Pictures by Amelia Kunhardt
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us
“In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
For generations, Quincy Point
Betty DeCristofaro is proud of her church and proud of her neighborhood. Now 80, she was baptized and married at Quincy Point Congregational Church. She’s there every Sunday that she’s able to make it.
“This is God’s country,” she says.
And so it is, in ways her parents and grandparents might never have imagined.
The ward once known for the historic Fore River shipyard is now home to the greatest concentrated diversity of religions and houses of worship in the south of Boston area.
Drive south on Washington Street from Quincy Center and you’ll pass Glad Tidings Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination. A few blocks farther on, a Brazilian Assemblies of God church and the Thousand Buddha Temple stand almost next door to each other.
Turn down a side street past the temple and you’ll soon reach Beth Israel Synagogue, the South Shore’s oldest surviving synagogue. The Islamic Center of New England, the entire region’s oldest mosque, is a half-mile away, near the shipyard.
Back on Washington Street, you’ll see Quincy Point Congregational and then St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church before you reach the Fore River Rotary.
Within a mile, a world of faith, and the story of American religion in the 21st century.
“There are neighborhoods like this in larger cities all over the country,” Boston University theology professor Nancy Ammerman said.
She said Quincy Point’s history fits the general Eastern U.S. pattern of a Protestant establishment accommodating Catholic and Jewish immigration and then an increasingly more varied immigrant population.
But she also said it’s unusual for such a compact section of a medium-sized city to become a center for Muslims, Buddhists and multi-national Pentecostals amid the older faith traditions.
“Quincy Point’s story is not typical everywhere,” she said. “You’re seeing a particularly dramatic shift that echoes the particular history of this region.”
That shift began during World War I, when shipyard employment boomed. It accelerated in the 1960s and again with the Asian influx of the 1980s. Until then, little had changed through the early 1900s.
The stretch between Broad Meadows and the river was still sparsely settled by farmers, fishermen and shipbuilders when a new Congregational church - the third in the city - gathered there in 1838, in a building near the river.
The pastor, the Rev. Ann Suzedell, says many of the first members were Scots from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Some took boats from Germantown for Sunday services. In honor of the local industry, the church adopted the emblem of a ship at full sail.
The Unitarian-oriented Universalist Society had been active at the northern end of Washington Street since 1832. As Quincy’s Irish and Italian population rose, the St. Joseph’s parish was created in 1917. The neighborhood’s small but growing Jewish community founded Beth Israel Synagogue in 1918, after holding minyans in private homes for years. (Beth Israel was Quincy’s second synagogue. Ahavath Achim started in Quincy Center in 1903 and closed after a fire in 1972.)
By the 1930s, a handful of Syrian and Lebanese Muslim families were following much the same practice, often gathering in the back room of Ma’s Lunch, a diner owned by one of the families. Glad Tidings moved its services to the Universalist church at about the same time, then bought the site in 1942.
Lifelong residents like DeCristofaro and Islamic Center member Zaida Hassan Shaw aren’t sure how much the demand for wartime cooperation influenced the live-and-let-live attitude that prevailed around The Point, as it’s called, in those years. As youths, they simply took it for granted.
“There were Congregational, Jewish, Lebanese Christians and Muslims and Catholics all one one street,” DeCristofaro recalls.
“Everybody got along,” said Shaw, whose mother ran Ma’s Lunch.
The Rev. Bedros Baharian at the Congregational church and Rabbi Jacob Mann at Beth Israel caused a minor stir when they started holding interfaith dinners in the late 1940s, but they seem to have set an enduring pattern. When the Islamic Center was built in 1964, as New England’s first mosque, it was partly financed by non-Muslim donations. Shaw and others say Rabbi Mann gave the mosque his blessing, too.
Ammerman said those events fit another post-World War II trend, as mainline Protestants strove for a more hospitable, ecumenical view. Catholics eventually did, too, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council reforms of the 1960s.
More change came to Quincy Point through the 1980s and ’90s, as thousands of Asians, Latinos and Middle Easterners immigrated to the South Shore. Glad Tidings welcomed African and Hispanic Pentecostals. Indians, Pakistanis and Muslims from a score of other countries and the entire South Shore shared Friday prayers at the Islamic Center.
A scattering of Asians joined Baptist and Lutheran churches in the city, but lifelong Buddhists like Johnson Tran and Sandy Wong-Ng longed for a proper worship space. When Budhi Siksa Society master Sister Sik visited from an upstate New York temple in 1991, local Asians pleaded for her to start a local temple. So she did, first in a house in Wollaston.
Quincy’s Buddhists wanted to build a temple there, since it was nearer the main Asian population, but neighbors objected to the traffic it would create, so the society instead bought a Quincy Point function hall. Thousand Buddha was dedicated in 1996, with a Protestant mayor and mostly Catholic council in attendance.
Quincy Point’s openness was tested again by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Imam Talal Eid and the Islamic Center braced for retaliation, but the imam and others said the mosque got only a handful of crank calls and many words of sympathy and support.
The Rev. Suzedell got her introduction to the diversity of The Point and the city then, at a post-Sept. 11 interfaith peace service in Veterans Stadium.
“It made an impression on me,” she said.
On The Point, as elsewhere in America, people of different faiths generally know each other as classmates, customers and next-door neighbors, not worshippers. The Buddhist temple occasionally attracts curious visitors, and Quincy Point Congregational takes youth groups there and to the Islamic Center as part of confirmation class. And every now and then, the pluralism takes unexpected forms.
Honk Kong native Sandy Wong-Ng tried interfaith conversations with Christian friends, but shies away from them now. “It’s hard to keep from feeling that you’re attacking the other person’s religion,” she said. But she had no reluctance to enroll her son in a Catholic school.
“I like what the Quincy schools do for Asian students, but the parochial schools seem to be better for behavior, for discipline,” she said. If he learns that, “I don’t too much mind the Catholic things.”
Lane Lambert may be reached at email@example.com.
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