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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Final Service, Old First Church - Springfield, Mass


This is the Old First Church of Springfield, Massachusetts. Two days ago, its congregation took part in the last church service that will ever take place in this building. The first church service celebrated by members of this church took place 370 years ago. Today the building will be sold and closed.

Fortunately, an 11th-hour move by the City of Springfield will see the purchase of this property by the city to preserve and protect the historic building. Its congregation will meet again, but elsewhere.

Founded in 1637, when its members consisted of everybody in town and all were subjects of England’s Charles I, the Springfield Plantation was a lonely outpost for traders on the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts. The remote community grew with the settlement by Puritans emigrating from England during the English Civil War and, after the brief interlude by the Cromwells, the return of the House of Stuart to the throne.

The town was burned in 1676 during King Philip’s War, but rose from the ashes. In the 1790s, Yale president Timothy Dwight commented on approaching the town now growing in prosperity, “the white spire of Springfield Church, embosomed in trees, animated the scene in a manner remarkably picturesque.” The current meeting house was completed in 1819. This church served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Statesman Daniel Webster, and abolitionist John Brown visited the church. Upon his death in 1848, the body of President John Quincy Adams lay in State here at Old First Church.

Industry and commerce came to the community and no longer needed to be wrested from the wilderness. The town became a city, and the city grew beyond the little square where the church stood. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, it is one of the oldest churches in the United States.

Now, increasing costs to maintain the historic building, and a dwindling church membership have brought an end to what colonial war, economic depression, and nearly four centuries of time and trial, could not. Now the congregation will move on, but the church building will be preserved by the community.

2 comments:

Laura said...

Beautiful photos. Reminds me a bit of Old North Church. Very sad the congregation is leaving, but I'm glad it's being preserved.

Best wishes,
Laura

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you for your comments, Laura. I understand the final service was rather like a grief service, understandable under the circumstances. But perhaps it is some consolation to them that not only is the church to be preserved, but it is to be preserved precisely because it is part of the community's heritage as well as their own.

You mentioned the Old North Church. That is as much a part of Boston as any historical landmark or tourist attraction. Likewise the Touro Synagoge at Newport, Rhode Island or many of the Spanish missions in California. I don't suppose it takes several centuries for this effect to happen. Probably many communities in the US have strong emotional ties to local houses of worship for cultural reasons as much as for religious belief.

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