The Old Ship Church, located in Hingham, Massachusetts, is the oldest church building in the United States that has been in continuous ecclesiastical use. Built in 1681, the Church is often called the Old Ship Meetinghouse in homage to the Puritans, who called their churches meetinghouses.
The name of the Church arose from the distinctive open-beam construction of the rafters. This Gothic style is known as a “hammerbeam roof” and is similar to that of the roof on the Westminster Abbey in England. This open-timber construction method resembled the ribs of a wooden sailing ship to the first congregants, who dubbed their new meetinghouse the “Old Ship.”
Musical instruments did not come into use in the church until 1807, and the curious custom of the congregation facing the back of the church during the last hymn began in 1855. This unusual practice arose from a desire by the congregation to turn and face the choir leader who stood in the choir loft at the rear of the church and continues to be practiced today.
Many of the features of the sanctuary date back to the original construction. One of these is a small wooden hourglass located near the pulpit. Used to ensure that sermons did not become overly lengthy, it continues today to serve its function as another of the long-standing traditions in the over 300-year history of this old church.