The History and Spirit of Ascension Memorial Church

The history of Episcopal worship in Ipswich dates back as early as 1839, but it was not until a significant number of English and Scottish immigrants came in the succeeding decades that a parish was feasible. By 1861, Town Hall and the Damon Building were being used for Prayer Book services, and in 1867 the Parish of the Ascension was organized with the Rev’d Henry Wall as its first Rector. In 1869, the Rev’d Dr. John Cotton Smith, Rector of the Church of the Ascension, New York City, “with the aid of friends” purchased the present parish lot on County Street, and work on the church began. Daniel Fuller Appleton – Dr. Smith’s brother-in-law, vestryman, and warden – had summered in Ipswich for many years, and he lent his active support to the new parish. The great American architect, James Renwick, another parishioner of Dr. Smith’s, was chosen to design the new edifice around the altar, using oak paneling and 18th Century tablets of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, and Ten Commandments sent from Ascension, New York. In October 1869, the cornerstone of our beautiful church was laid by Bishop Manton Eastburn.

In 1960, the cornerstone of Boone Hall was laid, commemorating the life and ministry of The Rev’d C. Daniel Boone, 12th Rector of Ascension. With its full basketball court, institutional kitchen, and lower level of classrooms, it has been a venue for the Ipswich Public Schools and the Ipswich YMCA, but is now regularly used for a variety of parish and community events.

The spirit of Ascension has long been shaped by our fondness of music. In the days of non-vested paid quartets, Ascension had both an adult choir and a boy choir, both of them vested, and the first organ of importance (by James Cole of Boston) was dedicated in February of 1901. In 1974 a major addition to the parish came in the form of a new organ by Charles Fisk of Gloucester. The Ascension organ, Opus 62 of his work, was a ground-breaking instrument which continues to interest musicians, even as it provides sonorous support for our liturgy.

The character of Ascension is evident as well in our approach to faith and theology. We affirm that being a Christian is not primarily about believing the right things or being good. Rather, the Christian life is about entering into relationship with God which transforms us more and more into compassionate beings – into the likeness of Christ. We are more concerned that the Christian life is grounded in relationship – with God and Neighborv-vthan whether everybody agrees together upon the beliefs we hold. This understanding reflects the spirit of the Anglican tradition. Queen Elizabeth I saw the wisdom of creating a form of worship that would allow people of diverse, religious beliefs to be a people of common prayer.

It is also worth noting that the people of Ascension are guided by some basic, commonly held theological assumptions. We are not scriptural literalists. We take the Bible seriously, not literally. We reverently regard the Bible as a window through which we may see the face of God and by which we may better understand ourselves. We are a community deeply centered through worship and prayer in the reality of God’s grace. We affirm that we are deeply and boldly loved not because of who we are or what we do, but because we inescapably belong to God. We enjoy humbly walking with God and appreciate how our lives grow in meaning and purpose by acting compassionately and justly for all.

We welcome you to discover a spiritual home at Ascension.