Saturday, August 31, 2013


Despite his many letters to neighboring churches looking for support, Edward
Woodman's campaign to dismiss Rev. Thomas Parker from the ministry of
the Newbury church never succeeded. It seems rather odd because his position
on church governance was solidly in line with the Congregational majority of
the Massachusetts colony and Rev. Parker was one of only two ministers that
had Presbyterian views. But there were some things that may have caused
Woodman's failure.

One might have been the man himself. His outbursts against Rev. Parker verged
on the personal and Rev. Parker was well regarded by his fellow clergymen even if
they didn't agree with him. Also, the maneuver to oust Parker that divided the
Newbury parishioners would probably not have been something the other ministers
in the colony would want to see repeated.  Finally, Rev. Parker had important
family connections. His nephew Rev. John Woodbridge was the son in law of the
late Gov. Thomas Dudley.

But Woodman did win one concession: upon the recommendation of another
council of churches, John Woodbridge resigned his position as his uncle's assistant
in 1672 and became town magistrate instead. By this time, both Parker and Woodman
were in their seventies. Parker was going blind and John Richardson was hired
to  assist him. When Rev. Parker died in 1677, Richardson became the next minister
of the Newbury church. Time had succeeded where Edward Woodman had failed.
Within two generations, families that had been on opposite sides of the split
in the church would see their grandchildren marry.

I am the descendant of several of those marriages

Most of what I've found online about the split in the Newbury Church seems to favor
Edward Woodman as a champion of Congregationalist principles. The website for
the First Parish Church of Newbury describes it as a victory for Congregationalism
democracy of a "clerical invasion". With all due respect to the church, it's somewhat
difficult for a minister to "invade" a church he had established in the first place. But as
I said in the start of this series of posts, I am not concerned with the theological
aspects of the dispute.

I'm grateful it happened, though, because I learned something of what my ancestors
believed about their religion.

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