What is a deacon? A deacon in the Congregational Church could be considered a lay clergy member: not an ordained minister, but a member of the congregation who serves as a spiritual leader. Deacons generally assist in worship, encourage teaching of the Scriptures, help to grow the church, and serve in other special ways, such as reaching out to those in need. Deacons are persons of integrity, including spiritual integrity, who give evidence of spiritual growth, and who are good stewards in all matters of living. The earliest example of a spiritual lay leader in New England was Elder William Brewster who came over on the Mayflower.
When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Brewster was their spiritual leader. Not an ordained minister, he was called an elder, the highest ranking lay person of the congregation and similar to what we know as a deacon. The Pilgrims had broken away from the established Church of England, had undergone persecution, and eventually left for the New World to start over. Their convictions were that believers should follow the will of God and Scripture, rather than the will of a monarch, and that Christ is the head of the Church with the people governing. These were also the beliefs held by later Congregationalists in Colonial New England.
Indeed, the Congregational Church throughout its history has believed that all of its members are ministers, and the Church does not consist only of ordained clergy with a passive audience. We all are called to serve the Church in some respect, and the deacons, in particular, serve in a capacity next to the ordained clergy. In times when a pastor is not present, as in those earliest days of the Pilgrims, the congregation looks within itself for spiritual leadership. Our own church here in Rindge went through a similar situation in recent years when our ordained pastor suddenly passed away. It was the deacons who stepped up and at times manned the pulpit themselves and arranged for other laymen to give sermons, as well as arranged for guest clergy to perform Holy Communion.
From the official embodiment of our church in 1765 with Reverend Dean, we had deacons who served with the settled pastor and during transitional periods when searching for a new settled pastor. The deacons from our first church were John Lovejoy, Josiah Ingalls, Francis Towne, and Edward Jewett. These men served until their deaths, which was the custom back then. Now that’s commitment. Let’s take a closer look at these deacons.
Deacon John Lovejoy was born in Andover, Massachusetts in 1725, lived in Lunenburg for much of his life, and moved to Rindge in 1762. He was the proprietors’ clerk until the town became incorporated. In 1767, Deacon Lovejoy was chosen as one of the first two deacons of our church. He was prominent in the church and in the town. Deacon Lovejoy died in 1795 and was buried in the church’s cemetery, very close to the first Meeting House. Interestingly, in 1796, the second Meeting House was actually built on top of him, to the consternation of the town’s people who had voted to prevent this. I presume that the Deacon has been resting in peace.
Deacon Josiah Ingalls came from Andover, Massachusetts to Rindge in 1760. He lived near Grassy Pond and acquired the first saw mill that was built in Rindge. Ingalls provided lumber for the building of the first Meeting House. In 1762, he was elected as treasurer for the township. Ingalls was involved in the search for the first settled pastor and was an original member of the church. In 1767, he was chosen as the other of the first two deacons and served until about 1774 or 1775.
Deacon Francis Towne was born in Topsfield, Massachusetts in 1737. He moved to Rindge in 1771. Deacon Towne was chosen as a deacon in 1776 and served until 1811. He was a selectman and a member of various town committees, including the committee that prepared the plan for the second Meeting House. He also served in the Revolutionary War. Prior to the Revolution, Deacon Towne opened his home for use as a school. His property was located on Thomas Road in Rindge.
Way Back When
by Margaret Morabito, Church Historian
Giving Thanks for the Deacons 1765-1825
6 PAYSON HILL ROAD
RINDGE, NH 03461
First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ