ministers, First Parish was the scene of considerable theological dissension. The principal focii were, first, baptism and. later, the Unitarian/Trinitarian schism. These disagreements led to the separation, at three times, of a major portion of First Parish's members to form new churches.

Dissension over baptism soon divided the parish and in 1639 Rev. Lothrop led an exodus of a majority of the congregation to Barnstable on Cape Cod. His successor, Charles Chauncy, another Anglican minister, was described as a spirited, impatient man. His staunch support for baptism by immersion provoked another defection which led to the founding of a church in South Scituate, now known as Norwell. Rev. Chauncy served until 1654, when he became the second president of Harvard University; he held this post until his death in 1672.

Conflicts between orthodox and liberal factions became intense in the late 18th century, culminating in the third removal of one-half of the congregation. This time the departing members of the congregation stayed close at hand, removing themselves around the corner to establish the First Trinitarian Church of Scituate in 1825. As one wag has put it, "the Trinitarians kept the faith, while the Unitarians kept the furniture."

A notable visitor to First Parish, Scituate in the 19th century was Henry David Thoreau who courted Ellen Sewall, the daughter of the church's 12th minister, Edmund Sewall. She eventually rejected his marriage proposal; he later retreated to the woods of Concord.

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