Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26, 2012

Massachusetts Natives and Christianity: The Church at Mashpee

Today I am thinking about churches. There is something ingrained in my spirit that I feel a swell of peace and excitement whenever I see a church of any denomination . . . I like to think it is that love of God and Scripture that was placed in my heart by my courageous Lutheran and Huguenot and Anabaptist ancestors. Whatever the case, I wanted to discover one of America’s oldest and most venerable churches. I came across a quite interesting structure called the “Old Indian Meeting House.” I’d never before seen anything like it . . . this church, located in Mashpee, Massachusetts, was actually built for Native Americans who had accepted Christianity. It has bravely stood the test of time.

The conversion of Native Indians is a story in itself. Unlike the Spanish Catholics further south, the predominately-Calvinist founding fathers did not establish mission systems, but they did encourage natives to come to Christianity of their own volition and to live as their white neighbors lived. Missionary efforts brought about such places as the Old Indian Meeting House. That church was constructed in the 1680s and dedicated by Deacon Hinckley.

The Wampanoags who used the church must have marveled at the distinct difference between these simple white frame English-style churches and the outdoors places of worship to which their own ancestors were accustomed. The church is still quite simple; two-story, with white siding, a pointed roof, and two windows on the second level, it also boasts two front doors. (One must wonder if the two doors were for men and women. Though I believe the colonial Quakers followed this practice, I have no idea if the New England Puritans did the same). A pair of simple windows on either side allowed sunlight to infiltrate the humble interior.

Hundreds of years ago the Old Indian Meeting House was found in a different part of town, but for some reason it became expedient to move it in the early 1700s. There is still a Wampanoag population attending this venerable old church. I found it interesting that the Wampanoags were closely associated with the landing of the Pilgrims. Corn-planting Squanto was a member of this tribe. As for particular denomination, it is indeed likely that Puritanism (Calvinism) was the original Christian faith of the Wampanoags, as most Europeans who settled in and around Mashpee held these tendencies.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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