Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
Paying for Pews 1765-1768
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461
First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
All churches need funding for operational costs and to assist in fulfilling their missions. Ours is no different. Let's take a look back at how we financed our early church.
Prior to Rindge's incorporation, the financing of the township, the Meeting House, and the pastor was the responsibility of the proprietors of Monadnock No. 1. Under their 1749/1750 charter, the proprietors (land owners) had the responsibility to pay taxes as well as to make improvements on their land. Over time, it became difficult to enforce tax collection from land owners, and in particular from non-resident land owners. The difficulty, in part, was the inability from a legal standpoint to enforce collections from all proprietors or to punish for non-payment. Early records show that, as a result of this, Monadnock No. 1 was hurting for lack of money, and this affected the church. So, what did they come up with to help finance the church?
Paying for pews. Shortly after the ordination of Reverend Dean in 1765, the proprietors voted that church pews would be sold to the highest bidder. This seems like a strange plan, counter to the teachings of Jesus. Before the plan was implemented, a pew committee was formed which modified the plan to give the highest tax payers the first choice of the pews and proceed down the line of members based on the level of taxes paid. The committee was in charge of determining which pews were most honorable, to carefully estimate the dignity of each individual, and to assign seats that matched. Since this included very subjective evaluations, some feared that the committee would select themselves as most worthy of the best seats. Therefore, a second committee was formed to prevent vanity selections. Not all of the pews were sold. In actuality, the payment for pews was for annual rental and not for permanent ownership.
While we do not know how much money the proprietors took in at that time, the annual rental of pews apparently was successful and was embraced by the congregation. History tells us that Congregational churches at that time followed the practice of paying for pews for church financing. Later records from our own church show that seating and pew payments continued to be arranged by committees. Much later, in 1794 for example, when they were planning on building the second Meeting House, the church raised $3,448 from the sale of pews.
By 1767, it became apparent that Monadnock No. 1 would need to be incorporated as a town so that taxes could be collected by the town, thus relieving the financial obligation and collection duties of the proprietors. In February of 1768, Monadnock No. 1 officially became the town of Rindge and the financing of the Meeting House expanded. An interesting sidenote is that Reverend Dean proposed that the new town be named Providence, at the request of the people of the congregation. The Governor, however, did not agree and the name was proclaimed to be Rindge, named after a Provincial Council member, Daniel Rindge. Another interesting tidbit is that the Rindge town charter included a requirement to reserve all suitable white pine trees for use as masts by the Royal Navy. But, I digress. Let's get back to the money part of things.
In 1768, the town government took control of the financing of Rindge. Taxes were levied on all property, both personal and real. Every citizen had a voice in the town's management, regardless of how much land he owned. Under the town's incorporation plan, the church was to be independent of the town in all matters dealing with faith and the observance of ceremonies. In selecting ministers, the town and the church acted together. In the payment of the minister's salary, in building and repairing meeting houses, the responsibility was the town's. Money raised for these purposes was voted at town meetings and the cost was assessed on all tax payers just as for paying for highways or other public items. The financing of the minister's salary and the building itself was therefore shared equally by all tax payers of the town and it was mandatory, without regard to religious affiliation. This situation sometimes led to conflict.
By 1768, the church was being financed by a combination of mandatory property taxes collected by the town and pew payments from the members of the congregation. How does this compare with our current methods of financing the church? Just ask any of our Trustees, read the Annual Report, or listen to the announcements each week. You will see the wide variety of ways in which we all contribute to help finance the operation and mission of our church.
(Sources consulted are Stearn’s History of Rindge, New Hampshire 1736-1874; and the Rindge Historical Society.)