The Old Ship Meeting House | Local Treasure
Today the congregation is Unitarian Universalist–remarkable because the meetinghouse has never been sold from one group to another. Over more than 300 years, the congregation’s beliefs have slowly evolved from the rigid, authoritarian faith of Puritanism to one that is defined by questions rather than absolute truths. The journey from one to the other is part of what makes the Old Ship so special. “Unlike a cathedral, it wasn’t consecrated by a religious body,” Read-Brown says. The Puritans saw meetinghouses as purely practical places. Sacredness did not lie in the building but in the beliefs and actions of the living congregation within: “The sacredness of it comes through the people who have worshipped here and brought their love, their suffering, their questions, and sorrows.”
No one is sure how the building got the nickname “Old Ship.” Despite popular rumors, it was not built by a shipwright, and its distinctive hull-like rafters were hidden until relatively modern times. But to listen to Read-Brown, the name seems appropriate, as the building is indeed ark-like, preserving the sacredness of past generations while shepherding its congregation into the future.
Read more about New England meetinghouses.