Highlights in our 316 year history

by Janet Nichols, First Parish Historian


November 1, 2017

The Beginning of Framingham and First Parish in Framingham

Framingham residents petitioned to become a separate town in the late 1600’s. To become a town, a meeting house with a minister was legally required. In 1698 a meeting house was built where the Old Burying Ground is today on Main Street and was used for town meetings as well as religious services. Framingham officially became a town in 1700.

sketch of first Meeting HouseThe original meeting house was 30 by 40 feet, two stories high, and neither heated nor painted. There were separate spaces for women and enslaved people had to sit in the gallery. In spite of a substantial effort in 1715 to enlarge and enhance the meeting house, the building was never very satisfactory by all accounts with some comparing it to a barn. Also people “were allowed or took the liberty to cut doors at the ends and north side, wherever most convenient to reach their respective pews.” Unfortunately there are no drawings to show what it actually looked like but we do have a conjectural picture from the Framingham History Center. The building must have been unusual with all those extra doors and windows. Efforts were underway as early as 1725 to tear down the first meeting house and build a better second one.

Our church was formed on October 8, 1701, when eighteen men gathered to sign a covenant creating the Church of Christ in Framingham.  It was quite lengthy and began, “We do, under a soul-humbling and abasing sense of our utter unworthiness of so great and high a privilege, as God is graciously putting into our hands, accept of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for our God in covenant with us…”. (read more). Our first minister, Reverend John Swift was also ordained on that day. Although he had been serving as the town’s minister for over a year, this was his formal installation.

Reverend Swift was born on March 14, 1678 in Milton. He attended Harvard College, graduating in 1697 at age 18 in a class of 14. In those days this was considered quite young to graduate from college. His salary included land, 60 pounds (in a currency called old tenner) and a supply of firewood. Unfortunately the town did not always provide what was legally required according to his contract.  He had to sue at least once to get Framingham to provide the promised compensation.

John Swift’s Grave

He must have been an accomplished scholar throughout his life because his obituary in the Boston Evening Post mentioned that “he particularly excelled in Rhetoric and Oratory, and as a critic in the Greek language.” In his will Rev. Swift, who owned five enslaved people, left two of them to care for his wife, who had some form of mental illness. Unable to preach for the last four years of his life, the town refused to call another minister until his death at age 67 on April 24th, 1745 after 44 years of ministry. The grave of Rev. Swift is located in the Old Burying Ground, where his pulpit stood in the First Meeting House.

Coming up, the first split, a new meeting house and a minister’s resemblance to George Washington.


December 1, 2017

Second Meeting House and the First Religious Split in the Congregation

A vote was taken in 1725 to replace the original meeting house, which was compared to a drafty barn. A man was hired by the town to cut and hew the wood for the second meeting house. However a Colonel Buckminster took the prepared wood which was stored near the first meeting house and used it to frame a barn for himself. This sounds like a rather drastic step to keep the second meeting house from being built and it was. Colonel Buckminster felt that he owned the land that the first meeting house was built on. While he was pursuing his claim in the courts, he did not want a second one built on the property.

Another suitable site was located, close to where our present meeting house is, but more out in present day Edgell Road according to Clyde Joslyn, our former historian. Finally, in 1735 the second meeting house was built. sketch of first Meeting House This one was 55 by 42 feet and three stories tall but still had no heat. Again there were separate men’s and women’s galleries above the main floor.  However, in the late 1770’s men established the “right” to buy a chair to place in front of them in their pews.  They were allowed to have their wife sit there which ended the practice of men and women sitting in separate areas.

Church members must have had a good time doing the construction since, according to Temple’s History of Framingham, provisions were provided for; “following a vote by the town that the committee procure one barrel of rum, three barrels of cider, six barrels of beer, with suitable provision of meat, bread, etc. for such and only such as labor in raising the Meeting House.”

The Church has experienced several groups splitting off from the main church in its 300 plus years of existence.  The first religious dissention in the Church occurred under John Swift.  Sixteen people requested to move to the church in Hopkinton in 1732. The dissidents were denied permission. In those days it would have meant a loss of revenue for Framingham, which supported the church financially. Interestingly enough, Rev. Swift let one of his enslaved people worship in Hopkinton. The Hopkinton church has a record of a man named Nero, John Swift’s slave, applying for admission Sept. 20, 1737.

Now, on to the second minister at First Parish, Matthew Bridge, who was born July 18, 1721 in Lexington.  Like his predecessor, John Swift, he graduated from Harvard.  He was both ordained as a minister and settled as First Parish’s minister on February 19, 1745.

The start of his ministry occurred during the period of what was called the Great Awakening, which was a period of religious revival in Colonial America. When he was called by the town and church in Framingham, several members left to form a new church (the second split in less than 50 years) in Framingham which lasted for several years.  Some of these early dissenters eventually went on to form what became the First Baptist Society.

However, once the controversy blew over, Reverend Bridge was well regarded for the rest of his ministry by the community. The one hand-written book from the 1700’s that we have in the church archives was started by Matthew Bridge.  He copied a part of John Swift’s diary at the beginning and then continued recording information such as births and deaths from his own ministry.

Reverend Bridge built a house in 1747 on what is today is Kellogg Street in Framingham. It still stands (identified as Reverend Kellogg’s house) and is used as administrative space for The Learning Center for the Deaf.

He volunteered his services to the Continental Army when it was stationed in Cambridge and bore a resemblance to George Washington according to Barry’s A History of Framingham.  Unfortunately during the performance of his chaplain duties he caught an infectious disease that was going around the camp. Reverend Bridge died a week or so after he returned to his home on September 2, 1775.  He was 55 years old and had served as minister at First Parish for 30 years. His grave is also in the Old Burial Ground on Main Street, not too far from Reverend John Swift. Although not killed in battle, he was on active duty when he died, so Matthew Bridge’s grave is still decorated with a veteran’s flag every year for Memorial Day weekend.

Next:  Reverend Kellogg and a more serious Church split in 1830.


January 1, 2018

Reverend David Kellogg and the Religious Split of 1830

painted portrait of Rev. Kellogg
Reverend Kellogg

In today’s constantly changing world, it seems amazing that First Parish only had three settled ministers in its first 130 years. Reverend David Kellogg, our third minister, served First Parish for about 50 years. I can’t do justice to his career in a short article but I will give some highlights. He was born in Amherst, MA in 1755 and received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College at age 20. With a master’s in 1778 from Yale’s Divinity School, he ended the string of Harvard graduates that came to serve at First Parish in Framingham. After receiving an honorary Doctor of Divinity later in life from Dartmouth, he became known as Dr. Kellogg.

After Reverend Bridge died, the town did not fill the ministerial position right away. The first minister they called refused. This was during the Revolutionary War period; in lieu of some salary the town wanted to give ministers a certain amount of pork, cider, sheep’s wool, and flax whose value fluctuated depending upon the market. The town called Rev Kellogg three times (persistence pays off!) and he finally accepted November 27, 1780.  He was ordained at the church on January 10, 1781 and married Matthew Bridge’s daughter, Sarah, later that year. The town bought Reverend Bridge’s farm Historic sign indicating house built by Rev. Kelloggas a place for Reverend Kellogg to live. Even though it was built by Rev. Matthew Bridge, the house has a sign on it today indicating that it was Rev. David Kellogg’s house.  His wife probably spent most of her life living in the same house.

Reverend Kellogg was very involved with education and started the first Sunday school at First Parish in 1816.  He also was one of the founders of the Framingham Academy in the late 1790’s.

It was his need for help as he grew older that began the chain of events leading to the split into the two churches we are familiar with today, First Parish of Framingham and Plymouth Church across the street. In 1825, at age 70, Rev. Kellogg asked the church for an assistant to help him due to his old age infirmities.

The Church hired a more liberal minister, Artemas Muzzy (Unitarian), to help him which did not sit well with the more conservative members (Trinitarians) of the congregation. This ultimately led to the vote to split on January 24, 1830 with the conservative “orthodox” members moving to the Hollis Evangelical Society which eventually became Plymouth Church. In a side note, First Parish kept the Church records and Plymouth Church received the communion set. Reverend Kellogg continued in a reduced role as a minister at the Hollis Evangelical Society until about 2 years before he died.

Reverend Addison Ballard, a Presbyterian minister from Framingham, who remembered seeing Rev. Kellogg as a youngster, told a funny story about him in his 1900 bicentennial talk. As the minister of the Hollis Evangelical Society (as Plymouth Church was then known), Rev. Kellogg was urged by the Total Abstinence movement to sign a pledge to no longer drink. He resisted and continued to walk the half mile to old Eaton Tavern in good weather for his morning glass of brandy. Eventually people convinced him that this was an important topic to his parishioners and he should sign the pledge. When told that it was a pledge to abstain from all intoxicating liquors unless prescribed by a physician, he reportedly said “All right, gentlemen, he replied, “I will sign it but mind ye, I’ll be my own physician!”

Reverend Kellogg was in good health until very shortly before he died. A tea party was given for him in May, 1843 a few months before he died and the whole town attended. He died on August 13, 1843 after a sudden illness at 87 years of age.

The funeral service was at First Parish but the sermon was given by the Reverend David Brigham from Hollis Evangelical Society.  He is buried in the Old Burying Ground along with Reverend Matthew Bridge and Reverend John Swift.

A third meeting house  was built on the site of our current meeting house during the tenure of Dr. Kellogg. It was completed on June 1, 1807 and dedicated on February 24, 1808 with a program including a sermon by him. The size was 65 feet square with 2 stories and a tower.  In 1823 stoves were finally (!) added to the meeting house.  Before that, men dressed for the cold and women brought foot stoves which contained hot coals from the fire at home.  Churches had doors on the pews to help keep the heat from the foot stoves inside the pew. In the spirit of not wasting anything, the wood and other materials from the second meeting house were used to build a Town House in 1808 where town business meetings could be conducted.

Next: Yet another meeting house and a few remarkable ministers leading up to the Civil War.






February 1, 2018

Highlights from 1830 to the Civil War

Our sixth minister, Reverend William Barry, served from 1835 to 1845. He was Harvard graduate who suffered from periods of poor health. After leaving First Parish, he wrote a well-regarded A History of Framingham, Massachusetts, Including the Plantation, From 1640 to the Present Time which was published in 1847.  It is interesting to me that Reverend Barry did not discuss the split between the Unitarians and the Trinitarians which had occurred in 1830. All Barry wrote about the division was that Kellogg retired in 1830 and went to the congregational church afterwards. Reverend Barry eventually went on to help found the Chicago Historical Society and died in Chicago in 1885.

By 1846, the Church membership was dramatically reduced because of the split. The much smaller First Parish congregation found it increasing difficult to maintain the third Meeting House which was a large wood building. An 1846 report by a Mr. Rufus Brewer in the church records contained the following reasons for building a fourth smaller meeting house: After commenting that when the third meeting house was built, “The Parish members were then very numerous, sufficiently so as to fill every pew in the house, both below and in the galleries…” he went on to say, “…it is unpleasant and unsympathetic for so few persons to be seated and spread over so large a space, having the appearance of being inimical and unfriendly to each other .…The house leaks now in several places and will soon need shingling and it needs painting already.”

Russ Greve, our former Historian, explained to me that during this time period, church members purchased the right to sit in a specific pew. People could not just move up and sit together in the church for a service as we might do today when there are few people attending a service. You had to sit in the pew you paid for, hence the comment about sitting far apart and looking unfriendly.

In January,1846 a group of seven members came forward, including Mr. Brewer, who offered to fund the building of a new meeting house. They asked to be repaid by the sale of the pew space once construction was completed. This was accepted and on August 2, 1846 the last service was held in the third meeting house. Demolition began a few days later.

The congregation met in the Village Hall across the Common while the new meeting house was built. Here is a current photo of the Village Hall. Village Hall


The fourth Meeting House was  completed in 1847. It was a brown, wooden gothic building.  Stained glass windows were added around 1900. Two stories high and 48 feet wide by 75 feet long, the fourth meeting house had a 145 feet high steeple. Here is a photo of the fourth Meeting House, with a wedding party. Followed by another photo of the fourth Meeting House, viewed from the east side.

Fourth Meeting House with wedding

Fourth Meeting House

Finally, I would like to provide some information about our ninth minister Reverend Samuel D. Robbins who was born in 1812, and ordained in 1833, another Harvard graduate. He was the minister at First Parish from 1854 to 1867. He presided over a particularly difficult time for First Parish according to Reverend Charles Gaines From the sermon, The First Parish from 1835 to 1901 delivered by Reverend Charles Gaines on March 3, 1977 at First Parish in Framingham). When he was called in January, 1854 only 16 members were present to vote, with 13 yeas and 1 nay. This era was one of the major turning points in the First Parish history. According to a Reverend Gaines sermon, in the late 1850’s “The Parish just about dissolved.” Badly needed repairs to the Parish House (a reoccurring theme throughout First Parish history) were voted down and ”the Standing Committee resigned.” A Middlesex Justice of the Peace called for a new meeting where new officers were elected and repairs to the meeting house were approved. Luckily for us, Reverend Robbins and the Church persevered. At one point he was willing to accept a salary decrease to help First Parish’s fiscal situation. After serving as our minister throughout the Civil War, he left First Parish in 1867 and retired from the ministry in 1873. He died in 1884 and is buried in Framingham.

Next month, a discussion about First Parish Unitarian and Universalist ministers who served in the Civil War and a brief mention of the Harvard Class of 1860 and its importance to First Parish.



March 1, 2018

Our Ministers and the Civil War

I will talk here about two ministers from First Parish in Framingham and one minister from Bethany Universalist Church who served during the Civil War. First, I want to briefly mention the 1860 Harvard class and its importance to First Parish. Henry G Spaulding (minister #9) and Charles A Humphries (minister #10) graduated from the 1860 Harvard class along with Henry Bruce Scott (George C. Scott’s father) and Robert Gould Shaw, who commanded the first all-Black regiment during the Civil War.

Reverend Spaulding

Henry G. SpauldingHenry G. Spaulding, our tenth minister, served with the U. S. Sanitary Commission during the Civil War before becoming a minister. He was born in 1837 and went to school at Phillips Academy and Andover Academy before attending Harvard.

While with the US Sanitary Commission, he recorded the Sea Island songs he heard recently freed people singing in Port Island, South Carolina. He published an article entitled, “Under the Palmetto” in August, 1863 which included the music and lyrics from a few of these songs.This small but important first step in the movement to document the unique music of the recently freed people in that part of the South is referenced in several books about Black American music. The article is also an intimate look at what life and religion was like for this population right after they became liberated.

Spaulding went on to receive his divinity degree from Harvard in 1867 after the war. He served at First Parish after his ordination here on February 19,1868 until 1873.  When he had poor health his doctor advised him to take a European trip from February, 1872 to September, 1872.  He became famous for a series of lectures he gave nationwide, based upon this trip, which were illustrated with “stereoptican pictures”.

After First Parish, he went on to minister in Dorchester and was secretary of the Unitarian Sunday School Society from 1883 until 1892.  Spaulding gave a key address at the 1901 celebration of Framingham’s bicentennial. He died on September 13, 1920.

Reverend Humphreys

Charles A Humphreys Charles Alfred Humphreys, the eleventh minister of First Parish, was born in 1838 in Dorchester.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, Charles continued on to Harvard Divinity College and was ordained in 1863.

After becoming a minister, Humphreys was appointed chaplain of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers in August of 1863. His experiences were compiled in the book he wrote, Field, Camp, Hospital and Prison in the Civil War 1863-1865 (4).  It makes for some very dramatic first person narrative reading.  One of the most poignant and painful events he depicts is preparing a convicted deserter for the firing squad, which was comprised of the deserter’s own former comrades.  Humphreys’ description of being captured (his horse was the same color as a Union soldier who had deserted from the Confederate cause) and of survival in various Confederate prisons (Lynchburg, Macon and Charleston) is harrowing.  Luckily he was identified as a chaplain in September, 1864 and therefore was released, probably ensuring his survival.

Charles Humphreys was called as minister to First Parish in 1873 and resigned in 1891 after 18 years. According to his own information, Humphreys had the advantage of firsthand knowledge about First Parish before coming here.  His initial introduction was at Henry Spaulding’s ordination and he preached here at least two other times before becoming a candidate to replace Spaulding.  When he started at First Parish there were 285 individual members including men, women, and children; when he left to go to Randolph in 1891, there were 306.  He died in 1921.

Reverend Hayward

William W HaywardWilliam Willis Hayward was the second minister of Framingham’s Bethany Universalist church from 1883 to 1888.  He was born on October 17, 1834 in Hancock, NH.  Hayward was a teacher and school superintendent before he pursued a career in the Universalist ministry and ordained on June 18, 1859.   He enlisted as a chaplain for the 13th Regiment Maine Volunteers for a few months towards the end of the Civil War.  He was active in Civil War veteran activities including the Grand Army of the Republic (a Civil War veterans’ association) for the rest of his life.  In 1871, Hayward went back to school and was one of the first graduates of Tufts Divinity School (later Crane Theological School).  He served various New England churches throughout his career.  He died in 1892 while he was the minister of the Medfield Unitarian Church.

His wife, Elizabeth E. Hayward  from Keene, New Hampshire, was well known in her own right.  She visited her husband when he was a civil war chaplain at Martinsburg, West Virginia under very dramatic circumstances because of frequent attacks by Mosby’s raiders. This led to a lifetime of work in the Woman’s Relief Corps which was the woman’s auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic. She was quite well known in her day and when she died in 1913 her obituary was published in the New York Times. Although she was buried in Hancock, NH, her funeral was held on August 24th, 1913 at Bethany Universalist Church in Framingham.

April 1, 2018

Meeting House Finale

Fourth Meeting House’s Dramatic Demise

As previously mentioned, the fourth meeting house was built in 1846. This building seems to have had problems from early on. The church records show that work had to be done

Remains of the fourth Meeting House

as early as 1856, “Voted that the tower and spire be strengthened and repaired.” This statement proved to be prophetic. In 1918 part of the steeple blew down in a wind storm. According to Church member Fred Patch,

“During a March gale, my brother and I, standing on the Common, had the chilling experience of watching the great steeple totter and collapse across Vernon Street, only minutes after an unsuspecting member had driven his carriage leisurely under the swaying spire.” The building was repaired.

The entire building was lost on the evening of Easter Sunday, April 14,1920 when  lightening hit the steeple and the meeting house burned down, according to the story by Reverend O’Neill in his sermon, “The Secret History of First Parish—Part II,” Luckily some of the old records survived. The bell, from the Revere foundry in the early nineteenth century, was melted down and had to be recast. All the furniture and the organ were destroyed.The pictures show a burnt out shell.


Fifth and Current Meeting House

exterior view of Meeting House with steeple

First Parish’s current meeting house grew out of the ashes of the fourth meeting house. Plymouth Church graciously provided temporary space for services (and First Parish apparently considered merging with them for a short time) but ultimately weekly services were held in the Village Hall across the Common until the new building was completed. It was to take the church six long years to collect enough money to rebuild, thus creating our present meeting house.

St. Martins-in-the-Fields

The fifth meeting house was designed by a church member and local architect, Charles M. Baker, in the style of a Georgian colonial meeting house, “…arranged with sounding board similar to the pulpits found in many old New England Meeting Houses.”  He had an eye to the importance of the building on the Framingham Common when designing it, “Thus, our building site carries with it an obligation to erect a structure which shall be of sufficient size and dignity to close the long vista from the Common toward the north and to be of material and general construction worthy to occupy an important location and to correspond and harmonize with the other buildings.”  The façade was styled after the London church St.Martin-in-the-Fields. The cornerstone was laid on May 16, 1926 and the building was dedicated on February 6, 1927. Our current building is 41 feet wide by 72 feet long with a 117 foot spire.

Some of you may have noticed that there are only two sets of windows on the right side of the Meeting House as you face the chancel, whereas the left side has three.  This is because the original plans included a parish house wing off to the right. However the Church at the time did not have the money to add it. Many years later in the late 1950’s when the Church decided to build a parish house, it was placed behind the Meeting House away from Edgell Road because there was more room. To this day the missing windows have never been installed. There are also two rosettes in the ceiling, still waiting for chandeliers which the Church could not afford either in 1926.

A new organ was purchased later with generous donations from many other churches. It was dedicated in honor of Reverend Frederick Lucian Hosmer on April 12, 1931. A Unitarian minister and well-known hymn writer in his day, he attended First Parish in Framingham as a child and is buried in Edgell Grove Cemetery. There are eight hymns in our current Singing the Living Tradition hymnal penned by him but most of his songs are considered old-fashioned today.

The Meeting House was updated in the 1990’s when the Hosmer organ was worked on and the console location changed. In 2000, the bathrooms behind the chancel were redone and the building made wheel chair accessible. The most recent work was a major renovation of the steeple with a beautiful weather vane on top, thus (hopefully!) preventing a repeat of the steeple incident with the fourth meeting house. At 91 years old, the current Meeting House is now the longest-serving structure that First Parish has ever had.


May 1, 2018

Framingham Universalist Churches and the Denominational Merger

Bethany/First Universalist
A history of First Parish would not be complete without a history of the Framingham Universalist Church which merged with the town’s Unitarian Church in 1960. Universalism has a very rich history of its own apart from Unitarianism which unfortunately is beyond the scope of this short article. Our children do learn about John Murray (1) and Hosea Ballou (2), two prominent Universalists from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s in their curriculum.
The First Universalist Parish of South Framingham was organized in 1878. In 1881 land was purchase on lower Franklin Street for a church which was built at a cost of $5,600. This building was dedicated as the Bethany Universalist Church (3) on November 9th, 1882. According to Janet Werner, it was a beautiful church about the size of First Parish’s current meeting house. However, over time the downtown area of Framingham became very commercialized and the church decided to move to a more residential part of town to attract new members. In 1950, the congregation built and moved to a new church at 887 Concord Street. At that time the church renamed itself the First Universalist Church in Framingham.  Within a few years they held a mortgage burning party when the building was paid off.
The Ladies Association of Bethany Universalist Church was a very creative money making group.  Two activities in particular deserve mention from the 1930s.  One is the history of the donut ladies and the other is the creation of a wonderful signature quilt which is now in our archives.
At one point, the Ladies Association women baked and sold 80 dozen donuts a week with orders from as far away as New York, Philadelphia, Cambridge and Boston. Their donut sales raised $517 in 1930-1931 which was in the heart of the Depression. The original recipe, which included lard, is listed in one of their notebooks. Unfortunately by 1935, sales had dwindled as well as profits due to the increased cost of the ingredients so the donut making project was discontinued.
There is a wonderful signature quilt in the archives that was used as a fund raiser for a new organ for the Universalist Church in 1930. It cost a dollar to purchase a square of material and you could write on the square whatever you wished. There are two presidential signatures on the quilt (but not officially verified) and other significant individuals such as Mega Vaux Warrick Fuller, Solomon Carter Fuller and Wallace Nutting. The quilt raised $145 which was a significant amount at the beginning of the Depression.

When the two churches merged in 1960, Reverend Charles Gaines, who was the 19th minister of the First Universalist Church, became the Assistant Minister at First Parish in Framingham under Senior Minister Reverend Manual Holland for a short time to help ease the merger process. This local merger was a part of a larger union going on at national level between the two denominations about that time.  It foreshadowed the national merger which officially took place on May 15, 1961. This is a link to articles from a special issue of UUWorld in celebrations of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Merger for those who would like to know more, Rooted and Growing. (5)

At first the two physical churches were maintained with the Universalist Church providing badly needed Sunday School space for children in grades one through six.  However due to the distance involved, this was not satisfactory. The Universalist church on Concord Street was sold to the Christian Scientists, who still own it today (6).  The money was used to build an extension to the newly built Parish House. On April 28, 1963, the Huntley wing of the Parish House was officially dedicated.
Janet Werner explained that the “Universalists were given the privilege of naming the new wing. Dr. Huntley, having been our most beloved minister, was the name we chose for this purpose.”  Dr. George Huntley’s picture (7) is still prominently displayed in the Huntley Room today, hanging on the wall between the bookcases. You may have wondered who this kindly-looking, elderly gentleman was and why the room was named after him. Dr. Huntley was well-known both within and outside the Universalist denomination as a leader in the field of Sunday School education for children. It is very appropriate that today the First Parish Sunday School uses the Huntley room for classes.
As mentioned above, Charles Gaines, the Universalist minister at the time of the merger, served as the Assistant Minister with the First Parish Minister for a brief time after the merger. As many of you know, in 1967 he returned from a church in Milford New Hampshire to become the 21st Senior Minister at First Parish. He served until 1984, our longest serving minister in the twentieth Century.  In 1996 First Parish in Framingham conferred the title of Minister Emeritus of First Parish upon him.


June 1, 2018


This is my last column as First Parish Historian. I leave future historians to write a more recent history from the 1960’s onward.

I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the people and places that made the Parish what it is today and share it with you.  I often sit in the Meeting House on a Sunday and imagine the people and buildings that have come before.  I am no theologian but even I can appreciate the great changes in the theology over the past 300 years.  Our earliest ministers were stern Calvinists and would no doubt be appalled at our current theology. Imagine how those original founders would feel today, if they arrived on our doorstep.  Yet I suspect there would be connections back to that time that might not be apparent at first, such as the fact that we too have a covenant, just as they did with their God.

What have I learned from being the historian?  I always like to say there are three consistent themes running throughout the documents:
•    More money is always needed
•    The church buildings are always in need of repair, sometimes more urgently than others
•    New members are always desired and often eagerly sought

However, the most important themes are hope and perseverance throughout the story of the First Parish. Not all churches survive but this one has in spite of several early theological splits in the 1700’s, a large split in 1830, a very lean time in the 1850’s and the burning down of the Meeting House in 1920. The history of the congregation demonstrates a lot of compassion in supporting others less fortunate, as far back at the 1800’s.

The Parish has been here for 317 years. We are stewards for the future and if people in the past hadn’t fought for and supported the Parish, it wouldn’t be here today for us.

I would like to end this with one of my favorite quotes from Reverend Calvin Stebbins about the past. The following has particularly stuck in my mind and I would like to share it with you as the last offering from this Historian:

It seems impossible that the present should be the legitimate child of the past.  Yet the men of old were the makers of today, but were unconscious of what they were doing.  There are few more striking illustrations of the presence of a divine hand guiding in the affairs of men than the fact that men are not allowed to be frightened by foreseeing the results of their labors.  If the founders of this church could have foreseen the results of these two hundred years, they would have dismissed at once the thought of building a church for such an end.

It is a quote taken from a talk by First Parish’s Reverend Calvin Stebbins (our 13th minister) in honor of the bicentennial of the founding of the town of Framingham in 1900.  It was published in a book about the bicentennial celebrations, Memorial of Framingham Bicentennial 1900.  Many of you have heard me say it at a lay-led summer service or have read it in one of my history columns. Since it was written in 1901, First Parish in Framingham has again seen tremendous changes over the last century.  I am no forecaster of the future but it does make me think about what the Parish will be like in 100 years.  I do believe in two things: the ability to grow and change with the times and to continue to be an important positive spiritual influence in people’s lives.

Janet Nichols