The period between 1824 and 1831 was probably the most discouraging in the history of the church. There is no record of its work and progress, and the memory of aged members but scantily supplies the lacking information. Father Allen remembers the useful labors of Rev. Mr. Branch, who moved hither with his family from Springfield, Mass., and supplied the pulpit for six months. He was a good man and a good preacher, and did the church much good in a time of sore need. His coming was mainly due to the efforts of a few of the sisters in the church. This was probably about the year 1825. From the date of Mr. Bird’s resignation, in 1828, to 1831, the church was closed the most of the time, and, the people being poor and very much scattered, their prospects were quite dark. They had occasional preaching by Rev. Seth Ewer, Rev. Silas Kenney and two or three others. Among those, upon whose visits the church depended for preaching at that time, was brother Timothy C. Tingley, a student from Newton Theological Institution. He supplied the pulpit, first, during the spring vacation of six weeks in 1829. The congregations, at that time, in good weather, numbered from forty to fifty in the forenoon, and from fifty to sixty in the afternoon. This was at a time when the church numbered seventy-four, showing both the low state of religious interest, and the scattered condition of the church. The congregations became much larger in the ensuing vacations. Brother Tingley supplied the pulpit again during the autumn vacation, and again in the spring of 1830, and introduced a fellow-student, Henry Carr, who preached here six weeks in the autumn of that year. Mr. Tingley also preached here occasionally during the terms of study at Newton.
Finally, in the spring of 1831, his permanent labors here began. On the first Sabbath in April, he was requested to come and preach a funeral sermon on the occasion of the death of Miss Harriet Dassance, who was a leading singer in the choir, about twenty years of age. She was greatly beloved; and her death and the sermon from Job 1:21—“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away”—were the means of awakening many drowsy souls. This was the commencement of a great revival of religion, and marks an auspicious date in our history. The church had passed through seven years of famine, or at least, of scant supplies. They were prepared to enjoy the season of plenty that followed.
On the fourteenth of July, 1831, Mr. Tingley was ordained to the work of the gospel ministry in this place, and became the pastor of this church. The following persons participated in the public services of ordination: brother Hiram Geer, a student from Newton, read the Scriptures. Rev. John Keed offered the Introductory Prayer. Rev. Silas Hall, of Abington, preached the Sermon. Rev. T. R. Cressey, of Hingham, offered the Ordaining Prayer. Rev. William Hague, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Boston, gave the Right Hand of Fellowship. Rev. John Allen, of Kingston, gave the Charge to the candidate and Rev. Thomas Driver, of West Dedham, addressed the church. The young pastor was permitted at once to enter upon a harvest-field. After so many years without a baptism, the church again beheld with joy the frequent administration of that expressive ordinance. During the first twelve months of Mr. Tingley’s pastorate, seventy-four persons were received by baptism. The place selected by the church for its Jordan, or Aenon, was the mill-dam at the South Branch, which has served as our baptistery for half a century. A good photograph of the spot ought to be taken and preserved by the church among its relics.
That was a memorable revival; and the gracious refreshing was not limited to Foxboro. The Minutes of the associations show a wide-spread work of grace. North Attleboro reported thirty-seven additions by baptism; Sheldonville, twenty-three; Sharon, thirty-four; Stoughton, twenty-five; Canton, twenty-seven ; West Dedham, forty-seven; Framingham, fifty-three; Medfield, thirty-three; Newton, seventy-nine, while Boston and Providence and the neighboring towns also shared in the harvest.
Although the remaining years of Mr. Tingley’s pastorate were not so abundantly fruitful in baptisms, still not a year passed without considerable additions to the church. Other evidences of the fruitfulness of his labors here are not wanting. The reforms of the day—Anti-slavery, Temperance, Moral Reform, were all heartily indorsed. Nor was the church wanting, in sympathy and practical cooperation, with the great benevolent enterprises of its own denomination. The contributions of one year may serve as an example. In 1835, they gave to Foreign Missions, $16.81 (less than usual), to Home Missions, $135.75, (the result of a special effort by small weekly contributions), to Ministerial Education $23, to Tract Society, $36.88, to Mass. Sabbath School Union, $13.23, to Pierce Academy $39.50, making a total of $265.17. Their pastor’s salary that year was $300, of which $50. was obtained from the Convention.
Before the close of Mr. Tingley’s first year, a parsonage was built, near the church, the house now occupied by Asahel Dean.
Among the evidences of religious life in that period of our history was the reorganization of the Sabbath School. As early as 1827, we find such a school in existence here. “Early in the Summer” [of that year], writes Mr. Bird, “we set up a Sabbath School, and procured for its use a small library of excellent little books.” This school was discontinued in the period of discouragement that followed; for Mr. Tingley says that he found no Sabbath School here. About June 1, 1833, they organized a new one, with their pastor for Superintendent, Librarian and Teacher of a large adult Bible-class. In 1833, the school was in a thriving condition. It was divided into sixteen classes, embracing two hundred teachers and scholars, “from the lisping child to the gray-headed patriot of the Revolution.” The school is noticed in the Minutes of the Old Colony Association that year in these words: “This is the only church in the association, where the congregation has resolved itself into a sabbath school.”
In the year 1836, the church was obliged to part with several excellent members, who withdrew for the purpose of organizing a sister church in Norton.
In the following year, the church was called to suffer a loss far more severe in the removal of their pastor. Mr. Tingley was constrained to accept the call of the Hanover Avenue Baptist Church in Boston. In their letter of dismission, this church of his first love thus give utterance to their warm regard for him: “He has been with us in adversity, and in prosperity; and by his affectionate fidelity and unwearied diligence in the work of the ministry among us, he has won our entire confidence, and greatly endeared himself to our hearts, as a man of God, and a devoted servant of Jesus Christ. In relinquishing him as our pastor, we feel that we are called to make no common sacrifice.”
During Mr. Tingley’s pastorate there were added to the church, by baptism, one hundred and twenty, by letter, eighteen, and by experience three, making a total of one hundred and forty-one. He found a scattered membership of about seventy-four; he left the church doubled in numbers, while it had lost many by the formation of a new church, besides the usual depletion by death and discipline.
I have lingered over this pastorate with peculiar pleasure. It was a happy period in the history of this church. The people were closely united in tender love and harmony. To this day reference is often made to the melting scenes that used to be witnessed in the neighborhood prayer meetings. Some of the choice fruits of brother Tingley’s labors are with us, ripening still, though many a sheaf has been garnered, as rich tokens of the laborer’s toil. We must pass more rapidly over the remaining period of our history.
To be continued next week…