History of the Pilgrim Church Congregation
In the early-1980’s, Gordon-Conwell professors Bill and Aida Spencer were encouraged by GCTS professor Dr. J. Christy Wilson, Jr. and other Presbyterians on the North Shore to begin a Presbyterian Church. In January 1987, a core group of thirteen people met to talk about the types of needs they thought this new church should address. What these founders all agreed is that the church wanted to reach out to those people not being reached by a traditional church: people on the margin.
By February, the new fellowship was meeting at a home in Salem on Sundays. Youth gave the call to worship and collected the offering. Worship and preaching were rotated among the various adults. After each worship service came a main meal followed by planning or neighborhood visitation. They began the process to become a Presbyterian Church and called themselves the Pilgrim Presbyterian Fellowship.
They soon outgrew the home setting and needed a larger building. On Sundays, the Spencers would travel to Salem by Route 1A, passing by the Seventh Day Adventist church building on Rantoul & Cabot Streets in Beverly. They learned that the Beverly Christian Fellowship was renting it on Sundays and were invited to worship together.
The Beverly Christian Fellowship began meeting in the spring of 1976 and had become a church in 1981. Its vision for the fellowship was to experience and model true "koinonia" (fellowship and unity) and prayer. One of the hopes of the fellowship was that it would positively influence the denominational churches. The Beverly Fellowship was inspired greatly by the ministry of Richard Halverson, a Presbyterian minister and chaplain of the U.S. Senate. Thus, it was open to a merger with Pilgrim Presbyterian. The following year, in February of 1988, they decided to work together under the name Pilgrim Church. In November, the united congregation met to formulate a unified church design: four guiding principles for the church as a unity and for each individual member:
1. to maintain openness to the Holy Spirit to be conformed into the image of Christ;
2. to obey Christ and Christ’s work as a church and as individuals through the direction God gives us to further God’s kingdom (the direction is given through the written Word illuminated and applied by the Holy Spirit and by other believers);
3. to maintain a vision of one church respecting and appreciating its different but meaningful components both in terms of heritages and people; and
4. to submit to one another in love in the fear of Christ.
In March 1990, the newly merged church, called Pilgrim Church, held their first formal service. However, in only two years the church became too large for the Seventh Day Adventist building. God provided a new location on 300 Cabot Street.
In 1992, the pastor of the Beverly Gospel Mission, Rocco Rezza retired and gave the building to Pilgrim Church with the understanding that it would never be sold, but always house a Christian church ministering in Beverly. Pilgrim Church moved to the Cabot St. building and worked to enlarge the worship area, and finished the back room into a kitchen and fellowship room. The new church worked for months repairing the building, replacing ceilings and the roof, patching, painting, turning all three stories into usable ministering and worship space.
In June 2001, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC) accepted Pilgrim Church as a 4Cs church, and in November 2004, the Boston Presbytery of PCUSA formally approved Pilgrim Church as a union church. However, practical and theological differences led the congregation to leave the PCUSA in 2017 but still maintain affiliation with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.