Typical of so many New England towns and villages, the First Congregational Church of Hopkinton stood like a sentinel across the street from the Common, an architectural treasure and a picturesque focal point of attention from Hayden Rowe Street as it meets Main Street.
The church was first "gathered" on September 2, 1724, at the home of John Howe in what was then a very large square house on East Main Street. In those early days, the regular meetings of the town also were held at Mr. Howe's house and often the official action of the town was interwoven with that of the church. Much of our rich heritage as a nation is deeply rooted in Christian faith and fellowship and that it was customary for people to share their homes for this purpose.
At that meeting of September 4, 1724, Samuel Barrett, who had graduated in 1721 from Harvard College, was ordained by an ecclesiastical council convened for that purpose. He was joined by fourteen men in the first membership of what was then called the Church of Christ in Hopkinton. Rev. Barrett was the Pastor for nearly fifty years until 1772. He had his own home built on the site of the present Town Hall on Main Street. He was given 100 acres of land and the sum of 30 pounds towards the building of his house. In addition to the salary of 35 pounds per year, he was given his firewood.
The first church building, which was actually called the Meeting House of the town, was voted by the townspeople on January 4, 1725; the structure itself was raised in December of that year and was first occupied in June of 1726. Early records indicate quite a difference of opinion in town as to the best location for the meeting house and the matter was finally settled by the drawing of lots, the chosen site being at the edge of the Common near the bronze plaque.
The first building was a plain wooden structure, two stories, 48 feet long by 35 feet wide and was not adorned with a steeple or cupola of any kind. It remained unpainted for nearly 50 years.
Some of the interesting points as recorded in the journals are:
- It contained two bodies of seats, one for men and one for women
- A few special pews were built by those who could afford the additional expense
- A special pew was built close to the pulpit for those who were hard of hearing
- The rich sat forward and poorer folk sat at the rear
- The second story contained a balcony at the rear for the choir, and
balconies on either side for the slaves and the overflow of poor people
- Men came to church on horseback with their wives riding behind them, sometimes with small children also riding
- The young folk usually walked and, as shoes were very expensive, young
women often carried their shoes and stockings until close to the church
when they dressed their feet and appeared in their seats in time for
The Sunday services generally were 3 hours long, the sermon itself being an hour and a half or two hours long. There was no heat in the buildings so worshipers bundled themselves against the cold as best they could. In 1731, the church voted to comply with the Cambridge Platform of Church Discipline, thereby adopting a congregational form. Many who preferred a Presbyterian form withdrew from the church at that time, although some of them later returned.
Although Rev. Barrett had started with only 14 members in 1724, at the end of his ministry in 1772 he had received 376 persons into church membership. He was recorded in the annals as a "pious good Christian, a man of great candor and good nature". The Rev. Elijah Fitch, who had come to Hopkinton as Rev. Barrett's associate in December of 1771, succeeded him in 1772 as Pastor. The record contains Rev. Fitch's letter of acceptance, a beautifully humble letter of love ending with the statement, "I am your Servant for Jesus sake and Brother in the faith, order and fellowship of the Gospel".
Rev. Fitch lived on Ash Street in the vicinity of Pike Street. He was Pastor until 1788 when he died at the young age of 43. It is written of him that "his life was spent in one continual exertion for the good of his church, his people and his family": what a wonderful tribute for the church.
During Rev. Fitch's ministry, the history-laden events of the revolutionary days took place and it is recorded that on June17, 1776 the town assembled, in their own words, "to vote to see whether the town will declare themselves Independent of Great Britain in case the Continental Congress should so declare the same. Passed in the affirmative by a very unanimous vote". Since the church was also the town meeting house, arms and ammunition were stored in the building during this period.
Rev. Nathaniel Howe was born in Ipswich, MA in 1764, graduated from Harvard in 1786 and received his MA in 1789. He was ordained and became pastor in 1791 and married soon after. He served the church for 46 years until his death in 1837. They lived on an 88 acre farm on Hayden Rowe Street approximately ½ mile south of the church. (Note: Portraits of Rev. Howe and his wife, Olive, were purchased in 1980 by Old Sturbridge Village and hang in the parsonage there.)
Rev. Howe delivered his famous Century Sermon in December of 1815 on the occasion of the Town's 100th anniversary. This sermon was published widely and often quoted. It was translated into foreign languages and is recorded in the historical annals of the town and the state.
In 1817 the Sunday School was organized by Miss Nancy Fitch. Another key point during Mr. Howe's ministry here is that in 1827, it was decided to separate the business affairs of the church from those of the town and a Parish was legally organized. For the previous 103 years, the town and church business were conducted together; and in the meantime, two other churches had come into being (the Episcopal Church and a Methodist Church). In 1829, the original 'meeting house' was sold and moved away to be used first as a barn and later as a boot factory.
During that year, a new church building was erected and Rev. Howe preached a memorable dedication sermon on January 13, 1830. This was the first building to be built on the site at 2 Main Street. This new building was a beautiful structure, 62 feet long and 50 feet wide with the front gables resting on four large pillars standing on hammered granite pavement. A spire stood over the front gable, containing a bell that weighed 1690 lbs. The entire basement was made of stone and was leased to the town for use as a town hall, having a separate entrance on the west side for that purpose. The church 'auditorium' contained 600 seats and boasted a gallery all the way around, nine feet high. The choir sat behind the pulpit, over the vestibule. This building stood until its destruction during the great fire of 1882, which also destroyed several other buildings in the center of the town.
From 1830 to 1832, the Rev. Amos Phelps assisted Rev. Howe and, from 1833 to 1837, Rev. Jeffries Hall assisted. Rev. Howe died in 1837, having received into membership 245 persons during his ministry of 46 years. It is interesting here to point out that during its first 118 years, our church was served by three pastors (the next 113 years is divided among 18 pastors).
In 1883, the Rev. John C. Webster became Pastor of the church, serving for the next 26 years to 1864. Rev. Webster is recorded as a "tireless pastor, a scholarly and able preacher, and a very Godly man". Revr. Webster's sermons were widely published and he was honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree by Dartmouth College.
In 1865, the Rev. James Boardman became Pastor, followed by Rev. George H. Ide in 1869, Rev. Horatio 0. Ladd in 1877 and Rev. J. Ellsworth Fullerton in 1881. It was during Rev. Fullerton's ministry here that the great fire of April 4, 1882 occurred. The records indicate that in twenty minutes the splendid structure of the Congregational Church was in ashes. The 2800 lb. bell, which fell and was melted in the fire, was later recast into a bell of the same pitch as the original and hung at the church.
For nearly a year, services were held in the neighboring Methodist church. A new edifice was quickly built, and dedicated on May 9, 1883. This was the large, beautiful structure which stood until the hurricane of 1938.
In 1886, the Rev. Preston B. Wing became Pastor and was followed in 1893 by Rev. Theodore J. Holmes and in 1899 by Rev. James B. King. As the century was drawing to a close, people were leaving the town of Hopkinton and, for the first time since its beginning, the membership of the church started to decline (after 170 years of steady growth).
In 1904, the Rev. A. Ferdinand Travis became pastor and, although the membership was still on the decline, the records indicate increased activity and zeal. The Sunday school became very active. Mrs. Travis called a meeting of all the ladies of the church and started the organization that became known as the Women's Union of the First Congregational Church of Hopkinton, Massachusetts. The stated object of the group was "to promote the interests of the church in the fellowship of its members and in the honor and service of God". For a period of about 5 years, commencing in 1917, this group changed its name to the "Congregational Social Circle" and then voted to resume its original name. In those days, the women had all day sewing meetings, preparing clothing and other items for those in need.
Rev. William Ganley was pastor from 1911 to 1914 and Rev. Wilbur A. Vorhis during 1915 to 1916. Rev. Vorhis was instrumental in getting the Boy Scouts organized and the church has sponsored Troop #1 since 1916.
Rev. Robert M. Grey followed Rev. Vorhis and served during the World War I years. During Rev. Grey's ministry, the Methodist Church voted to discontinue its services (May 12, 1918) and many of their members joined the fellowship of the Congregational Church.
Rev. Elmer Newton Eddy served as Pastor from 1929 to 1932 and from 1932 to 1936 Rev. John Edward Thomas served. Rev. Edwin B. Nylen served from 1936 to 1943 and it was during this period, in September of 1938, that the devastating hurricane caused the 130 foot steeple of the church to crash down demolishing the church building. The members of the Episcopal Church let them hold services in their building for about a year and a half. (This is the stone building next to the library, which is now a handsome part of the library itself)
The cornerstone of the new church building (at 2 Main St and the 'fourth meeting house' in our 275 year history) was laid on May 14, 1939. One of the church leaders, Mr. Allison Williams, took charge of the construction and, through much devoted local labor and many splendid gifts, the fine structure as we know it today resulted.
Rev. J. Everett Bodge was Pastor here from 1943 to 1948, being ordained here on March 7, 1944. Rev. John Ed Thomas served again the interim period of November 1948 to September 1949 when Rev. Frederick C. Wilson came to serve the church for the next ten years.
During Rev. Wilson's ministry, further improvements took place within the church structure. What was formerly an unused attic space, was transformed into additional classrooms for the Sunday School in 1954. In 1956 an extensive outside drainage system was installed to prevent the flooding of Eldredge Hall during storms. Eldredge Hall itself is named for Mr. Fred. I. Eldredge, and the Chapel was named for Mrs. Marie MacLean, both of whom contributed so generously to make it possible for the then "present building".
Rev. Forrest C. Higgins became Pastor in 1959 serving until 1967. He was followed by Rev. Robert K. Shimoda who served until 1971. During this period of time, Hopkinton, like so many communities, had gone through some rapidly changing scenes. The new highways, more than any other single factor, had made the town a natural focal point for future growth.
In the fall of 1971, Rev. Marvin L. Derby became Interim Pastor of the church, serving until the fall of 1972 when the congregation voted to call Rev. Richard A. Germaine. The congregation had diminished in size and there was some question as to whether the church would survive. However, under his preaching and teaching the congregation has grown and continues to grow in size. From 1979 to 1982 Rev. David McKinney was Associate Pastor. In late 1985 Rev.Tim Lawton came on staff as Associate Pastor of Youth and stayed for two years.
Due to increased growth, an addition was added to the building in 1978 which included a gym/multipurpose room and additional Sunday School classrooms. Extensive remodeling was also done to increase the size of the sanctuary.
In the fall of 1981 the Hopkinton Christian Preschool was started under the leadership of Marylou Mansfield.
In the fall of 1983 Robert Cloutier was called out of the congregation to become Associate Pastor of Pastoral Care. After completing a seminary education in 1992, he was ordained through the church in 1993.
In 1986 the church voted to plant a church in the area of Westboro. That church is now known as New Hope Chapel.
In the fall of 1989 the church called Michael Laurence to be Associate Pastor of Youth and Christian Education. Mike was ordained through the church in 1990.
In 1991 a Long Range Planning Committee was formed to determine how to accommodate our growing congregation. The population of Hopkinton and Metrowest Boston continued to increase as people moved into the area. After over a year of research the group recommended that the best solution was to move the entire church and ministries from its current location at 2 Main Street as soon as a suitable new facility could be built.
On January 16, 1993 the congregation voted to build our fifth building and formally kicked off a fund-raising program with only a vision of a new facility that would meet the need as well as enhance local and worldwide ministries. The success of the "Join Together and Rise" program brought strength and unity to the church because of the undeniable evidence of following God's will. This first fund-raising campaign allowed FCCH to pay for 31 acres of property at 146 East Main Street in Hopkinton and pay for engineering studies, appraisals, legal costs and to apply for town approvals.
On October 2, 1994 the congregation voted to leave the United Church of Christ denomination due to theological differences. This was done after many years of trying to make an impact on the liberal stance held by that organization.
In 1996 a second fund-raising campaign, "From Vision to Reality", moved us to the next challenge. No longer planning and envisioning but with plans drawn up, approved, and construction ready to begin. The ground breaking service was held June 2, 1996 and construction began in the fall. The building committee had worked for over three years in the design and development of this new facility. Every member had the opportunity to participate in the comprehensive plan that was ultimately developed.
Meanwhile, God led the Korean Presbyterian Church of Greater Boston to make an offer to purchase the 2 Main Street building. The building was officially sold to them on July 16, 1997. However, from January through July of 1997 we shared the building, with their meeting Sunday afternoon for worship services.
Construction at the 146 East Main St. location continued through the winter, spring and summer of 1997. On August 2, 1997 the dedication service was held, followed the next day by the first Sunday service with much excitement over what God would do with such a resource. The building, of approximately 50,000 square feet, doubled the previous building size with a Worship Center that accommodates 650 people, as opposed to 300.
1997 saw worship service attendance increase to an average of 500 and was a year of change. Not only did the church move 1.5 miles east from 2 Main Street to 146 East Main Street, but the church hired a full-time Director of Children’s Ministry, was involved in the development of John 17:23 Network for Pastors, and saw a restructuring of church government to meet the rapid pace of a changing culture.
In the following years the mission statement was articulated to; “Reach Hopkinton, Metrowest and the World with the Good News of Jesus Christ”. Together with the churches in Hopkinton we distributed the Jesus Video to all homes in Hopkinton.
In 1999, we celebrated the 275th anniversary of the founding of the church. In researching the history, it was discovered that the church was founded through the vision of Edward Hopkins, an early 1700’s governor of Connecticut, to see the “Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in these New England parts.”
A New Century
In 2000, a full-time staff position of Director of Ministry and Administration was created as part of the new approach to church government and ministry developed in 1997, going to an Elder Board, Ministry Council and Administrative Council.
In early 2000, census data showed that Hopkinton had the fastest growing population of children under 18 in the state of Massachusetts and attendance grew in Children’s Ministry resulting in a need for additional classrooms. The Center for Christian Growth (adult seminars) was also growing and needed additional classrooms.
In 2003, the Step Into the River campaign challenged the church to step out in faith and begin to raise funds to expand the building. Soon construction began to add a Chapel for weddings, funeral and other small gatherings with seating for 150, a Student Ministry Area at the front of the building with parking beneath, and new classrooms on two floors around the existing gymnasium for Children and Adult Ministry. The addition increased the building by 30,000 square feet to 80,000.
2002 and 2003 were transition years as Richard Germaine, after 30 years as Senior Pastor, left to form a new ministry, Barnabas Ministries, Inc. Michael Laurence became the Senior Pastor. Dick’s 30 years of ministry saw this church come from the brink of dying out to a healthy, active fellowship of believers. His final sermon was from the same passage as his first sermon at FCCH, Zechariah 4:1-8. He challenged the congregation to consider all God has done in our live and given us for ministry. People and resources are available for us to make a great impact for the Kingdom of God in Hopkinton, Metrowest and the World.
In the years following we approved women as Elders, joined in a church-wide initiative to underwrite all that World Vision is doing in the Mbobo Mtonga region in Malawi, Africa, impacted by the AIDS crisis and additionally sponsored 100 children in the same area. A strategic planning task force was appointed to assess the current state of the church, and Director of Worship was hired.
In 2008, a new Sunday morning service was added in the Chapel when technology made it possible for the sermon to be broadcast live from the Worship Center. This new service has a traditional style of music.
2009 saw the adoption of new bylaws and our mission statement: “Guiding people to a deeper relationship with Christ and a greater love for others”.
The Director of Ministry and Administration position changed to Executive Director and the Executive Ministry Council included Directors in Children’s Ministry, Student Ministry, Spiritual Growth, Worship, Care, Equipping, and Finance and Operations, together with the Lead Pastor and Executive Director. This team plans the ministry initiatives of the church as directed by the Board of Elders under the new bylaws. There are many other ministry coordinators and ministry partners that work with the Executive Ministry Council to carry out the mission statement of the church.
In 2011, we hired a third pastor, Dorian Botsis, to lead the Care Ministry and plan how we can best meet the needs of a growing congregation. We continue our focus on outreach to our community and around the world. We support local organizations by collecting blankets and food for those in need and support 23 missionaries or mission organizations and sponsor children and projects in Africa through World Vision.
In 2011, the church leadership, with careful thought and prayer, recommend to the congregation that we officially change the name of the church to Faith Community Church, which better describes who we are as believers in Jesus Christ. The recommendation was well received by the congregation and effective September, 2011, the name was changed.
We currently have an average Sunday attendance of 250 children birth to 6th grade, 250 students in grades 7-12 and 750 adults.
As the story of the past 287 years continues, the same is true, as in the beginning; deeply rooted in Christian faith and fellowship with that certain assurance that, though people and buildings change, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.