First Parish Congregational Church, Wakefield, MA
I intend to explore and experience the services of many different churches, predominantly near where I live in Massachusetts. These institutions are important, often overlooked and even misjudged centers of our communities that seek to make a positive impact on their participants, as well as others through their generosity and public service. It is possible that through this activity I may eventually consider a long term relationship with one of these pillars and foundations of the community, however I am eager to do a lot of exploring first.
The Building & The History
The church is picturesquely situated on the shores of Lake Quannapowitt between the Old Burying Ground and Lake Park.
I was told by a parishioner, undoubtedly proud of his church that FPCC of Wakefield, is one of the oldest congregations in Massachusetts. The history page of FPCC states that it was the twenty-third church established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of which only 13 remain. On November 5th of 2019, the church will be having the 375th anniversary of its founding, which is quite impressive for any American institution. He directed us to a series of sketches hanging in a hallway separating the large community space from a side chapel, which create a lovely timeline of the church history. Amazingly the first structure was actually a log cabin, as depicted in the photograph of the sketch below.
The webpage has a detailed history of the organization dating back to the founding, all the way to more recent times. This some details about the church's current alliances.
The current structure was built in 1909, after a prior structure, only several years old at the time had been destroyed by fire. The reconstruction was a near replica.
While my interior photos are not crystal clear, I hope they can capture the unique woodwork and features of the church. One item that can't be seen is the curved, amphitheater arrangement of the pews, and the nave floor that has a slight downward grade towards the chancel. The balcony in this church looks as though it may have served as additional seating at one point as opposed to a choir loft. There is a choir loft situated behind the pulpit which was used in today's service.
This congregation is very active, and very passionate in their worship. I would describe the service as a bit more formal than some I've attended, however the praise band (of which the Rev. Dr. Robert Leroe accompanied with guitar), added a moving, approachable element to the service that many people may find more contemporary and relatable than the classic hymns, (also performed with excellent delivery and talent by a choir/music director). People visually swayed to the music, moved and lifted their arms, closed their eyes, and sang along. It was a contemporary style in a formal setting. It was a new experience for me, and something I'm sure can be very enjoyable, perhaps cathartic after a difficult week in the world.
This congregation is associated with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. Outlines of FPCC's beliefs can be found on their webpage. The gospel driven, evangelist intents of FPCC is also captured in their covenant on their website.
The building has a very warm feel to it. I can't help but imagine holiday decorations and festivities when I'm there with the permanent red and green accents featured throughout the sanctuary.
As mentioned, the service was heavily music focused with several songs chained together. The service began with a moving rendition of How Great Thou Art, a gospel hymn that Elvis made quite popular. My personal favorite musical piece of the service was a stunning effort by the choir singing Lasst uns Erfreuen.
A feature of the Sermon by Rev. Dr. Robert Leroe was the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I've heard the term "prodigal son," used so much by people and through pop culture through the years, but I must confess, until today I never had an understanding or familiarity with the story. In short a brother professes resentment & confusion of his father's acceptance and forgiveness of his brother's absence and departure from the righteous path. The father tells the son, "It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found." The message being that it is important to be willing to forgive, and give second chances.
Outreach and Activity of the Church
FPCC sends members on various missions across the globe. In today's service a short presentation was shown on work in Niger, and a story about how religious persecution of Christians ultimately ended up uniting and strengthening the bonds of the Christians across the country. In the bulletin, an announcement of an upcoming mission to Haiti is noted.
I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the organizers of a food pantry which is run out of FPCC of Wakefield. Other efforts include gathering clothing for those in need and organizing a several meals a year (community breakfast, community dinner) for community members in need.
The church has ministries to comfort people and provide encouragement in times of distress. They have a meals ministry to help alleviate burdens when people may be facing a stressful time.
Internally the church has additional events such as bible study, and hosting occasional plays.
Historically First Parish Congregational Church has had a lasting impact on the community of Wakefield, Massachusetts, and it is clear that this group of dedicated people continues to make waves to improve the lives of their neighbors.
Text and photographs by George Parks
Sources are embedded in links