First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury celebrates 300 years

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First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury celebrates 300 years
The First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury stands off the Shrewsbury Town Common. (Photo/Caroline Gordon)

SHREWSBURY – Parishioners throughout the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury have connections of all kinds to the church. David and Sue Russell began attending the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury because their grandchildren live in town.

The couple live in Auburn, and David said they wanted to make it a “family church.”

Sue and Craig Phyfe began attending the First Congregational Church when they moved to Shrewsbury in the late 1970s. However, it wasn’t until Sue did research into her ancestry that she discovered that her connections to the First Congregational Church ran deeper. 

She learned that her fifth-great-grandmother was baptized in the church in 1733. 

Now, when she’s in the church, Sue feels her great-grandmother’s spirit. 

“It made me feel like I had roots that I never knew I had. It gave me a connection and it blew my mind away,” she said. 

First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury celebrates 300 years
Craig and Sue Phyfe attend a celebration for the church’s 300th anniversary. (Photo/Caroline Gordon)

300th anniversary

The Phyfes were among those in attendance of one of the church’s events marking its 300th anniversary. 

In celebration of the church turning 300, the congregation is hosting a series of events throughout the year. 

As part of the celebrations, the congregation held “Reflections On Our Past” on the history of the church on Dec. 14. 

According to Bill Whitehead, in order for a municipality to be established, there had to be a meeting house within the town that served as a church and space for residents to congregate. 

The church was built in 1723 five years before the Town of Shrewsbury was established.

According to the church’s website, the proprietors voted that the meeting house should be located on the “rocky plain near the pines” or just east of the current meeting house on the Town Common. In 1721, William Taylor conveyed 15 acres to the proprietors, and construction commenced that same year. 

Over 300 years, the church has undergone many changes. 

First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury celebrates 300 years
Parishioners attended a celebration in honor of the church’s 300th anniversary in December. (Photo/Caroline Gordon)

After 40 years of residents being called to worship by a drum, a bell was added to the church in 1763. The original meeting house was taken down, and its boards were used for the new church that was constructed in 1766. 

The church expanded over the years. The steeple was constructed in 1807, and a bell was added the next year. The church was turned and moved about 50 feet back from the Town Common in 1834, which is its current location. 

Space was added for a choir and organ and a room for the pastor as well as a library, a furnace room, a kitchen and a ladies parlor in 1891. A parish house was constructed in 1923 for $50,000. 

Whitehead called the church turning 300 years old “a blessing.” 

The Whiteheads moved to Shrewsbury 31 years ago and while “shopping for churches” he came across the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury and said he “instantly” felt welcomed by the head minster. 

“It was the most friendly and welcoming environment within a church I have ever seen. And, it’s been that way ever since,” he said. 

Director of Music for the First Congregational Church Curtis Smith said he has a “deep connection” to the church through music. 

“Music provides a connection into the spiritual world. It’s something we experience beyond what we can sense with just the eyes or the ears,” he said. 

Smith began working for the church four years ago and said that he left the job interview “feeling amazing” because of how welcoming the people who conducted the interview were. 

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, yes, I want to work there,’” he said. 

Smith’s wife, Rachael Smith, said she grew up as a Methodist and being part of the First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury has been a new experience for her. 

She said she admires that the church is self-governing and that it has been in operation for 300 years. 

“Coming here and seeing how vibrant the community can be within a church that really just had itself and the congregation who have carried it throughout the 300 years is awesome,” she said. 

First Congregational Church of Shrewsbury celebrates 300 years
Parishioners attended a celebration in honor of the church’s 300th anniversary in December. (Photo/Caroline Gordon)

The congregation welcomes new senior minister

In the midst of the church marking this milestone, it has also welcomed a new senior minister Holly MillerShank.

MillerShank called First Congregational Church a “giving church” because the people who work there have “generous hearts.” The church is “bursting at the seams” with goodwill that has supported it for 300 years, she said.

MillerShank said she has been “welcomed with an open embrace.” 

“Shrewsbury has been a fantastic place to land as a family. To be a part of a First Congregational Church that has such an iconic and longstanding tradition of being part of the Shrewsbury community feels like it is hand and hand between the church and the town,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified parishioners. The Community Advocate regrets the error.  

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