Behold, then, this little band of brethren and sisters, gathered at the house of Elias Nason, Esq., on the morning of Wednesday, April 16th, 1817. It was something of a venture for them to assume the responsibilities of an independent organization. Baptist churches were few and feeble in those days, and had strong prejudices to encounter. There was no State Convention to which they might look for help. Of the thirty-nine churches that now comprise the Boston South Baptist Association, only five were in existence, and two of them were less than three years old, and scarcely able to stand alone.
The council, that assembled at the call of the disciples in Foxboro, assented, not without some misgivings, to the request of the thirty-seven for recognition as a church. In the records of that council, we find the names of Rev. Stephen Gano, then pastor of the First Baptist church in Providence; Rev. Stephen S. Nelson, from North Attleboro; Rev. Shubael Lovell, from Taunton ; Rev. Joseph Torrey, Jr., from Pembroke ; brother Samuel Wait, who was ordained in the following year as pastor of the church in Sharon, and Rev. William Gammell, of Medfield.
The services of recognition were held in the old Parish meeting-house. There is a reliable tradition, that, by a vote of the parish, the doors had been closed against the Baptists, but that Mr. Beriah Mann, the Town Clerk, who held the power of the keys, admitted them on his own responsibility, thus giving to the occasion all the dignity that could be conferred by the sacred associations of lofty pulpit and sounding board. I mention this, as a curious bit of ancient history, suggesting the great contrast between the intolerant spirit that reigned then, and the liberty of opinion that is freely accorded today to men of all creeds and of no creed. I cannot deny myself, the pleasure of referring, in this connection, to the generous hospitality and warm welcome extended to us by the Congregational church during the past few months, while we were temporarily destitute of a church home. The kindness, so cordially offered, was as gratefully accepted, and both peoples took sweet counsel together in truest Christian fellowship.
The services of that day, nearly sixty-two years ago, are, I doubt not, still fresh in the minds of a few here present. Elder Gano preached the sermon, taking for his text the Psalm 132:17–18 “There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for my anointed. His enemies will I clothe with shame; but upon himself shall his crown flourish.” Rev. John Allen, who supplies this information, remembers the powerful appeal to the impenitent at the close of the sermon, and how the tears flowed down the cheeks of the speaker. Rev. Stephen S. Nelson gave the right hand of fellowship to the church, brother John Allen having been appointed to receive it as their representative. Rev. William Gammell offered the concluding prayer.
Thus the little light was kindled. A lamp was ordained. Who could tell whether it would flicker and go out before the breath of opposition to which it was exposed, or live to bless the community with its radiance?
The church, at its organization, adopted the Articles of Faith, Practice and Covenant of the Baptist churches in Wrentham and Attleboro, with some slight verbal alteration.
During the first five years of its existence the church had no pastor, being too feeble to undertake the support of one. Still, they enjoyed the frequent ministrations of preachers of their own denomination, and the administration of the ordinances. It has been found impossible to ascertain the names of all who supplied the place of religious guides and teachers to them during the period named. It appears, however, that, during the first year. Rev. Shubael Lovell was their stated supply. The church was accustomed to meet for worship at his residence, in the house then owned by Rev. Thomas Skelton, the ruins of which may still be seen on Mr. David Lewis Shepard’s place, on South St. Mr. Lovell is remembered as a man of good abilities, as sound in doctrine, and a good, instructive preacher. At the beginning of the second year, the church voted to request Mr. Lovell to preach for them once in two months, he having moved to Bridgewater. About this time they began also to look to one of their own number, as likely to become their minister.
They had licensed Warren Bird to preach, June 8th, 1817, and they now desired him to supply them every fortnight.
The first vote on record, committing the church to any pecuniary obligation, is found under date of May fifth, 1818, when it was agreed “to give four dollars a Sabbath for preaching.” This was coupled with a vote to procure preaching for half of the Sabbaths if possible. One hundred dollars per year seems a sufficiently modest sum for a church of forty members to raise for religious purposes. Nothing could give us a more vivid picture of their poverty. We look in vain through the records for any further account of the ministrations enjoyed by them; nor can we glean from the recollections of the oldest members a very clear account of the history of that period of the church.
During the first five and a half years, the church had no regular place of worship. They met at private houses, now in the house of Warren Bird, at the north-east corner of the Common, and now with Martin Torrey in South Foxboro; now with Ezra Carpenter on South Street, and now with Joshua Stearns in the neighborhood of the Furnace. Those were years of sore trial to the little band of believers. Besides the unfriendly attitude of the older church, and of the outside world, they had causes of grief among themselves. During the first six years only seven were added to their number, while two were removed by death, and six were excluded.
The year 1822 witnessed some improvement in their outward state. For, in the course of that year, they chose their first regular pastor and came into possession of a meeting-house. Their chosen pastor was the same brother, who had already served them as a frequent supply for three or four years, namely: Warren Bird. He had been ordained as an “evangelist,” at North Randolph, Nov. 3, 1819, and had served that church as its pastor with cheering results from April, 1820 to May, 1821, when ill health compelled him to seek relief. His home was still in Foxboro. He was still a member of this church; and after his labors at North Randolph ceased, he seems to have commenced preaching again for this church. Finally, it was voted, March 24, 1822, that he “be the Pastor of this church so long as he shall continue to labor with us.”’ A few days before this, the terms of settlement had been arranged. The record cannot fail to interest us all. It reads thus: “Voted cordial acceptance of an offer by W. Bird to supply the pulpit one year gratis, and, that he may, if he desire it, be absent four sabbaths.”
To be continued next week…