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 present Church edifice, the fourth and by far the most imposing in the history of the parish, was built and dedicated in 1834-only 35 years after the membership had been reduced to but a paltry ten members. The timbers were brought from Boston by Elijah Willard. When dedicated it had picturesque galleries on both sides and at the rear of the white-painted sanctuary. Each pew had a gate-type door, the enclosed high pulpit had a vivid crimson curtain for a back-drop, and the organ and choir were located in the rear gallery. While it would seem that this beautiful and quite massive House of God, with its towering steeple
and charming interior, might have been a burdensome luxury, the total cost was only $9,315.67. The money was raised, in the main, by selling $5000 worth of 6% stock and realizing $3,715.83 from the sale of Church property. The issuance of stock proved to be a stroke of shrewd financing for in 1851 a number of persons holding collectively shares amounting to $2,500.00, declined their redemption, turning in their stock certificates to the Church. When the new church was completed, to further defray building costs family pews were sold at auction to the highest bidder. Unsold pews could be and were rented for many years. Since Mr. Fisk conducted the service of dedication, September 24, 1834, this building has become a heritage of increasing value to the residents of Wrentham, and an intriguing and beautiful landmark for those who visit.
In 1843, at the request of Mr. Fisk, a young assistant pastor by the name of Horace James was called and ordained. Now the Church could boast of having "Elisha the Prophet and James the Apostle," and the relationship between the two was a happy and fruitful one. When the second Church Manual was printed in 1845, the separation of Church and Town had been effected. The Church covenant remained the same, but a new form of admission to church membership was adopted.
On June 12, 1849, Mr. Fisk was honored with special services, an impromptu parade, and a banquet on the completion of his fifty highly successful years as minister. Upon his death in 1851, a review of Mr. Fisk's accomplishments showed that he had added 252 members to the 10 with which he started, married 583 couples, baptized over 700 children, and officiated at 1,055 funerals. It was through his discretionary efforts that the difficulties between this and the neighboring church were settled and the two churches brought into fellowship.
It is interesting to note that up to this time four of the ministers who had been ordained in the Church -- the Reverends Samuel Man, Henry Messinger, Joseph Bean, and Elisha Fisk gave the entire years of their ministries to this congregation. Each was responsible for building one of the four Houses of Worship, and all are buried in the local Wrentham Cemetery. On a modest monument in this cemetery are inscribed the names of those four faithful shepherds of their flocks, whose combined ministries cover nearly one and three-fourths centuries.
The Reverend Horace James, who had assisted during the last eight years of Mr. Fisk's tenure, became the sixth pastor of the Church in 1851. He had received an excellent education, having been graduated from Phillips Academy (Andover), Yale College and Andover Theological Seminary. Much to the sorrow of the members, he left Wrentham in 1853 to become the minister of the First Congregational Church of Worcester. While his ministry was a brief one, he was greatly loved and respected, as evidenced by the large stained-glass window placed in the sanctuary in his memory.
The seventh pastor was the Reverend William Ladd Ropes, who was installed in September 1853 and served until ill health forced his retirement in 1862. During his term, it was voted to create a "Standing Committee to discipline members for non-attendance at church and for other "offenses." In 1858 the "Puritan Hymn and Tune Book" was adopted to promote group singing. In the same year the Mendon Conference was founded, and the Massachusetts Association of Churches was established. The Wrentham Church took an active interest in both organizations.
With the early sixties came the long and anxious days of the Civil War for the families and friends of the 336 volunteers from Wrentham. What had begun as a struggle by the North to preserve the Union, became a war to free the slaves following President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation issued in January of 1863. This cause of emancipation was not new to the members of this Church, for almost a quarter century before, in December 1839 the following resolution was accepted by the Church:
"That, whereas more than two millions of the inhabitants of these United States are now deprived of their natural & inalienable rights by those who traffic in the bodies and souls of men & whereas, we believe slavery as it now exists in our country is unjust, oppressive & contrary to the spirit & principles of the Gospel & whereas many in our land who profess to be the followers of Christ, both Clergy & Laity are not only the advocates of this abominable system, but do actually bold their brethren in bondage, therefore, resolved.
First, that we believe the holding of human beings in slavery is a sin against God, & ought to be immediately repented of & forsaken.
Second, that we are called upon by a sense of duty & by the word of God to rebuke the slave holding professor and not suffer sin upon him."
To be continued...