The church was fortunate in securing a successor to Mr. Tingley, without any long waiting. He preached his last sermon, August 6. 1837. During the remainder of that month, the pulpit was supplied by Rev. Caleb Shute of Boston. On the third of September, Rev. Silas Ripley preached here the first time, and in the following month he became your pastor.
Of his labors for this church much more might be said than I have the time to say. His connection with you, including two years’ interruption, extended through seventeen years. Many changes occurred in the circumstances of the church during his long pastorate. He had been here but a few months, when the church was much weakened by the withdrawal of thirty-four members, to form a new church in Mansfield. That church was organized June 6, 1838. This movement, though cordially agreed to by the mother church, drew off one third of her active members, and probably more than one half of her pecuniary strength. It rendered necessary, or at least, hastened another movement also.
The site for the meeting-house had been chosen partly with reference to the convenience of the southeastern portions of the church, which the successive swarms to Norton and Mansfield had drawn off. It was now deemed best to seek a more central location for their house of worship. It was accordingly moved up into the village. The Records of the church give no account of this removal, but tradition has preserved an interesting report of the vote that decided the action. It was a measure of which it was easy enough to see the necessity, but for which no one wished to take any degree of responsibility. A church meeting was appointed, to consider the matter. On the day appointed, no one appeared except Deacon Torrey and Nehemiah Carpenter. After waiting a long time, until it was evident that no more members were coming, Deacon Torrey, in his straightforward way, said to the other, “Brother Carpenter, is it our duty to move this meeting-house?” The brother mildly replied that he thought it ought to be done. “Then,” said the deacon, in his blunt fashion, “We’ll move it.” And the next day saw the work begun under Deacon Torrey’s supervision. In moving the house such a distance, it was necessary to saw it in two, and move each portion separately on wheels, which provoked the remark from someone not over friendly to the church, that, “now they’d got the Baptist meetin-house on wheels, they’d better keep it on wheels and run it out o’ town.” Instead of doing that, however, they moved it to one of the finest lots in the village, a gift to the church by Mr. Nehemiah Carpenter. It was the lot now occupied by the Town Hall and Centre Schoolhouse. The building was enlarged by the addition of twelve feet to its length, and the basement was finished off as a vestry, the work being carried forward by the strenuous efforts and generous sacrifices of all. The further fortunes of that building may be briefly stated here. It stood on its new site for about twelve years longer, until a new church was built on this spot in 1850. It was then sold at auction, moved over into Gilmore Street, and transformed into a box-factory. Finally, in the evening of January 27, 1876, the last vestige of the old Baptist meeting-house was swept away by the most disastrous fire that ever occurred in our village.
The first pastorate of Mr. Ripley closed in June, 1841. For about a year, the church depended on supplies, mainly from Newton. In May, 1842, Rev. Edwin B. Bullard responded, to their call, and became their pastor. He remained only one year, and then resigned, to accept an appointment by the Missionary Union. He was a man of deep religious earnestness and intense zeal. His preaching was direct and pungent, and his labors were crowned with success. The church was revived, and souls were saved. He was permitted to baptize twenty-two persons during his brief sojourn here. In May, 1843, his connection with this church ceased, and he was transferred to a wider field. As a missionary to the Karens of Burma, he threw himself into the work with a fiery zeal, which soon consumed him. He died of cholera at Maulmain, April 5, 1847, at the age of thirty-three.
Rev. Silas Ripley was called to succeed him, and entered immediately upon his second pastorate here. Though neither of his pastorates was signalized by any great revival, or by large accessions to the church, still his labors were of the most useful and necessary kind. His work here was one of training and pruning and cultivation. He was patient, thorough and methodical. His preaching was sound and instructive. He commanded the respect, and won the love, of his people. He was a good man and a genial friend. The growth of the church was slow, but steady, under his leadership. To use his own words, “though favored with no extraordinary degree of prosperity, it was enabled to hold on its way and maintain its position.”
We can only glance at the principal events and changes worthy of note in this period. In 1843, the old parsonage was sold, and steps were taken towards building a new one in a more convenient location. The work was completed near the end of 1844. Deacon Torrey appears as the chief promoter of this work, as he had been of all the building enterprises upon which the church had entered up to that time.
In 1844, August 11, we find the church voting to introduce the Psalmist, as their hymn-book. Up to that time they had used the old collection denominated Winchell’s Watts. It may be added just here, that the Psalmist was superseded by the Service of Song, December 17, 1871.
Was there ever a village church, whose serenity was not at some time disturbed by restless boys? We find in the Records of 1844 a pointed reference to “certain lads, who have occasioned considerable disturbance in some of our meetings of late.” A committee was appointed to “look after” them, consisting of Deacon Torrey, Henry L. Sweet, Alfred Fales, Seth Sherman and Deacon Whittemore. The Records give no account of the result, but it is my opinion that a solemn stillness, if not a holy calm, came over those lads, under the eyes of a committee composed as that was.
A curious entry occurs in the Records of 1845, showing the pastor’s quiet sense of humor. The church had agreed unanimously to adopt the recommendation of the Association, to observe the last Wednesday in October as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, on account of the low state of religion in the churches. “Only the pastor was present,” he remarks, and then adds, “It was well attended.”
We come to the year 1849, and find the church again stirred up to the work of removal and enlargement. The old meeting-house had served its purpose, and must give place to a more modem structure. A wise policy, convenience and comfort, all urged the congregation to arise and build. Still the pecuniary ability of the church was small. Not only the house was sold, to raise the necessary funds, but it’s beautiful site as well. The parsonage too was sold, and great exertions were made to meet the expense of a new lot and building. A faithful and efficient Building Committee, consisting of Deacon Torrey, brethren Henry D. Aldrich and Alfred Fales, was entrusted with the work, and on the fifteenth of August, 1850, this house was dedicated to the worship of God. The pastor preached the sermon, and was assisted in the services by Rev. N. G. Lovell, of North Attleboro, Rev. E. C. Messinger, of Medway, and Rev. James W. Russell, of Cumberland Hill.
The next year, the church, in the exuberance of its joy at being settled in a new and comfortable home, invited the Association to enjoy its hospitality. “The session was one of great harmony and religious interest.” A gracious work of the Holy Spirit followed in the Autumn and Winter of 1850 and 1851. Not many were added to the church, but the cold and sluggish life of the church received a new, divine impulse.
To be continued next week…