The Congregational Way is a way of following Christ. People of a Congregational Church do not seek to be led by a creed, but by the Spirit. Ours is the tradition of a free church, gathered under the headship of Christ and bound to others by love, not law.
We are a Christ-Centered fellowship affiliated with the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC) as well as its Massachusetts Chapter (the MACCC).
Click here to access the NACCC website.
Click here to access the Massachusetts Association of Congregational Christian Churches website.
WHAT IS A CONGREGATIONALIST?
As Congregationalists we are best described as are those who accept the Bible as the sufficient rule in matters of faith and practice. Therefore we, base the organization of our church government, upon biblical foundations. The great central text of Congregationalism, is Matthew 18:18-20, in which Christ says to the early Church:
“Of truth I say unto you, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what so ever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that: they shall ask; it shall be done for them of my Father, which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This passage has led Congregationalists to draw two key principles of Faith. First, that Christ alone I the Head over His Church. Second, that each local Congregation is complete in itself.
Our history here in America goes back to the fall of 1620, when a small group of Puritans, known as separatists, came to this country. One hundred and two people crowded into a space made for seventy-three and began a long cold journey across the Atlantic waves. For two months they traveled in exposure, and all because of a dream of becoming the kind of people that God wanted them to be. These were the people of the Congregational Way.
From these simple people would come one of the greatest nations ever to exist on the face of the earth. From these men and women would come the first public school system, many of the great universities, human rights, great benevolences and the caring for the sick. From these men and women would come great a document which would change the shape of their world.
There are three words which described these people of the Congregational Way: Faith, Freedom, and Fellowship. This same description still applies today.
FAITH - Not simply faith in faith, but faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a personal faith experience known to many as conversion to Christ, or redemption. It is entering into a Covenant Relationship with God though faith in the work which Christ accomplished of Calvary’s Cross. It is a faith built upon substance and not mere symbolism.
FREEDOM - By this we mean the soul liberty of each individual and each local congregation before God. We are a freely gathered people under the Lordship of our Savior Jesus Christ. Although we respect civil authorities our right to gather comes from the Lord. For we are the Lord’s free people! We are a Free church, thus we provide an opportunity for all men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We support the Freedom of each individual to choose their life’s occupation or education and to strive for excellence in all the God given abilities afforded to them. We encourage a free enterprising society which allows each individual the opportunity to invest wisely of his means as a good steward of God.
FELLOWSHIP - Although we are an autonomous people we still find direction and fellowship from other local congregations. We are not isolationist rather we are an active part of the fellowship of churches of like faith and practice. This is so that we might carry out the great mission of the church. To reach and teach all people of the freedom which God has intended for them in Christ.
As a church of the Congregational Way, we have chosen to follow the ways of our spiritual forefathers. We stand firm and are counted as those who love the freedom we find in and from the Lord. We hope to hold forth to the generation in which we live the same principles as those pilgrims of old, Faith, Freedom and Fellowship.
In 1683, Reverend Samuel Shiverick preached in a small meetinghouse near Minister’s Rock in the present town of Marion. At that time Rochester encompassed the present town, all of what is now Marion and Mattapoisett as well as part of Wareham. In 1687, Shiverick moved to Falmouth and Reverend Samuel Arnold was invited to “settle” and was offered a “proprietor’s share in the lands of Rochester”.
In 1697, the Common, the Burying Ground and the “Ministry Lands” were laid out at Rochester Center and on October 13, 1703, the First Church of Rochester was organized. Eight men signed the original Church Covenant and since that time the church has had a history of continuous worship for nearly 300 years. The present sanctuary, built in 1837, is the fourth to stand on church land at Rochester Center. It was erected by architect and builder Solomon K. Eaton of Mattapoisett at a cost of under $5,000. The church reflects the Christopher Wren style popular at the time, modified by a square belfry rather than the usual pointed spires. Eaton also designed and built four other local Congregational churches of note: North Rochester, Marion, Mattapoisett, and Wareham, which burned in 1904.
In 1850, the Ladies’ Sewing Circle purchased a “Sweet tone bell with the sound of ‘A’ ” which still rings at 9 and 10:15 a.m. every Sunday. In 1866 a pipe organ was purchased and installed in the gallery in the rear. It was later moved to the front but is now back in its original location. The original pew doors were removed years ago during a renovation when the beautiful chandelier was added.
In 1993 a new Fellowship Hall was dedicated, the first new building for the church in over 150 years. This handicap-accessible addition is frequently used for many kinds of receptions, suppers, church, and community events.
The Vestry Building
Next door to the church, and almost as old, is the Vestry, originally called “Rochester Academy”. The Academy opened its doors to students in May 1839, having been founded at the urging of Rev. Jonathan Bigelow, Pastor of the First Congregational
Church, “to be devoted exclusively to purposes of education.”
A prospectus issued at the time notes the following: “…The locality of this institution for health and morality is not surpassed by any in New England. The trustees confidently assure the Public that a thorough course of instruction will be given in this school in all English studies, Latin, Greek and French languages. Term of tuition, Common English branches, $4.; Higher English $4.50; Languages $5. Good board in private families may be obtained from $1.75 to $2. per week. Great attention will be paid to the moral conduct, general deportment and intellectual improvement of scholars sent to this school.”
The Academy declined in the early 1860’s due to shortage of funds and the proliferation of academies being built in this area. In 1865, older students from the then called Rochester Center School attended the Academy. The original building included a Vestry area which has been used for church purposes since its beginning. In 1905, the Church permitted the Town to utilize two upper rooms as school classrooms. This use continued until the early 1950s. The second floor has now been converted (by Old Colony Vocational Students) into seven religious education classrooms. The church office and pastor’s study are now located on the first floor of the Vestry.