First Church of Boston - History

First Church in Boston was established on July 30, 1630. When John Winthrop and his party stepped off the Arbella, their first official act, even before drawing up a charter for the city, was to create by themselves, and sign, a Covenant for the First Church in Boston. In this document we find these words:  “[Wee] solemnly, and religiously…Promise, and bind ourselves, to walke in all our ways…in mutuall love, and respect each to other…”  They brought with them the progressive outlook which we carry on today, though we no longer hold their belief in a single theology.  However, the spirit of mutual love and respect among the men and women who were our founders is a living part of our heritage.

The covenant and the church were Nonconformist to the authoritarian control of the Anglican church, and a manifestation of the Protestant Reformation which was taking place all over Europe, set in motion by the Renaissance. The members of this church were a unique group, who acted without the intervention of any king, creating a practice of “Congregational Polity” and establishing “The New England Way”, which was a system for governing with the consent of the people.

By the mid-19th century, First Church in Boston was a center of  the Transcendentalist movement, a development which grew out of its founding principle of religious freedom of interpretation.  Subsequently, it became a Unitarian church. In the mid 20th century, the Unitarian and Universalist denominations joined together and First Church in Boston became a Unitarian Universalist church.

Our existing building combines the Gothic facade of our fifth church on Berkeley Street with our modern main building designed by Paul Rudolph on Marlborough Street.

Throughout the life of our congregation, we have gathered for worship in many parts of the city and settled in our current location in 1868. A fire devastated our building (The Fifth Building) in 1968, burning all but the Berkeley Street façade. Our current building was finished in 1972, and designed for secular as well as religious purposes. What now stands is a hybrid building, incorporating the surviving parts of the original building.

Over the more than 375 years since the founding of First Church in Boston, six different congregations have joined it either directly, or indirectly through a merger with Second Church (which rejoined First Church in 1970); each has brought to First Church in Boston its own rich history.

For more information please visit our history website, and the 375th anniversary book “This Is Our Church” which can now be found on Google Books. All decisions voted on at the Annual Meeting, since its publication in 2005, are kept up to date in the Appendix.