UU Minute #73

Which Church is the Dedham Church?

In 1818, a pitched battle broke out in Dedham, Massachusetts, 10 miles southwest of the center of Boston. The Rev. Joshua Bates had resigned his ministry to become president of Middlebury College. Some months later, after visits from a number of prospective ministers, the parish met and voted, 77-29, to call Alvan Lamson to be the new minister and the town’s publicly subsidized “Protestant teacher of piety, religion and morality.”

Later the same day the church met and voted 18-14 to reject Alvan Lamson. The church, however, was bound by the parish vote – unless they split from the parish – so they did.

The town owned the church real estate, so the church conservatives – a majority of the church though a minority of the parish – began meeting in a member’s house as they planned for construction of a new church building. The conservatives took with them church records, financial assets including cash, bonds, promissory notes, leases, and accounts, and portable physical assets, including the communion silver. The assets were the property of the church, they reasoned, and since the conservatives constituted the majority of the church, the assets belonged to them.

If you’re thinking, “well, that’s a legal suit begging to happen,” you are correctamundo. Deacon Eliphalet Baker (of the liberal minority of the church membership) sued Deacon Samuel Fales (of the orthodox camp) for the return of all the church property. The liberals maintained that the assets belonged to the parish, and as the parish majority was staying put, the assets belonged to them.

The case, Baker v. Fales, also known as The Dedham Case came to trial in 1820 February. The jury deliberated all night about “Which church is the Dedham Church?” What did they say? Be sure to catch our next thrilling episode.

NEXT: The Dedham Case: Conclusion

No comments:

Post a Comment