On March 20, 1630, a group of 140 people seeking religious freedom, sailed from Plymouth, England, on the ship “Mary & John,” having formed themselves into a church fellowship before leaving England. The Rev. John White, Rector of Trinity Parish, Dorchester, England, was the motivating influence of this venture. Although he did not come with this group, he was known as the “Patriarch of Dorchester” and it was out of respect for him and in his honor that Dorchester, Massachusetts received its name.
The church thus formed in England became the First Parish Church in Dorchester — our “Mother Church” as Rev. Edw. N. Packard said of Second Church at its 75th Anniversary — “Its roots run far back into Puritan New England and stretch themselves in the sea to feed on English soil.” For 175 years the church formed in Plymouth, England, was the only church in “the frontier town” of Dorchester.
On November 19, 1804, eighty residents of the town formed themselves into a “Dorchester Meeting House Company” for the purpose of erecting “this great church of ours” within 100 rods of Dr. Baker’s Comer (now Codman Square). In the winter months of 1804 – 1805 the great pine logs were cut in Maine (then a part of Massachusetts), hauled over the snow to the water’s edge, towed to the mouth of the Neponset River, and brought from there to the building site by oxen. All the work was done by hand and the exterior had to be finished and painted before winter arrived.
On August 7, 1805, the raising of the frame was begun with every able-bodied citizen taking part. Hymns of praise and prayers of Thanksgiving were offered to the “Divine Architect” for guidance in the work and gratitude that no one person was injured in this great undertaking.
The building was publicly dedicated on Sunday, October 30, 1806. Pews were reserved for the minister and several other people, and the remainder were sold at public auction for $25,750 an amount which was $20,000 more than the entire cost of the land and building. The Paul Revere bell in the tower was raised in 1816, replacing an earlier bell which had cracked. It weighs 1,200 lbs., excluding a 27 lb. clapper. In its 185 years, it has sounded forth the call to worship, notified the countryside of fire, proclaimed the death of presidents, and tolled in respect for the departed. The 4-dialed clock in the tower was added in 1852 — the gift of Col. Walter Baker of chocolate fame.
Second Church was not always so called — it was known as Upper Meeting House, New Meeting House, or South Meeting House. On January 19, 1810, it was voted unanimously to be known as the South Church in Dorchester. Two years later on April 3, 1812, another vote was passed by which it was to be called “Second Church.”
The Second Church in Dorchester was organized by an ecclesiastical council on January 1, 1808, with sixty-four charter members (27 men and 37 women) affectionately dismissed from the “Mother Church.” Services of worship were held in Second Church in the interval between its dedication in 1806 and its organization in 1808.
It should be remembered that the organization of a second church in Dorchester was due solely to the need of an expanding population. As evidence of this, a committee was appointed to draw up a communication “From the brethren about to form a second church in Dorchester.” In part it read, “Brethren, the period of separation has arrived. It is solemn and affecting. Bear us on your devout petitions to God that He would endow us with wisdom profitable to direct and prosper us….”
A committee of the First Church was there upon appointed “to draw up a reply to the communication of those who are about to form a second church in which they express their feelings in separating from us, assuring them our parting benediction.”
Dr. John Codman, member of an influential family, graduate of Harvard, and also attended Edinburgh University, Scotland, was ordained on December 7, 1808, as first minister of Second Church in Dorchester. Dr. Codman’s ministry has been the longest in the history of Second Church. A note of interest — during Dr. Codman’s ministry Daniel Webster regularly attended Second Church when he was in Dorchester. Also, John Adams, second president of the United States, attended services.
Dr. Codman died on December 23, 1847, but a few days before his death, riding with his friend, Rev. William Allen, D.D., in a pleasant field a short distance in front of this meetinghouse, Dr. Codman said, “I intend to offer this field to my parish for a cemetery and here I wish to lie in the midst of my people.” Thus it was that Second Church came into possession of the Codman Cemetery. In 1848, Baker’s Comer (now Codman Square) was named in memory of Dr. John Codman. It had been known as Baker’s Corner for Dr. James Baker who eventually founded the first chocolate manufacturing enterprise in the country.
Rev. James H. Means, D.D., became the second minister of Second Church, a wish of Dr. Codman’s that his student assistant take his place when he died. Dr. Means had a 30 year ministry during which time the Civil War in this country took place.
In 1879 Rev. Edward N. Packard, D.D., became the third minister of Second Church. It was during his ministry that the parsonage was erected. His ministry ended in 1887.
Rev. Arthur Little, D.D., became the fourth minister of Second Church in 1889. The Chinese Sunday School was established during his ministry of twenty-three years. Also, the Hook-Hastings Organ was given to the church by T. Beaumont Townsend in memory of his mother and father. This is the fourth organ in the history of Second Church and is still in use today. Dr. Little resigned in 1912 and was made Pastor Emeritus.
Rev. Jason Noble Pierce, D.D., succeeded Dr. Little in 1914 and was the fifth minister of Second Church. During his ministry World War I broke out and two hundred and three men and women from Second church entered the armed forces and Dr. Pierce served in France as Senior Chaplain of the Second Division, returning in 1919. In 1920 he accepted a call to a church in Washington, D.C.
In December 1920, Rev. Vaughan Dabney, D.D., became the sixth minister of Second Church. It was during his tenure that the incorporation of the parish and church into a corporate entity was accomplished in 1922, the Parish House was built, and Harvard Church, which as an offshoot of Second Church, reunited with Second Church. Dr. Dabney resigned in December 1931 to become Dean of Andover-Newton Theological School.
Rev. Andrew Richards, D.D., became the seventh minister of Second Church in 1932. Dr. Richards, born in Leith, Scotland, came to this country at the age of seventeen. During his ministry, nineteen young men entered the ministry. World War II raged for four years during which time 163 young men and women joined the armed services — eight of her young men paying the supreme sacrifice. There were 1400 members recorded in 1935 during Dr. Richards’ ministry, which spanned 34 years, and 110 in the Sunday School which was organized in 1918.
Rev. Frank T. Jensen, D.D., became the eighth pastor of Second Church in 1967, during which time the Codman Square area saw many changes affecting the church. During his ministry, Central Congregational Church of Dorchester, another offshoot of Second Church, reunited with Second Church in 1973. Dr. Jensen was the Director of Religious Education of Second Church from 1930 to 1938 when he accepted a call to become pastor of a church in St. Joseph, Michigan. Dr. Jensen retired in 1979 and returned to Michigan with his wife, Dorothy.
Rev. Thomas G. Jones became our ninth pastor in 1979 and stayed until 1984. It was during Rev. Jones’ ministry that we celebrated our 175th anniversary in 1980.
Rev. Dr. Donald P. Brickley became the tenth pastor of Second Church in January 1988. Dr. Donald Brickley brokered the transfer to the Church the Nazarene in 1990. At that time, Dr. Brickley also served as pastor of the Neponset Community Church and was (and still is) an elder in the Church of the Nazarene. In 1991, the heritage of Second Church was merged with the Church of the Nazarene – a Church with a great tradition of ministry to people in the city.
The field of labor to which we feel especially called is in the neglected quarters of the cities and where ever else may be found waste places and souls seeking pardon and cleansing from sin. This work we aim to do through the agency of city missions, evangelistic services, house to house visitation, caring for the poor, comforting the dying.
Dr. Phineas F. Bresee, Founder, Church of the Nazarene, October 30, 1895.
Rev. Dennis Scott was appointed senior pastor and shortly after, Rev. Victor Price is named co-pastor. In 1995, Rev. Alexander Mason III becomes senior pastor of the Congregation. In February 2000, Rev. Jossie E. Owens assumed the mantle of senior pastor of the historic Second Church in Dorchester. In 2004, Dr. Owens was elected the first female and first African American District Superintendent of the New England District of the Church of the Nazarene. Rev. Dr. Victor A. Price returns as the new senior pastor in August 2004. At the present time, two Nazarene congregations worship in the building: English (mostly West Indians) and Cape Verdean, plus a Wesleyan church.
The bell in the tower was cast by Paul Revere & Son. The present bell replaced an earlier bell, which had become cracked, and was raised in 1816. The bell itself weighs 1220 pounds and the clapper weighs 27 pounds. It has sounded forth the call to worship, notified the countryside of fire, announced victories in times of war, proclaimed the death of presidents, and tolled in respect of the dead. The four-dialed clock was added in 1852, the gift of Col. Walter Baker of chocolate fame.
The original pews were green-colored and square in which many of the congregation had to turn their backs upon the minister. In 1854, the green pews were taken down and rearranged, the center aisle removed and the two doors on either side of the pulpit area were cut.
In 1869, fifty persons joined in contributing $11,000 for the erection of the Chapel, which was enlarged by the addition of the parlors in 1892. Second Church in its early days was referred to as the “Upper Meeting House,” the “New Meeting House,” or the “South Meeting House.” On January 19, 1810, it was voted unanimously to be known as “The South Church in Dorchester,” and two years later on April 3, 1812 it was voted and passed that it was to be called “Second Church” as it is still known today. However, it is more familiarly known as “The White Church.”
The pipe organ in the sanctuary was dedicated on November 24, 1907, and can still be used today. The auditorium was renovated in 1907, and the next year Second Church celebrated its 100th birthday. A few days later, on January 15, 1908, shortly after midnight a fire broke out on the transom over the North Porch door. The first alarm was rung at 12:25 am, the fourth at 12:55 and the “All out” at 3:58. The walls of both the church and the chapel were saved and on the chapel wall at the time was the Scripture verse, “Lo, I am with you always,” which survived the flames.
In 1929 the old meetinghouse and its grounds were thoroughly renovated and restored. The Parish House, the section of the building which houses the administrative wing, Wales Hall (gym/fellowship room and kitchen), the Family Parlor, Dabney Room, and the third floor rooms and apartment were built and dedicated on November 13, 1929.
Second Church in Dorchester is the oldest Congregational Meetinghouse in Boston still being used as a church.
The sanctuary is currently undergoing extensive renovation. Donations are welcome (see top right of page). Services are held in the Chapel.
We remain committed as these traditions merge to provide a standard to lead Second Church into the future.
Sections of this history excerpted from Puritan Heritage: a brief history of Second Church in Dorchester, compiled by Janet L. Robertson, Church Historian. 1955.
Second Church Ministers
Rev. John Codman, D.D.- 1808 to 1847
Rev. James Howard Means, D.D. – 1848 to 1878
Rev. Edward N. Packard, D.D. – 1879-1887
Rev. Arthur Little, D.D. – 1889 to 1912
Pastor Emeritus – 1912 to 1915
Rev. Jason Noble Pierce, D.D. – 1914 to 1920
Rev. Vaughan Dabney, D.D. – 1920 to 1931
Rev. Andrew Richards, D.D. – 1932 to 1966
Rev. Frank T. Jensen, D.D. – 1967 to 1979
Rev. Thomas G. Jones – 1979 to 1984
Rev. Donald P. Brickley – 1988 to 1990
Rev. Dennis Scott – 1990 to 1994
Rev. Victor Price – 1991 to 1993
Rev. Alexander Mason III – 1995 to 1999
Rev. Dr. Jossie E. Owens – 2000 to 2004
Rev. Dr. Victor A. Price – 2004 to present