The congregation of Second Parish in Hingham is celebrating its 275th anniversary this year. Second Parish, like Hingham, has a rich history. It was founded in 1746 as one of the churches of the “Standing Order” of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These meetinghouses and their ministers were supported by taxes levied upon the citizens.
In 1727, due to the distance from the downtown meetinghouse, Hingham’s First Parish or what we know as Old Ship, the inhabitants of Glad Tidings Plain began to agitate for religious services in South Hingham during the winter. Each of their proposals was refused. By 1738, they requested to be set off into their own parish and precinct. This caused much controversy, as downtown residents who also owned farmland in South Hingham would be taxed to support two churches if this occurred. Undaunted and rebellious, the residents of South Hingham, led by Theophilus Cushing (1703-1779), decided to build their own meetinghouse.
Cushing gave the land, and Solomon Loring and others provided the building materials. The frame was raised June 22, 1742. The original church was a simple rectangular structure with pews owned by parishioners on the first floor and galleries upstairs. Now the inhabitants had a meetinghouse, but no preacher and no public money to pay one. They continued to petition the Great and General Court in 1744 and 1745. Finally, on March 21, 1746, the parish was established. Reverend Daniel Shute (1722-1802) was called as minister and served for over 50 years.
During the Revolutionary War, Reverend Shute was an ardent patriot, but remained a steadfast friend of Reverend Ebenezer Gay (1696-1787) of Old Ship, who was a loyalist. The two pastors exchanged pulpits, with the Shute traveling up Main Street to preach at Old Ship while Gay went down to South Hingham to do the same. When Ebenezer Gay died in 1787 at the age of 90, Daniel Shute preached at his burial. His son, Dr. Daniel Shute (1756-1829), was a surgeon in the Continental Army and served under Alexander Hamilton and Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.
As America developed as a new country, Second Parish also grew. In 1792, a bell tower was added, and in 1829, the entrance to the church moved to the Main Street side. It was not until 1889 that the four-faced tower clock was installed. Reverend John Lewis Russell, minister from 1842 to 1849, was an ardent abolitionist and was instrumental in hosting an Anti-Slavery Convention in the meetinghouse on August 1, 1850. Reverend Allen Gary Jennings, minister from 1870 to 1881, served in the Civil War as a young man as did many from the congregation.
In the Twentieth Century Second Parish and New North Church shared ministers from 1900 until 1912. Second Parish supported America’s entry into both the First and Second World Wars; however, the church closed in 1944 as it was difficult to hire ministers. While closed, the parish continued to run Sunday School using Wilder Hall across the street. The parish reopened in 1946. In 1956, a neighboring barn was moved to the back of the church. The barn was converted into a social hall called Cushing Hall, and a kitchen and minister’s study were added. In 2017, an accessible entrance was completed allowing all to enter and leave the building with ease and dignity. Each addition to Second Parish has met the needs of the current parishioners and has improved upon the building while maintaining the historic character of the original meetinghouse.
Today Second Parish is an active house of worship with a strong commitment to service. The church houses the Hingham Food Pantry and AA meetings, and donates 50% of its plate collections each month to a variety of local charities. The entire congregation participates in placing flags on veterans’ graves at the High Street Cemetery the Sunday before Memorial Day. The Second Parish Arts Festival in May and the Fall Pumpkin Patch are two popular church events enjoyed by the public. Second Parish cherishes its history and continues the tradition started by Reverend Daniel Shute and Reverend Ebenezer Gay of exchanging pulpits. Reverend Stephanie Shute Kelsch and Reverend Ken Read Brown, both of whom are descendants of the first ministers of their churches, enjoy this annual opportunity to preach to each other’s congregations.