Worship in Rhode Island

Places of Worship

Founded on the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of worship, Rhode Island was a sanctuary for those who banned from other states for their beliefs. Many who worshiped as their forefathers did in other lands at other times, wished to follow their roots in this matter as well. Rhode Island has been able to offer them the foundation to follow their beliefs and worship as they wished.

The Catholic Community

Similarly, the Irish and Italian immigrant population began to explode in the late 1800s as they left Europe and came to Rhode Island. This group of immigrants brought Catholicism to Rhode Island and, reminiscent of places of worship in their homelands, they built cathedralesque places of worship.

Pope Pius IX established the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence in February 1872. The diocese originally included the State of Rhode Island and the Massachusetts counties of Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes and Nantucket. This composition lasted less than 30 years. In March 1904, the four counties of Massachusetts were separated to form the Diocese of Fall River in Massachusetts.

The mother church of the Diocese of Providence is the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. Just as education is the foundation of understanding, so is understanding the foundation of faith. The Diocese of Providence has nine Catholic High Schools as follows:

1. Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick
2. Bishop Keough Regional High School in Pawtucket
3. La Salle Academy in Providence
4. Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket
5. Our Lady of Fatima High School in Warren
6. Portsmouth Abbey School in Portsmouth
7. The Prout School in Wakefield
8. St Mary Academy - Bay View in East Providence
9. St Raphael Academy in Pawtucket

Since there are more than 160 churches in the diocese, many having an elementary school as part of the parish, it can easily be seen that Catholicism dominates the faith-oriented environment of Rhode Island. Roman Catholics make up more than 50% of the population of the Ocean State.

The Jewish Community

Some of the more noteworthy places of worship in Rhode Island were established in direct relation to the pattern of immigration to this country. As an example, the Jewish arrivals in the mid 1700s resulted in the 1762 erection of the very first synagogue in this country, the Touro Synagogue.

However, when Newport diminished in popularity and the Jewish community also diminished for a few decades, the committee that operated the synagogue could not provide financially for upkeep of this historic landmark. So, they gave the keys and deed to the building over to a New York congregation. The Congregation Shearith Israel is still the owner of record today.

The Jewish population began to grow again when the eastern European Jews immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. The synagogue is located at 85 Touro Street and remains an active Orthodox community to this day. The public is invited to visit the synagogue, now on the National Register of Historic Places and affiliated with the National Park Service. An updated schedule of worship and tours is published online at www.tourosynagogue.org

The Chinese Community

The Chinese Christian Church of Rhode Island was established originally in East Providence in 1977. It is a non-denominational evangelical church that is now located in historic Pawtucket just off Interstate-95. According to their mission statement, the church was established by those who believe in the Lord Jesus with the Christ Jesus as their leader.

They wish to help others bear witness to the Lord, to disciple the believers, to follow the ways of the Lord and to honor and obey God. (This is a rough translation from the original Chinese ByLaws of the Chinese Christian Church of Rhode Island.)

The Episcopal Diocese

Samuel Mann owned a mill on the banks of the Blackstone River. Eventually this area became known as Manville. The mill workers had minimal access to itinerant preachers who passed through the area. Mann - a Quaker - felt that the services offered by these preachers was offensive and distasteful. His concern was not only spiritual, but also physical. After analyzing different religions, he contacted the Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island and asked for a missionary to be assigned to the mill area. He offered free lodging, clothes and a salary of $300 per year to be paid by the mill at the rate of $6 per week. Mann also offered to finance the building and maintenance of a church.

The Bishop gave a positive response to Samuel Mann’s request and the Emmanuel Church was established. The church struggled through economic hard times and rejoiced when everything was well. Then came the Great Depression of 1929 and the Manville-Jenckes Mill declared bankruptcy and closed. There would be no more support for the Emmanuel Church. In spite of this, church members came together to celebrate 100 years of worship in 1935.

After World War II, the downward turn resumed as church membership sank. However, just across the Blackstone was an area that was showing rapid growth. The location was known as Cumberland Hill and seemed a likely place to start a new mission and, thus, the Church of the Incarnation came to life. The congregation grew and it was less than one year later that the rector presented 21 people to the Bishop for confirmation.

One item was lacking. The growing congregation had no physical church to use for their services. Emmanuel Church had been renovated, but it had no congregation or rector. The two groups decided to merge, use the newly renovated building and the Emmanuel state charter. The two congregations became one and celebrated 125 years of worship in 1960.

The oldest Episcopal parish in Rhode Island is Newport’s Trinity Church whose congregation sprung up in the late 1690s. Twenty-five years later, the Trinity Church congregation began to worship in a new, all-wood building. It is thought to be the only church building with its pulpit positioned in the center aisle forward of the altar. Even though it was expanded in 1764, its original character was maintained.

The Baptist Community

The First Baptist Church congregation came together in 1638 in Providence, Rhode Island. It is enthusiastically Christ-centered, preaching from the Bible, being an advocate of a “proper relationship” between church and state. It is still worth supporting the values and standards that were introduced by Roger Williams.

The congregation has faithfully met since 1638 despite the fact that it moved three times since its founding. The current building was erected in the mid 1770s with the aid of unemployed carpenters and tradesmen from Boston. Their lack of work was punishment by the British for the Boston Tea Party which resulted in the closure of Boston Harbor and the firing of all who were involved.

The building itself has historically significant architecture. Although practicing Baptists frowned upon steeples with bells, this meetinghouse has a tall white spire, a raised site and wide lawns. It is the opposite of surrounding structures which stand as stacked boxes in stark contrast to the beauty of the First Baptist Meetinghouse in America.

Worship Statistics

Rhode Island steadfastly maintains the freedoms of worshipers who practice the many faiths found in this tiny corner of our country. The most recent statistics report that more than 50% of the state population is Roman Catholic and approximately 37% were not affiliated with any particular faith. Episcopalians reported 26,750 worshipers. About 21,000 American Baptist believers, 16,000 Jewish, 1,800 Muslims and 600 Quakers practice their faith in Rhode Island. Roger Williams believed. Roger Williams would be proud.