In 1616 in Sourthwark, London, England, the Rev. Henry Jacob, despairing of any reform in the Church of England, proposed a separate congregation to several friends. All those present understood the danger of alienating themselves from the Church of England, yet they gathered a church and continued in it, thus laying the foundation for the First Congregational Church organized by that name in England.
Under the leadership of Henry Jacob’s successor, the Rev. John Lothrop, beginning in 1625 the little “Southwark Church continued with sixty members worshipping secretly in private homes or in the sandpits at the edge of town. In 1632 during worship, they were discovered by officers of the King. Lothrop, together with forty two others, was imprisoned. During the following two years, eighteeen escaped and all but Lothrop were finally released. After an appeal by one of his nine orphaned children, King Charles released Lothrop on the condition that he be exiled from the country.
In 1634 John Lothrop arrived in Boston with thirty members of his church, moving immediately to Scituate in Plymouth Colony where some of their number had preceded them. Unfortunately friction soon developed regarding church discipline and the distribution of land. In June of 1639 the Southwark Church eagerly accepted an offer of land in Mattakeese (an Indian name meaning “plowed fields”), now the Town of Barnstable. According to tradition, one of their first acts on arrival in October 1639 was the celebration of the Sacrament of Communion at a site now known as Sacrament Rock on Route 6A. The ancient pewter vessels brought from England were used in that first communion.
Barnstable prospered under the guidance of John Lothrop, and the first meetinghouse was erected in 1646 about one-half mile from Sacrament Rock. By early 1715, however, considerable growth made a second parish inevitable. A piece of high ground on land of John Crocker was chosen as the site for West Parish Meetinghouse and work began in 1717 (our present meetinghouse). It was two years later on Thanksgiving Day, 1719 that the first service was held in the new meetinghouse.
After only four years the building was already too small. It was cut in half, the ends pulled apart and about 18 feet added to its length. A bell tower, one of the earliest in New England was erected in that year. A Revere bell, made in the early 1800’s, was given by the Otis family in memory of Colonel James Otis, father of the Patriot known as the “Firebrand of the Revolution.” The gilded cock, ordered from England in 1723 as a weathervane for the Meetinghouse measures over four feet from the bill to the tip of the tail. The original bird crowns the tower today.
In the years following a remodeling in 1852, the Meetinghouse fell into disrepair and by 1950 it was evident that radical restoration was necessary. Spearheaded by Elizabeth Jenkins, the West Parish Memorial Foundation was incorporated and led the way to restoring West Parish Meetinghouse to its original form. It is the oldest Congregational church meetinghouse still in use in the world today.