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At 275th anniversary, Baptist church receives founder's book
ROCHDALE, Mass. (BP) -- At a celebration marking its 275th anniversary, Greenville Baptist Church in Rochdale, Mass., received a rare gift: a book from 1764 containing a handwritten note from the church's founding pastor.The book, a pharmaceutical manual, was uncovered in 1968 when Ira Greenstein was serving as a summer camp counselor and in his free time visited a used bookstore in Springfield, Mass. He picked up the manual from a box of old books and bought it along with a book on social studies from the 1890s.
Greenstein, now a cantor at Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore, Md., told Baptist Press he was fascinated to learn from the book how medicine was practiced in the colonies.
"This tells you what potions to apply and how to mix up things for various ailments that you have," Greenstein said. "The description of the four elements: air, water, earth and fire -- this was before they had physics and before they had chemistry."
Aside from his interest in the subject, Greenstein knew someone must have a connection to the original owner of the book. Written in ink in the front of the book was a note from Thomas Green, presumably a physician, to Thomas Wallis, possibly his apprentice.
Greenstein searched on and off for years for someone connected to Green or Wallis, but he was unsuccessful until this year when a medical archivist at Johns Hopkins University discovered that Green also was a minister who founded Greenville Baptist Society in Leicester, Mass., the sixth Baptist church in Massachusetts.
"It was founded as the Greenville Baptist Society because at that time in American history the Congregational church was the only approved church," Jim Wideman, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, told BP.
It was clear from the inscription, Greenstein said, that Green "had a very strong attachment to some church and was passing that on as a responsibility to his apprentice, that God would hold him to account for the work he did in medicine, which seemed consistent with colonial America."
Green was a pioneer in central Massachusetts, Wideman said, serving as a legislator as well as a physician and a pastor.
Once Johns Hopkins uncovered the connection, Greenstein contacted Wideman, who recently completed a two-year intentional interim at the church, to ask if the congregation would like to have the book. It would be the first original document from the founder. Letters in their possession were copies, Wideman said.
In something Greenstein described with the Yiddish word beshert -- "it was meant to be" -- he and Wideman met to exchange the book June 10 in Baltimore. Greenstein lives in Baltimore, and Wideman was there for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention June 10-11. Read More
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