Minnie Douglas Bennett
for the occasion of the 125th Anniversary of the building of the present meetinghouse
Revisions and Additions by
Bruce J. Crowther
Richard J. Ross
Earle T. Stewart
For the celebration of the 300th Anniversary of the Church
This post is part of The History of the Original Congregational Church of Wrentham series. Previous posts can be found here.
The second minister of the Church was Henry Messinger, ordained on December 5, 1719. He was also a graduate of Harvard, was married to the former Esther Cheever of Cambridge, and to them twelve children were born. Two years after Henry Messinger's arrival, the second meetinghouse was built on the same site as the original structure. It was longer and wider than the first, 40 feet by 38 feet, and was sufficiently high to have two galleries, one above the other. It had a center aisle, the men sitting together on one side, the women on the other. In this new meetinghouse was started the custom of collecting voluntary offerings as a part of the Sunday service, a practice that had been frowned upon in earlier days. Also during the tenure of Mr. Messinger, the Wrentham church became a "mother" for the first time. On February 16, 1738, twenty-four members were released to form a similar congregation in the west precinct (now Franklin). With the departing members went prayerful wishes for success, and a donation of 10 pounds sterling for the purchase of their first communion vessels.
At this juncture in religious history came the Great Awakening, a series of revivals that swept over the Colonies. Such eloquent revivalists as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield spread their belief that the true religious life was entered through the gateway of a psychological experience known as conversion, and that the first step toward conversion was the realization of one's utter sinfulness and unworthiness in the sight of God. Filled with moving emotion, thousands professed that they had realized peace and joy from this ecstatic spiritual experience. Two such revivals were held in Wrentham, and did much to kindle renewed interest in the religion and increase the membership of the local church during the latter part of Mr. Messinger's ministry. On March 30, 1750, death came to the Church's second pastor - in his fifty-fifth year. He was a kindly man with an unblemished reputation, and his passing was greatly mourned by his parishioners.
On December 15, 1750, the Reverend Jospeh Bean was called to be the third pastor. Like his predecessors, he too was young and a graduate of Harvard. He married Elizabeth Messinger, the daughter of his immediate predecessor, an action that was well accepted by the parish members. In 1766, the third meetinghouse was constructed; it was much larger than the previous structures, and more stately and elaborate. The wide front doors opened directly into the sanctuary, with private rooms on opposite sides known as the "women's porch" and the "men's porch." From these so-called porches, narrow stairways led up to a high gallery. Such innovations as square, enclosed family pews, an elevated pulpit located under a "sounding board" for improved acoustics, front-center seats for those with impaired hearing, and a special deacon's pew with a table, made this new edifice the pride of the community. The seating of members by the selectmen was based on the valuation of their property, a plan that caused much ill feeling. Those who objected most strenuously refused to sit in assigned pews, but would slip into unassigned seats in the rear. Thus the name "pouting seats" was coined. (They pouted but they were present.)
During Mr. Bean's ministry there were several happenings of rather unusual interest. In 1776 a town meeting voted that the hymns of Issac Watts could be used in addition to the Psalms for assembly singing. On May 6, 1779, eighteen members were given their release to form a congregation in Foxborough - the second "daughter" of the Wrentham church. Mr. Bean believed in an occasional day of fasting and prayer, especially when disease or danger threatened. In his 34 years as minister (he died in 1784), 217 new members were received into the Church and 799 children were baptized by Mr. Bean. In those days the requirement for baptism was that at least one parent had to be a member in good standing, and anyone who was not a member of the Church had no voice in town affairs. Perhaps Mr. Bean's greatest contribution to the record of local history was his famous "Century Sermon", preached on the occasion of Wrentham's 100th Anniversary. It took two hours to deliver, and was a most comprehensive work, covering not only colonial history but the events in England that led up to the great migration.
After Mr. Bean's death a call was sent to one Adoniram Judson, father of the celebrated missionary leader. Upon learning that he was being called after a divided vote of the church members, he declined.
To be continued…