The ecumenical movement on Martha's Vineyard was advanced in 1925, when the Edgartown Baptist and Congregational churches united as the Edgartown Federated Church. Both organizing churches have long Vineyard histories.
The Congregational church dates from 1642, when Thomas Mayhew Jr., although not ordained, began preaching to the English settlers and the Wampanoag Indians. In 1657, he was lost at sea on a voyage to England.
Peter Folger, who had worked with Mayhew as a teacher to the Indians, became acting minister until he removed to Nantucket in 1663. Thomas Mayhew Sr. then served as the interim lay pastor.
The first ordained minister of the church was the Reverend John Cotton Jr., who came in 1664. He was a nephew of Cotton Mather.
The pastor with the longest service was the Reverend Joseph Thaxter Jr. He served as minister from 1780 until 1827. Thaxter had been a chaplain during the American Revolution and was at the battles of Concord and Bunker Hill. In 1825, as the last surviving chaplain of the revolution, he delivered the prayer at the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill monument.
The Baptist congregation in Edgartown was established in 1823. The first association of Baptists, organized in 1780 in Holmes Hole, had become large enough to expand. In 1839, they built a church, now a private residence, on School Street. The designer was Frederick Baylies Jr., who had also designed the Congregational church in 1828.
This 1828 meetinghouse, on the corner of South Summer and Cooke streets, is the oldest church building in its original location still used for worship on the Vineyard and has had few changes made. It features box pews; graceful woodwork; a Hook and Hastings organ, which was installed in 1895 in a case built in 1840 by Ebenezer Goodrich, and restored in 1985; a handsome chandelier which originally burned whale oil; and an 1853 Ingraham clock. The sanctuary, which is acoustically ideal, seats nearly 400 persons within 40 feet of the pulpit. The building is inspirational, a tribute to its designer.
Thus the first church on Martha's Vineyard continues to serve the community throughout the Edgartown Federated Church's ministry, its Christian education, and its concern for others, as it has grown from the ministries of the Baptist and Congregational churches.