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Inside the First Church of Plymouth

The Pilgrim group made their first meetinghouse on what is today Burial Hill. The meetinghouse served as their central place for social and spiritual meetings as well as a fort of safety against the Indians. Upon arriving at Plymouth, a group of men began building as soon as they could, while the women, children, and the rest of the men remained safely on board in Plymouth Harbor. Twenty men planned to remain on land to protect their forming structure, and the other men tried to row out to the Mayflower; but another wind and rain storm made it impossible for them to return. The entire group remained in the drenching cold rain overnight and well into the next day. In just a few days, the meetinghouse was ready, with canons poised to defend against threatening Indians.

Worship was a major part of their lives. The main reason the Pilgrims made the journey was to be able to worship in freedom. Now they could. But the Plimoth Plantation needed a pastor. They had planned on Pastor Robinson joining them from Leyden; but he died unexpectedly in 1625. Filling in for the first few years was William Brewster. Not an ordained man, he did not administer the Lord’s Supper or Baptism (as per the agreement of the church in Leyden). Still, his pulpit presence was powerful and profitable. Finding an ordained man to come to New England was a challenge riddled with spiritual problems. The Pilgrims were Puritan separatists and as such, they were particular about the man who would lead them. He needed to be a godly man whose ministry was thoroughly biblical. Acquiring the right man would be no easy task.
Their first ordained pastor did not arrive until 1624; his name was John Lyford. Lyford began preaching for them; but the congregation found him to be “vile and an enemy of the Plantation” (Plymouth Church Records, xxiii). Lyford was the brainchild of the merchant adventurers (the
secular investors that helped to fund the expedition with hopes of gaining financially). They saw Puritanism as a threat to their investments and since John Robinson was one of the puritans, they thought that Lyford, the opposite of Robinson, would quell the Pilgrim’s spiritual interests. He served less than one year and was banished from Plimoth.

Three years later, the same group in England sent over a young man named Rogers to replace Lyford. This time, instead of installing him, the congregation observed him for a while and recognized that he was no man of God. The church paid his fare back to England.

Their first real hopes were realized in 1629 when Ralph Smith became their new pastor. Although not ideal, he remained until 1635. He was a good man, yet because he was not well gifted they invited the famous Roger Williams to accompany him. Williams was a brilliant man; but his ideas were less than stable. So, they had one man who was good-natured and not too bright, and another who was intelligent but not too discreet. In 1635 they dismissed both men.

Finally, in 1636 they enjoyed the ministry of John Reynor. Reynor was well-liked and obviously suited for the position. According to the congregation, he was “an able and a Godly man; and of a Meek and humble spirit; sound in the truth and in every way unreproachable in his life and conversation” (Plymouth Church Records, xxiii). He served until 1654.

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