We’ve come a long way, baby, and I don’t mean the straight-and-narrow way.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was originally established by English Puritans, and church attendance was more or less required. But a recent Gallup survey reveals that Massachusetts now has the fourth-worst church attendance out of all 50 states. Only 29% of us go to church every week. I guess it’s a New England thing: The only states worse than us are Maine (27%), New Hampshire (26%), and Vermont (23%). I’m hoping Judgment Day happens state-by-state, and Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine take all the available spaces in hell before we Bay Staters get called up. Or down.
Ipswich, however, must be judged blameless. In Puritan times, according to Ipswich historian Gordon Harris, three fellows guilty of skipping church were led to the original Ipswich prison, whipped, and sentenced to hard labor on a diet of only bread and water — plus, no one was allowed to speak to them. (No wonder Ipswich was the site of America’s first-ever jailbreak.)
To this day, we here in Ipswich are doing our part to promote church attendance, with no fewer than a dozen churches to choose from. I have tried my share of them — but not all. I will now confess my non-church-attendance sins:
- I have not visited the Greek Orthodox church.
- I have not gone to the Christian Science church. (Fortunately, however, under Christian Science this is not technically a sin.)
- I have not visited Revival Church for the Nations, behind Choate Bridge Pub (services in Portuguese, with English interpretation via headphones).
- I did not get to the Anglican church before it got kicked out of Town Hall and fled to South Hamilton.
- I have visited only one of our two Russian Orthodox churches (St. John the Russian but not St. John the Confessor).
- Also, I acknowledge that I have not visited the Bridge Church, which I think is the newest of Ipswich’s currently active churches. They meet in a strip mall on Route 1. Otherwise, all I know about the Bridge Church is what I see on their website. I believe they are the only Ipswich church to offer “healing rooms” and “dream interpretation.”
But I have visited most, maybe all, of Ipswich’s other churches. I have been to First Church, which is Congregational. I’ve been to the Methodist church, the Baptist church, the Presbyterian church, and the Episcopal church. I’ve visited the Catholic church. I actually spoke a couple times at the Nazarene church on Route 1 before it disappeared. (I trust my speaking didn’t kill them off, but who knows?)
I have also visited the resolutely independent Linebrook Church. It is perhaps the oldest church in America not aligned with a denomination — although its pews are denominational by birth: These very fine pews were acquired in 1843 from the Unitarians. That was the year the Unitarians departed Ipswich forever, leaving their newly pewless building to become Old Town Hall.
In spite of our Unitarianlessness, I would say that Ipswich is a veritable religion smorgasbord. You can have it however you want it: traditional or contemporary, suit-and-tie or blue jeans, emotional or un. You can have the cross with Jesus or without, or no cross at all. Depending on how unhealthy the after-church fellowship-hall snacks are, you can have your sin and eat it too.
Perhaps best of all, a number of our churches are situated very close to each other, so it’s actually possible to attend more than one church on a single Sunday morning. Start at Ascension Memorial at 8 a.m., leave a bit early and run next door to be a Methodist by 9. Just about the time the sermon starts, slip out and cross the street to First Church for their 10 a.m. service, then jet down 1A to First Presbyterian by 11:15. If you haven’t had enough, you can catch mass at Our Lady of Hope at 5:30 p.m. and join Russian Orthodox vespers at 7.
Depending on which religion God turns out to be, maintaining such a schedule may increase your odds of getting into heaven.
See you there.
Doug Brendel cowers in fear of eternal damnation in his outer Linebrook home. Follow this irreverent blog at risk of your soul.