St. Paul’s has the distinction of being the oldest continuous Episcopal parish in Massachusetts, and indeed one of the oldest in the country. As you probably know it was founded in 1711 during the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain under the tutelage of the Anglican missionary society with the long, tongue twisting name of The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the foreign parts in this case being British America. St. Paul’s founding was preceded by 25 years by King’s Chapel in Boston near the Common in 1686, the first Anglican parish in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. King’s Chapel, like St. Paul’s, had a tough time getting established due to the hostility of the surrounding puritan population who wanted no part of a “heretical” orthodox church from which they had come here to escape. These conflicts, social, economic and theological in nature, are a story in themselves for a later time. They confirm, as if we did not know it already, that the Christian family is no stranger to heated, sometimes ugly, conflict.
King’s Chapel, like so many churches in New England, adopted the ideals of Unitarianism after the game changing success of the War of Independence and the introduction of a democratically elected government by the people, casting off the enigmatic mysteries of the trinity and the supernatural divinity of Christ in favor of a theology based more solely on reason, conscience and moral character. The distinction of the oldest continuous Episcopal parish passed to St. Paul’s. Although, in fairness, we should acknowledge we have competition. Christ Church Quincy in Quincy, Massachusetts was gathered in 1689 and organized as a parish in 1704, seven years before us. It too survived fires, relocation and persecution by the surrounding Puritans as did St. Paul’s. To complicate matters, their parish was divided into multiple entities whole ours remained whole. During the Revolutionary War its loyalist rector was suddenly lost while the faithful Rev. Bass continued to hold services throughout the conflict, albeit with the modification of no mention of the King, British government or the Royal Family, giving us some ground to claim an unbroken history of continuous service and operation. No doubt this gentlemanly diocesan debate will continue.
However, whatever distinction we hold, we might ask what accounts for our historic longevity? What is it that made our parish forefathers and mothers remain faithful to this tradition of belief and worship? What led our rector to maintain a path of comprise to keep our mission of faith alive? What enduring values make us faithful to this day?
Bronson de Stadler