Marcellus Seth Ayer
Founder, First Spiritual Temple
October 8, 1839 to January 30, 1921
Marcellus Seth Ayer, founder of the
First Spiritual Temple, was born in Embden, Maine, on October 8, 1839. His
parents were Seth Ayer and Mary Nutting Ayer. He came from a long line of
New Englanders; originally from the Haverhill, Massachusetts area and,
later, from the Embden, Maine area, known as Ayer Hill. He was one of six
sons: Seth; Joseph; Marcellus Seth; George Augustus; Josiah; and Eugene.
When the Civil War broke out,
young Marcellus fought for the North; and, when the war ended, he settled
back in Maine, where he continued his education and interests in religion
At some point during the
latter 1860's, Marcellus Ayer moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he
became a teacher for the Boston school system. His love for young people
and their future was very evident during those years.
It was during the 1870's that
Marcellus Ayer made a dramatic change in his life's work. Although his
interest in education and religious thought was still very strong, he knew
that he had other things to do, at least for the time being. Deep within
his spirit, he knew that God had placed him on the earth to fulfill some
type of religious and spiritual mission. His faith in God and spirit
assured him that, when the time was right, he would be given a clear sign;
until then, he pursued other interests. His belief that religion, science,
and education should work together for the advancement of humanity played a
major role in his future achievements.
Although Marcellus Ayer knew
that man is not fed by bread alone, bread on the table was important to
him. He had a keen interest in the grocery trade and worked in various
sectors of the business until he could start his own company.
He started small, with his
office on State Street, Boston, which, at that time, bordered Boston
Harbor. He received goods from the clipper ships and dispersed them to the
various retail grocers in the city. Throughout his career and its many
incarnations, Marcellus Ayer had a simple motto:
Do well thy work, for it shall succeed, in thine or in
He also believed in the basic
concept of prosperity: if you send out positive thought, with the good of
the whole in mind, good things will come to you. He extended prosperity one
step further, in that he firmly believed that, if called upon to give what
you have received for a greater cause, you should be willing to do so. He
lived his life under this basic concept. And it worked.
Marcellus Ayer's business,
known as M.S. Ayer and Company, became a huge financial success. He
purchased 189-191 State Street and 86-88 Central Street and became one of
Boston's most prestigious and respected wholesale grocers. In his trade, he
was fair, honest, and hard working. People knew and loved him, as a kind
and generous man.
Business continued to grow,
and Marcellus Ayer waited for the sign that he knew would eventually come.
In the meantime, his religious and spiritual interests continued to broaden
and embraced the concepts of Spiritualism. His interest in Spiritualism
continued to grow, but he was deeply saddened at what the Spiritualists of
the day were doing with the "pearl of great price" placed in
He loved God and Christ, and
he loved the concept of spirit and spiritual communication. But, he knew
that it was all just a doorway: a doorway into life's most amazing
mysteries and revelations. He knew that what was being revealed through spirit
communication could be an answer to people's most perplexing questions. To
him, Spiritualism was a gift to Humanity; not to be embraced by any one
group, nor to be limited to simple phenomena and demonstration. It was a
gift given to all people, of all faiths and denominations. To Marcellus
Ayer, Spiritualism -- in its ancient essence -- represented the missing
link to Christ's resurrection and ascension.
However, what Marcellus Ayer
saw as the potential for Spiritualism fell far short from what Spiritualism
was becoming. This deeply concerned and saddened our founder.
Finally, in the early 1880's,
while sitting in a circle for spirit communication and philosophy at his
home in West Chester Park, Boston, the sign that he knew would someday be
given was given. And what a sign it was! Several of his family members and
others in Spirit physically materialized to him and, via direct voice,
instructed him that now was the time for him to give back to God and spirit
what God had so generously given to him.
He was instructed that now was
the time for him to begin a religious society and church, from which the
noble truths of a New Dispensation in Spiritualism
could emerge. Furthermore, he was told that such inspiration was being
given to others throughout the planet; primarily in Germany, Russia, and
The messages and inspiration
from spirit kept coming and the basic concepts of the church were
established, as were the details for its church building.
It was to be a place:
which the voice of God and spirit could speak to all people, from all religious
and spiritual backgrounds.
which the life and teachings of the Master Jesus could be embraced as an
example for people of all faiths.
which both the religious and scientific implications of spirit
phenomena and communication could be examined, free from dogma and
healing and succor for the soul.
which the medium would never surpass the message.
Plans continued to be made.
Then, on June 28, 1883, under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
USA, our church was founded as:
The Working Union of Progressive Spiritualists
The Church became an immediate
success, with a membership of over 1,000 people; but, trouble was brewing
on the horizon. The very people who could have gained the most from this
church society wanted to see it doomed. Spiritualists of the day were
outraged that Marcellus Ayer's church was open-ended and based upon
Christian ethics. They did not appreciate that worship services were
devoted to God and the Holy Spirit, rather than to communications with the
spirits. Theosophists condemned any form of spirit communication as astral
deception. And, of course, Boston's Victorian religious community was not
at all hospitable to what Marcellus Ayer was doing. Spiritualism, at the
time, had a heavy cloud of negativity surrounding it. Marcellus Ayer knew
he had to distinguish his church from traditional modern Spiritualism.
Thus, in 1885, the name of the
church was changed to:
The Spiritual Fraternity
This, Marcellus Ayer hoped,
would suggest a place from which all people could come, worship, and learn
in the true spirit of fraternity.
In the meantime, other plans
were being made. A house of worship was being created. Plans for this grand
edifice were given to Marcellus Ayer by spirit. He presented the plans to
local architects and, on April 9, 1884, the cornerstone for the building to
be known as
The First Spiritual Temple
was laid at the corner of
Exeter and Newbury Streets, in the Back Bay section of Boston, Massachusetts.
It was a beautiful ceremony, with many people in attendance.
While the Temple was being
constructed, worship services were held at Berkeley Hall, just three blocks
And then, it all came about,
with a wondrous three-day dedication and celebration. Marcellus Ayer's
dream came true. The First Spiritual Temple was
dedicated and consecrated on September 26th, 27th, and 28th, 1885.
Over 1,200 people filled the
sanctuary and walked through the Temple's library, lecture hall, and
multitude of classrooms.
Marcellus Ayer gave it all
back to God and spirit. The whole expense of constructing the Temple was
assumed by him alone. It was a monumental financial task, but he believed
in giving back to God, and he did so gladly, with no personal fanfare. His
name appears nowhere in the original Boston Temple as the sole benefactor
of such a glorious edifice.
Marcellus Ayer was
humanitarian in nature. He believed deeply in the Fatherhood of God and the
brotherhood and sisterhood of Humanity. Committed to human rights, he was
an avid proponent of the Suffrage Movement and women's rights in general.
He also devoted his energies to expounding health and hygiene. In fact, he
was the first to develop a decaffeinated coffee substitute in Boston. In
addition, he was very much involved in pioneer psychical research and
worked very closely with the renowned Andrew Jackson
Davis in fostering such work.
The church's work continued to
grow, up until around 1910. But, prejudice and resentment ultimately took
their toll on the church. In 1914, the main sanctuary of the Temple was
reconstructed and converted into Boston's legendary Exeter
Street Theatre. Our records indicate that Marcellus Ayer initially
opposed this move, but finally agreed, hoping that someday the theatre
would be removed and the church would return to her former glory. Worship
services were then conducted in the lower church auditorium.
There is so much more to the
history of our church and its founder, Marcellus Ayer. The church's history
from 1914 to 1975 is known to but a handful of people. We are slowly
compiling a biographical portrayal of that amazing period. Eventually, this
will be included in our Web site.
What we can say is that, in
1975, the original building was sold and the church relocated to the
Longwood area of Brookline. On September 30, 2013, the Brookline property
was sold. We now have our offices in East Sandwich, Massachusetts, and are
scouting the Cape Cod area for a new Temple.
Furthermore, in 1977, shortly
after the death of church Trustee and President, A. Viola Berlin, Rev. Simeon Stefanidakis and Rev.
Stephen Fulton were ordained to assume the ministerial wheel of the
church. Times had changed, and the church needed to step up to those times.
First of all, the name of the church had to change. Spiritual Fraternity,
although appropriate for its day, suggested too strongly a male-oriented
Since that time, the name of
the church has reflected the name of its building and house of worship. We
are now known simply as the
First Spiritual Temple
Marcellus Ayer passed away, in
his home, at 190 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, on January 30, 1921. Many of
his dreams were realized; many were not. But, despite the good and the bad
times, he always lived by his motto, one which should speak to us all,
Do well thy work, for it shall succeed, in thine or in
Please visit our Pictorial History Page for a glimpse into other
pioneers in our Church's history.
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