First Congregational Church Haverhill has had a continuous, systematic narrative that can be traced back to a tree next to the Merrimack River and a man named John Ward. Members of First Church Haverhill were proud of their Christian Heritage So I ventured to learn more about this man John Ward. Call me a romantic I had been called into this linage and this old church closed to form A New Church for A New Haverhill called Phoenix Rising United Church of Christ. My research brought me to the University of Massachusetts archives on the early history of Haverhill.
I read that on October 24th 1642 John Ward was ordained and upon his ordination he was given 16 acres of land, one cow, two pigs, a dozen chickens, six cords of wood that would be cut and stacked at his door, 400 shillings a year, and a portion of the crops from the village would be share with him so he could devote himself to the study of God’s word.
A fun fact to this story is that when I was making plans to move to Haverhill, there were only five houses for rent in our price range. Only one person called us back, we got the house and it literally sits on those 16 acres. When serendipity happens it humbles me and causes me to thank God for guidance. It also becomes both an affirmation and confirmation that I am indeed am on the threshold of fulfilling a mission with the help of God. As fascinating as this is, there was even more. More than once the narrative mentioned the “Worshiping Oak”. It was the place where the first villagers held worship.
I discovered in my research that the Worshiping Oak still existed and I set out to find it. It really wasn’t hard to find. It is on the site of the Buttonwoods museum and the John Ward house. I went there a few weeks later. I felt a deep connection! It is that feeling when ones awareness is so acute your senses seem to pierce the veil of the past. There it was the great Oak! I imagined it as an ancient sentinel present for over 350 years. I imagined those first settlers gathering there under its branches. I stood beside the tree and watched the Merrimack meander toward the ocean. Then I stood in front of the tree facing the grassy knoll. I imagined that John Ward had once stood in the very spot I now stood. I wondered what sermons he preached. What was worship like? What vision or dreams did he and the people of the village hold for their future. This was “The” place it all began. This tree shaded the first worshipers and now centuries later looked down on me, a new kind of Pastor about to lead a reemerging Christian Community that can trace its roots back to this very patch of earth! I said a prayer. In that moment I imagined planting the seed called Phoenix Rising UCC. I imagined circling back to this very spot and gathering members of this new congregation under the Worship Oak t joining our hearts with our Christian ancestors. This is why we will be gathering Easter Sunday Morning at the Buttonwoods Museum Everyone is invited. Bring your family and friends and join us in this historical moment . We will, dedicate and celebrate the history of First Congregational Church and its new child Phoenix Rising United Church of Christ, come and make a memory with us and experience the awe and wonder of the moment? God is still speaking
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12