Compiled by The Bedford Citizen
The Blinn bell in the steeple tower above Bedford’s 200-year-old meeting house rang 200 times on Sunday, October 1, in celebration of a special bicentennial: the 200th anniversary of the town’s second meetinghouse, constructed in 1817.
The Bedford Minutemen were on hand, along with members of the Bedford Selectmen and the Historic District Commission, Town Manager Richard Reed, Town Historian Sharon McDonald, and members of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, Representative Ken Gordon and Senator Mike Barrett.
In rededicating the building, Rev. John Gibbons, senior minister of First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, the congregation that has been resident in the building since 1729, stood on the meeting-house steps and shared thoughts adapted from the writings of Kenneth Patton:
This meeting house is for the ingathering of nature and human nature.
It is a meeting house of friendships, a haven in trouble, an open room for the encouragement of our struggle.
It is a meeting house of freedom, guarding the dignity and worth of every person.
It offers a platform for the free voice, for declaring, both in times of security and danger, the full and undivided conflict of opinion.
It is a meeting house of truth-seeking, where scientists can encourage devotion to their quest, where mystics can abide in a community of searchers.
It is a meeting house of art, adorning its celebrations with melodies and handiworks.
It is a meeting house of prophecy, outrunning times past and times present in visions of growth and progress.
This meeting house is a cradle for our dreams, the workshop of our common endeavor.
It is our great honor and privilege this day to rededicate this meeting house of friendships and freedom, truth-seeking and artistry, prophecy and dreams.
Let the people say Amen!
Let the people say Huzzah!
Reverend Andrea Greenwood, a Unitarian Universalist minister born into a family of builders, spent two years doing research with architectural historians at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard before heading off to theological school. Her address, Glimpses of the Forest Primeval, explored ‘church’ as one area where nature and the built environment intersect, citing an original exposed timber at the top of the Elm Street entry stairs. “It is good to see that even as we are building the future, we are held up by all that came before. We are nestled in the same trees.”
Bedford’s meeting house is attributed to Colonial architect (and Unitarian) Asher Benjamin, but interpreted and built by three of Bedford’s own — Joshua Page, Levi Willson, and Simeon Blodgett — who adapted Benjamin’s design to use the materials at hand — repurposed beams from the original meeting house with the addition of wood blown down during the Great Storm of 1815. Early Bedford historian Abram English Brown wrote that the meeting house is a “structure that contains reminders of the forest primeval.”
Using Benjamin’s books of plans, the meeting house was built using principles of design that, “… helped to create a sense of timelessness. The meetinghouse did not look avant-garde when it was constructed in 1817, but neither does it look outdated in the bustle of today,” said Rev. Greenwood.
After a community lunch, representatives of each First Parish choir joined their counterparts from other congregations in an early afternoon Hymn Sing, with familiar anthems dating from 1817, and newer work from recent years.
Rededicating the Meeting House