The Worshiping Oak Tree at the
FCC Phoenix Rising UCC History
Pastor Donna Said, "In the midst of this new dimension, Phoenix Rising UCC came into the world bearing the spirit of the Good Friday and Easter Story. Her First months in Haverhill she explored its history and found out the following:
We can trace our roots back to the Worshiping Oak Tree, The first place John Ward founder and first minister of Haverhill’s new community gathered in 1642. First Congregational Church, UCC, of Haverhill, embarked on a path towards a new rebirth for this generation.
First Congregational Church Haverhill has had a continuous, systematic narrative that can be traced back
to a tree next to the Merrimack River and a man named John Ward. I stumbled across this information while researching the University of Massachusetts archives on the early history of Haverhill. As I continued to read, I discovered not only had he founded the city, he was ordained its first minister. you can find both
the tree and A replica of his house at the Buttonwoods Museum here in Haverhill.
On October 24th 1642, John Ward was ordained and upon his ordination he was given 16 acres of land, one cow two, pigs a dozen chickens, six cords of wood that would be cut and stacked at his door, 400 shillings a year, and a portion of the crops grown by the people would be shared with him. In dollars and cents today, 16 acres of prime real estate alone would be in the millions.
When I thought about it I realized I would be l living somewhere on those same 16 acres! More than once the narrative mentioned the “Worshiping Oak”. It was the place where the town’s people had its first worship services. This lasted about two years until the town had grown big enough to build a building.
The Worshiping Oak still exists so I set out to find it. It really wasn’t hard to find. It is on the site of the Buttonwoods museum and the John Ward house. I went there two days ago. I felt a deep connection!
That feeling when ones awareness is so acute your senses seem to pierce the veil. There it was.
I walked toward the great Oak and imagined it as an ancient sentinel present for over 350 years. I imagined those first settlers gathering there under its branches. I stood beside the tree and watched the Merrimack meander toward the ocean. Then I stood in front of the tree facing the grassy knoll. I imagined that John Ward had once stood in the very spot I now stood. I wondered what sermons he preached. What vision did he hold for the towns future. Had he prayed about posterity and about legacy?
This was “The” place it all began. This tree shaded the first worshipers and now centuries later looked down on me, a new kind of Pastor about to lead a reemerging Christian Community that can trace its roots back to this very patch of earth!. In that moment, the Phoenix Rising UCC narrative joined itself with its ancestors. From this very spot, figuratively resurfacing, a sapling, taking nourishment from the tap root of the Worshiping Oak.
After several centuries the Worshiping Oak Tree fell in April 2017 during a spring thunderstorm.