The First Church of Christ in Lynn was the fifth church planted in New England when settlement by the Puritans was begun as King Charles I granted a charter to the Colony of Massachusetts. The first church organized was in Salem , then Charlestown (which later moved to Boston ), Dorchester, Roxbury, and then Lynn . It is today the oldest Congregational church in the country, since the older ones have either ceased to exist or changed denominations.
Five men settled Lynn (then known as Saugus ) in 1629 after asking Governor Endicott of Salem where they might settle, but there was no minister in Lynn for the first three years. The first minister, Stephen Bachiler, came to Lynn , where he had a married daughter, with his family and six or seven others who had been members of his church in England . Only three days after landing in Boston on June 5, 1632 (at age 71), he formed a. church of those who came with him and those who wished to unite with them.
During the first approximately 170 years of its history, the town meetings were held in the church, and all citizens were assessed taxes to support thechurch. The minister opened town meetings with a prayer, and membership in the church was a prerequisite for voting for officers of the civil government. Seats in the church were assigned at the town meeting. For over three hundred years the church had various locations on or across the street from the Lynn Common.
The first meetinghouse was small and plain and stood in a hollow, necessitating parishioners to descend several steps. In 1682 the second one was built from timber found in the Meetinghouse Swamp in Lynn Woods: On top was a cupola with a roof in the form of an inverted tunnel, giving rise to, the name of the Old Tunnel Meetinghouse. In 1827 the Old Tunnel was moved by using its building materials to fashion a totally new, third meetinghouse containing twenty pews: The fourth meetinghouse was built in 1837 across from the Common, with a steeple 119 feet high and a seating capacity of 900. This building received many improvements to its structure and contents, but it was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day in 1870. The fifth was built on the same site as the fourth and dedicated in 1872. It had a steeple 160 feet high and a seating capacity of approximately 1800.
The early ministers of the church were educated in the best colleges of the day, and two were appointed overseers of Harvard College in 1656. Lynn actually received its name from King’s Lynn in England , from which the second minister came. The third minister was concurrently named as schoolmaster of Lynn for a short time. During the time of the witch trials, this highly regarded minister was accused by some of being a wizard. The absurdity of this charge effectively put an end to the witch hysteria of the time. Throughout its lifetime membership in the church has oscillated greatly in direct relationship to church leadership. Fortunately, during most o( the critical times the church has been blessed to have a forward-thinking minister to unite the membership and allow the church to continue to serve the people of Lynn . During one of these periods in 1869, the minister actually took about half, the membership and formed a new church, the North Congregational Church. This church remained separate from the mother church until1944, when the membership was re-united. Since the membership at the time could not support the large church, the North Congregational Church became the locus of the united church.
Soon. after the churches combined, the members at the time realized that the population of Lynn was moving from the downtown area near the Common to the western area of Lynn . They secured a site on the main route into Lynn from the major highways. The new church was built in this area in 1960 and remains there to this day to hopefully serve the citizens of Lynn and surrounding areas for many years to come.
THE HISTORY OF THE CANDLE FOR
PEACE WHICH YOU SEE EACH
SUNDAY ON THE ALTAR
In 1986, a group of American Christians visiting the Soviet Union attended a worship service in a Russian Orthodox Church. An elderly woman pushed three rubles into the hand of the minister leading the Americans and asked that he buy a candle to be lit at services in his church as a symbol of peace.
When he returned home, the minister bought a votive candle, which he placed on the communion table in his church in Pennsylvania. Later that year the congregation decided to buy a supply of candles and holders, inviting members to send them to other churches with this story and asking them to pass on the Russian woman’s prayer for world peace.
One of these candles was given to a member of the Gurnee Community Church in Gurnee, IL. It sits on their communion table and is lit each Sunday morning. During the installation service of their new associate pastor, Rev. Stu Merkel, one of these candles was given to Joanne Simpson, a member of First Church of Christ in Lynn, Congregational to bring home to her church and place it where everyone can see it.
May the Russian women’s hope for peace be spread far and wide, as churches in many parts of the world receive and light this reminder of the vital task of working and praying for peace throughout the world.