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No. 441: Richard Mather
Postcard #441

Illustration in: Good Old Dorchester / William Dana Orcutt. Cambridge, 1893.

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 Richard Mather was a school teacher in his early teens; then attended Oxford for a short time. He was asked to become a minister in his home town. Like many other ministers, he dissented from the established policies of the Church of England and had to flee from the hands of the authorities. He and his wife and children sailed to Boston where he did not gain membership in the church on his first try. He had to prove that he was one of the elect. When he understood that his belief that ministerial authority came from the bishop who ordained him was wrong, he was admitted to membership. The Boston Church believed that the authority came out of the church members.

In 1635 the Dorchester Church lost a large number of its members who moved to Connecticut because of differences in beliefs. Yet, there were still a good many members left who didn't agree with the beliefs of the Boston Church. John Cotton of the Boston Church influenced the colony to pass a regulation requiring new congregations to obtain approval prior to becoming a church. Therefore when Dorchester asked Richard Mather to be their minister, the congregation there had to submit a new application to become a church following the break-up of the original church. They did not win approval on their first try because the congregation?s representative seemed insufficiently prepared. Richard Mather coached the members so that on a second attempt they received permission to form the church.

Dissenters in England banded together more easily without examining each others' beliefs because the very fact of their dissent made them similar. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Boston Church establishment had in only a few years moved a long way from traditional beliefs. Rural communities moved more slowly both in England and the Bay Colony, and that is what seems to have happened in Dorchester.

Mather went on to become an important force in New England Puritanism.

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Created: December 7, 2003   Modified: February 2, 2011