400 Year Old West Barnstable Parish Celebrates Milestone

DSC_6561WEST BARNSTABLE – It looked like a rehearsal of The Scarlet Letter, but the Reverend advised from his tall, old pulpit: this was a service of worship, not some theatrical curiosity.

Still, it was a spectacle at the West Parish of Barnstable on Sunday.

Widely considered the oldest congregational church in the world, the parish celebrated their service festooned in period clothes, appearing as their predecessors in 1616 would have.

By celebrating 400 years in this way, they paid homage to the institution’s forefathers while also looking toward the future, according to Reverend Reed Baer.

DSC_6555“We have this incredibly rich history, but it’s a congregation which doesn’t just look backward, it looks forward,” Baer, who has pastored at the church for 18 years, said Sunday. “We’re always looking to see what new thing God is doing on the Cape, and how might we respond.”

Assistants, adorned with pilgrim-like hats, lead the gathering in traditional song, while the Reverend attempted to speak in a period-appropriate tongue wherever possible.

The communion table sat in the middle of the room, in front of the pulpit, for all to behold. On it, a baptismal bowl which came from England in 1634 and which had just been used the day previous to initiate a new member into the faith community.

DSC00646This special mass was one of many events the church has organized for its 400th year. A series of lectures and concerts, historic trolley tour and a time capsule burial will also take place over the next few months.

The church’s lineage starts in London, where a group of independent worshippers broke away and eventually crossed the Atlantic. They first settled in Scituate, and later in Barnstable. The meetinghouse itself was constructed in 1717.

After the service, Reed stood outside the church doors, greeting every single attendee and commenting on the primped white bonnets and sturdy black hats.

“Let’s all come back in another 100 years to celebrate again!” the Reverend said.

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