Unitarianism: theological and denominational boundaries in New Bedford

Earlier, I wrote about Centre Church in New Bedford. Here’s more about links between Christian Connection and Unitarian churches in New Bedford….

Referring to Duane Hurd’s History of Bristol County, I find that there were three Christian Connection churches in New Bedford when Centre Church was organized. North Christian Church (later called First Christian Church) was founded in 1807 by a group who were originally Baptists under the care of Elder Hix from Dartmouth. Then “in December, 1826, Elder Charles Morgridge, of Boston, was settled as minister…. During the fall of 1831, Mr. Morgridge resigned his pastoral charge….” and another minister took over. Then, “on the retirement of Mr. Lovell, Rev. Mr. Morgridge again renewed his connection with the church, and remained with it until the spring of 1841.” *

In 1837, while at North Christian Church, Charles Morgridge wrote treatise supporting unitarian theology, a book titled “The True Believer’s Defence: Against charges preferred by Trinitarians, for not believing in The Divinity of Christ, The Deity of Christ, The Trinity, etc.” Publishing information is listed on the title page as “New-Bedford: William Howe, 26 North Water Street. 1837.” (That means it was published just a block or two from our house, but I digress.) Here’s a sample of the prose style (yes, all the italics are in the original):


No passage of Scripture asserts that God is three.

“If it be asked what I intend to qualify by the numeral three, I answer, any thing which the reader pleases. There is no scripture which asserts that God is three persons, three agents, three beings, three Gods, three spirits, three subsistences, three modes, three offices, three attributes, three divinities, three infinite minds, three somewhats, three opposites, or three in any sense whatever. The truth of this has been admitted by every Trinitarian that ever wrote or preached on the subject. No sermon has ever yet been heard or seen, founded on a passage of scripture which asserts that God is three. Dr. Barrow, whose works are published in seven vols. 8 vo., has left us one discourse on the Trinity. But, unable to find any passage of scripture that asserts the doctrine, he took for his text, Set your affection on things above. — Col. iii. 2. He considered the three persons in the Godhead incomparably the most important of all the things above, on which we are to set our affections.”

This book is available online via Google books, if you want to read it yourself. It is also available in a reprint edition from BiblicalUnitarian.com.

We have to wonder why Morgridge only lasted less than two months as the minister at Centre Church. It appears that his unitarian theology would have been agreeable to a congregation which eventually decided to call “only Unitarian ministers” — so why did he leave?** We also have to wonder what First Congregational Society of New Bedford, which was then the name of the Unitarian church in town, thought about Morgridge and his book. Did Ephraim Peabody, then minister at the Unitarian church, hang out with Morgridge? The co-existence of Centre Church and First Congregational Society poses some interesting questions about denominational boundaries vs. theological boundaries.

* The other Christian churches in New Bedford were Middle Street Christian Church in downtown New Bedford, organized in 1828; South Christian Church in the South End, organized c. 1851; and Third Christian Church, organized 1826 and known as the African Christian Church until 1840 when it changed its name, located on Middle Street not far from the Middle Street Christian Church (it later became a Freewill Baptist Church, and went out of existence in 1859).

** After leaving North, or First, Christian Church in New Bedford, Morgridge was two months at Center Church; probably at First Christian Church in Fall River from 1847 to 1848; probably in Barnstable at the Congregational Church in the 1850s.