History of PNNE

"A DIGEST HISTORY OF NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND PRESBYTERY 1983" was obtained from the Presbyterian Historical Society.  It's a six-page document, four pages of text, a table of member churches, and a map of NM and VT.  I attempted to keep the text, below, true to the document, including spelling and punctuation.  The PDF below is the document that contains the text and two images.  Any submissions that would further the history of PNNE are solicited and would be gratefully received at office@pnne.org



          "Ecclesiastical structures do not simply happen. Behind their organizational beginnings are months and years of preparation. Thus the Synod of New Engl (established in 1912) … grew out of a long and stormy period of Presbyterian sowing and cultivation in the stony soil of New England."  This statement began the history of "Presbyterianism in New England" written by Rev. Charles N. Pickell and his committee in 1962.  Those "storms" continue today illustrative of a willingness to accept arduous tasks and changing conditions as challenges for vibrant life in a small number of rather smaller churches but, definitely, no weak churches.

          ln today's NNE Presbytery there are thirty churches with an approximate total of 3,950 members making an average size 132 members each.  NNE Presbytery has met these new challenges by instituting new programs that show the same resolve to worthily worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that is found in the histories of the Founding Fathers from the Colonial Period to Modern Times.

          The Seventeenth Century saw a "Presbyterianized Congregationalism" in a New England settled area that extended only 50 to 75 miles from its shores.  Each village in that area was required to have a church to be supported by town taxes.  Frederick W. Loetseher in his “Presbyterianism in Colonial New England” states that this Presbyterian strain in New England Congregationalism is the first source of Presbyterianism in the region.  (Taken from “Presbyterianism in New England" by Charles N. Pickell, 1962.)  Jedidiah Andrews left the Hingham Congregational Church and its Presbyterian pastor, Peter Hobart, to become the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and there were others.

          However, there were forces at work to delete Presbyterian strains from Congregational usage, such as the "Consociations" that resembled Presbyteries as the number of elders and their authority.

          NNE Presbytery has gone through so many name and boundary changes that it would be very possible to make a recitation of names and boundaries the sole topic of a four-page report.  Area size changed with the names that includes Londonderry (repeatedly), Boston (several times), Salem, Palmer, Eastward, Newburyport (repeatedly), Grafton, and finally NNE.  The limits varied from a slender strip in the Merrimack Valley to the whole of New England, and once the Presbytery of Albany included all the churches west of Bedford, N.H.  Presently NNE Presbytery encompasses Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts.

          How many churches were there?  That is a dramatic tale in itself!  The start could have been 1634 because the Eliot Presbyterian Church of Lowell, MA, includes the work of the Indian Missionary, John Eliot, in its beginning efforts (He also had a hand in starting Dartmouth College as a school for Indians.).  The first truly Presbyterian Church in New England was founded as part of the Scotch-Irish settlement in Londonderry, N.H. in 1718.  The Congregationalists, who had captured the Puritan movement, had driven this first wave of Scotch Irish immigrants beyond the "safe limits" into Indian lands to become a bulwark against fear.  This church grew from its establishment in 1719 to 700 communicants in 1734 under the leadership of James MacGregor and Matthew Clark.  The latter arrived in 1729 at the age of 70 to assist MacGregor who died within a few months.  They were men of vision, purpose, strength and humor.  Clark in discoursing on Philippians 4:13 really talked with his people:  “I can do all things,' Ay, can y Paul? 1'll bet ye a dollar a'that,' (placing a Spanish dollar upon the desk,)  Stop!  Let's see what else Paul says:  'I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me.'  Ay, sae can I, Paul, I draw meu bet," and he thereupon· returned the dollar to his pocket."  This zeal became a missionary zeal through the drive and division brought by the "Great Awakening" of the mid-eighteenth century in the efforts of men like the Tennents, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards.  Two churches, Londonderry and Newburyport (The latter established in 1742-1746 by Parsons and Whitefield) sent its witnesses as far as Truro, Nova Scotia, to start Presbyterian Churches.  Many of those churches are still witnessing in NNE today, Bedford, New Boston, Antrim, and Windham in N.H., and Ryegate and Barnet in Vt.  Many of the churches founded by this group have changed to other denominations, mostly Congregational: Greensboro, Vt., Peterboroush, Acworth (Derry), Derryfield (Manchester), Londonderry East, and Haverhill in N.H.

          This zeal saw numbers that today's churches might envy.  The church at Londonderry is said to have approached 1000 members; when Old South at Newburyport was officially established in 1746 they designed a sanctuary to seat 2000 members, and so many came out to greet George Whitefield when he returned on an early April Sunday from a trip to what is now Maine that the congregation moved out to the Commons where 15,000 heard the master preacher.  What a cool picture but many churches with less empressive numbers prospered through this early period without the conveniences of stoves, and sometimes floors and windows.

          Vermont's Scotch-Irish of the last century still retained the Old-world disagreements of Covenanters and Seceders not applicable in America but it wasn't until two or three generations had come and gone that any kind of unity could be realized.  Old churches such as Greensboro and Newbury slowly became Congregational.  Ryegate, Topsham, West Barnet and Barnet Center eventually sought haven in the United Presb. Church of N. Am., then joined UPCUSA in the union of our two denominations in 1958.  Growth of the quarry industry resulted in new churches in Barre and Graniteville in the late nineteenth century.

          In the 1870's German immigrants of Manchester, N.H., Lowell and Lawrence, MA., established German language congregations and were accepted by Presbytery.  In recent years the Massachusett churches discarded German and slowly leaned toward neighboring churches, then united with them to become strong and influential churches, United Presb. in Lawrence and Eliot Union Presb..in Lowell.

          Today's problems have been met with three outstanding efforts in NNE Presbytery, MATE, BEAM, and GLEAM.  These are innovative answers to local quandry.  The spirit of our founding Presbyters is not dead.

          MATE, Mission at the Eastward, was the first proposed answer to Twentieth Century problems vexing NNE.  When the Home Missions Council made an Every Community Survey of Maine in 1930 120 towns were listed as under-churched.  There were no existing Presbyterian churches in Maine at the time although some sources indicate that there had been well over 100 at one time.  The Interdenominational Commission assigned towns to the Presbytery and work started in Starks, West Mills, No. Answon and New Portland.  See the chart that follows for the amazing story of progress today.  The United Evang. Brethren recently became part of the United Methodist and their Rev. Charles Reid joined the staff of MATE composed by the Presbyterians, Rev. William Burger as Director and Rev. Carl Geores.  Since the retirement of William Burger Carl Geores has headed an outstanding staff of all Presbyterians serving in many programs: e.g. Camp at the Eastward; RCAM (Rural Community Action Ministry) involving 16 churches and 11 towns; Economic Ministry in Salem (Meth.); Summer Youth Recreational Ministries; and the MATE Housing Ministry among others.

          When Christ Church, Presbyterian, was founded in 1955 as the result of an invitation by the Burlington Council of Churches with the installation of Rev. William Hollister, it tackled problems with novel and realistic plans undeterred by being the youngest church in Presbytery.  Then in 1969 Christ Church, as a member of a coalition of churches, individuals, businesses and industries, founded BEAM, Burlington Ecumenical Action Ministry which undertook a wide variety of projects to combat problems: drug counselling, health advocacy, and a home for runaway young people, to mention a few efforts.

          Also in 1969, GLEAM, Greater Lawrence Ecumenical Area Mission, was started by the Ecumenical Board in the Lawrence area made up of UCC, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalian and Presbyterian Churches, all of whom supported the work. A first project, and still prospering, was a Nursary School for the Spanish speaking people.  As a companion effort, the Eliot Union Presbyterian Church in Lowell is conducting an effective program to teach and help adapt Vietnamese refugees to a strange, English-speaking world.


          The most recent Presbytery undertaking is to establish a Presbyterian Church in South Nashua where the population is exploding.  NNE Presbytery is actively meeting today's situation with a continuing history that is wondrously incomplete.