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Cost of The Lord's Table (Communion)

During the last two years, I have been cleaning the closets of First Parish Church. As the Administrator, I started with a goal of simplifying our filing system. At least two copies of everything existed in separate filing cabinets mere feet from one another. I opened drawers and found stacks of photos, documents, and books long forgotten. Treasures are being recovered and hopefully can become relevant to a new generation of members at First Parish. I truly enjoy sifting through piles and creating order out of chaos.

Did you know?

Communion has been part of Christian worship practices since Paul the Apostle wrote churches of the mandate. By 1500, the Roman Catholic church had established rituals - deviation from the script was viewed as sacrilegious. Once King Henry VIII rejected the Catholic church and the Bible was translated into English, the move to separate from popish influences became a guiding star for some - namely Puritans. The Protestant Reformation rejected Catholicism and returned to simple communion services as found in the New Testament Bible. As their name alludes, Puritans wanted to restore purity in the church and believed the Anglican Church was too similar to the Roman Catholic Church. Famine, plague, illness, and natural disasters were blamed for incurring the wrath of their god. Each “sign from heaven” confirmed their belief. Once King Charles I attempted to unite his kingdom with the English Book of Common Prayer, a schism was inevitable.

During the English Civil Wars (1643-,1652) the English Parliament called upon "learned, godly and judicious Divines" to meet at Westminster Abbey to provide advice on issues of worship, doctrine, government, and discipline. This was intended to create a system of rules and procedures amenable to Puritans and those who preferred ornate rituals. After five years, consensus was reached with the English Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. This Westminster Confession of Faith has been the basis of Protestant church traditions for nearly 400 years. Puritan ministers in New England met to build upon the Westminister Confession and created the Cambridge Platform in 1648 - not just as church doctrine but as the religious constitution for Massachusetts.

The Cambridge Platform lists statements of doctrine, instructions for maintaining communion among churches, and outlines congregational polity. Freedom of worship and tolerance were not yet part of religious institutions - it states that the Pope is the Antichrist and that Catholic mass is a form of idolatry. Without Bishops, the administration of sacraments was restricted to the pastor or teacher of the church. Deacons were elected by those admitted to full communion as trusted helpers of the minister and were responsible for setting up the Lord’s Table. Congregants were encouraged to remain spiritually pure and study the Bible to fully receive the covenant of grace. Additionally, the Cambridge Platform acknowledges the divine authority civil magistrates have to punish heresy and prohibits marriage with non-Christians or other “infidels”.

Various ministers and deacons recorded the cost of bread and wine in the Church Book from 1747 to 1835. The deacons of First Parish were generally wealthy, providing the marble communion table and communion silver. Deacon Joshua Abbott was one of the leaders during this time who was remembered as especially generous. He also arranged for the installation of our town clock, nesting within our steeple and displaying the time for every generation since 1808. The silver communion cups donated by Deacon William Thompson and Deacon Joshua Abbott are currently housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and were on display last October.

Lord's Table Cost

Not all of the deacons are known to us today but the cost of providing bread and wine for the Lord’s Table has been preserved. Of fascination to me are the changes in currency accepted and the influence of war and inflation.

Date Recorded

Amount and Currency Used

1748 June

3 shilling

1757 June 17

4 pence 

1762 August 6

2 shilling, 6 pence (old tenor)

1763 February 18

3 shilling old tenor

1764 March 29

12 pence

1776 December 29

1 shilling to ⅛ old tenor

1778 April 22

2 shilling 

1780 April 26

8 shilling

1781 May 3

3 Dollars

1781 July 16

1 pistareen

1781 Nov 21

4 pence

1782 June 21

4 dollars

1806 May 18

6 cents

Pistareen - a silver coin minted by the Spanish government for use in Spain. It was used as currency in the colonies during the 18th century.

A silver coin called a pistareen, was minted by the Spanish government for use in Spain. A worn silver coin with "PHILLIPUS V.D.G. embossed.

Tenor - official paper money minted by Massachusetts Bay Company

Paper currency issued in colonial Massachusetts - faded paper with black ink drawings. Six denominations from 1 penny to 6 pence
Designs for the Massachusetts fractional currency emitted in 1737. Printed from type and woodcuts. From: Acts and Laws of His Majesty's Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England , p. 625


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