As we approach Thanksgiving, many of us reflect on the history of the Pilgrims coming to North America in search of religious freedom. With this in mind, First Parish Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts has a steep history and culture reflecting back hundreds of years.
First Parish Church is the birthplace of religious freedom in America. The congregation was founded in 1620 by the Pilgrims that landed in Plymouth. With continuous records dating back to 1606 from Scrooby, England, where these freedom-seekers were forced to worship in secret, Plymouth’s First Parish Church is possibly the oldest continuous Western spiritual institution in America.
During the Pilgrims’ first winter in Plymouth, described as the ‘winter of death,’ the settlers worshipped in a small, wooden structure near the harbor. A fort was constructed in 1622 and served as a place of worship until the Pilgrims built their first church in 1648—a simple square structure.
As the congregation grew and the structure fell into disrepair, it was replaced in 1683 by the second church. In 1744, the town gave the church land to build the third church to replace the 1683 structure and remained in use until 1831, when a fourth building, a large, gothic, wooden church, was constructed.
In 1892, the Pilgrims lost a fourth church to fire and set out to build yet another church that would “enshrine the values and faith that have made our nation great.” That vision became reality thanks to many generous donors throughout America and was completed in 1897 and dedicated in 1899. This is the current building that still holds worship services today.
Envisioned to be a lasting memorial to the Pilgrims, the present 1899 church sits on the site where the Mayflower’s brave sailors gathered to worship nearly 400 years ago. The church represents the freedoms founded by the Pilgrims—freedoms that continue to draw immigrants to America from around the world.
In 2014, the church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior due to its historic importance and architectural significance.
At the dedication in 1899, Arthur Lord, president of the Pilgrim Society, proclaimed: “To this generation came the duty and the opportunity to erect upon the ruins of the old church, a memorial, simple yet enduring, to the religious life of its founders, the last and best of the great memorials to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Long may it stand, sustaining, elevating and inspiring the life and thought of this community, its portals ever open to the ‘new light yet to come.’”
For more information on First Parish Church Plymouth Church, visit www.firstparishplymouth.org.