First Church History

For over 375 years, First Church has welcomed searchers and seekers, pilgrims and pioneers to share on the journey of faith that guided is by God’s grace, every step of the way. Though we celebrate a rich and robust history and tradition, we are called to live out our faith in the present, to make what is ancient fresh, and to make our ideals for the future relevant in the here and now. Here is just a snapshot of our earlier years:

  • Gathered in 1633-1636, First Church in Cambridge is considered to be the 11th oldest congregation in New England.
  • In October of 1633, the learned “Puritan divine,” Rev. Thomas Hooker, begins preaching in the first meeting house. Three years later, Hooker and “Mr. Hooker’s company” remove to Connecticut to found Hartford and the Colony of Connecticut.
  • In 1636, Rev. Thomas Shepard is installed as pastor of the new congregation. In the presence of clergy and representatives of neighboring congregations, the Cambridge church is formally organized on February 1, 1636.
  • Harvard College is founded on October 28, 1636. In March 1637, the first Board of Overseers agrees to settle Harvard in Newtowne so that students could ‘benefit from proximity to the soul-ravishing preaching” of Rev. Shepard. Newtowne is renamed Cambridge because Hooker, Shepard and other prominent clergy were students at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England.
  • In 1637, the trial of Anne Hutchinson takes place in the first meetinghouse.
  • In 1648, the Cambridge Platform of Church Doctrine and Discipline is adopted in our meetinghouse, codifying the Congregational way.
  • In 1650, the second meeting house is built in Harvard Square, currently Lehman Hall. Also site of the third meetinghouse in 1706 and the fourth in 1757, though set a bit farther into Harvard Yard.
  • In 1679, 
Urian Oakes, the third Pastor of First Church, becomes the fourth President of Harvard.
  • In 1733, Cambridge town and parish governments are divided.
  • In 1775, George Washington worships in the fourth meetinghouse. A year earlier, General Washington takes command of the Colonial Troops under the famous “Washington Elm.”
  • In 1779, 
The Massachusetts Constitution, the world's oldest living constitution, is framed in the Fourth Meeting House.
  • From roughly 1805 to 1830, the Arminian controversy ensues, splitting Unitarian and Congregational Churches. In 1829, the Shepard Congregational Society is formed after splitting off from the First Parish (Unitarian).

For more information from our 375th Anniversary site, please click here.

To see an illustrated timeline of our church history, please click here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

First Church Meetinghouses

  • 1632 First Meetinghouse is built near the corner of Dunster and Mt. Auburn streets. See the engraved tablet on the side of the J.Press building.
  • 1650, 1706, 1757 Second, Third and Fourth Meetinghouses are built in Harvard Square, where Lehman Hall stands now, across from Out of Town News. The fourth was set back into the Harvard Yard. See the tablet on brick wall across from Au Bon Pain.
  • 1829 After the Unitarian split, the congregation meets for two years at the Old Court House, the current site of the Harvard Coop.
  • 1831 Fifth Meeting House is built at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Holyoke streets.
  • 1872 Sixth Meeting House – our current site at the corner of Garden and Mason streets

Names

  • 1633 The Cambridge Church, the Church in Cambridge, Church of Christ in Newtowne, the Church of Christ in Cambridge, the First Church in Cambridge
  • 1829 The Shepard Congregational Society, First Parish Unitarian
  • 1872 The Shepard Memorial Church, The Shepard Congregational Church
  • 1899 First Church in Cambridge, Congregational , with 1919 incorporation as such
  • 1957 First Church in Cambridge, Congregational, United Church of Christ

Ministers

  • Thomas Hooker 1633-1636
  • Thomas Shepard 1633-1649
  • Henry Dunster(int.) 1649-1650
  • Jonathan Mitchell 1650-1668
  • Charles Chauncey(int.) 1668-1671
  • Urian Oakes 1671-1682
  • Nathaniel Gookin 1682-1692
  • William Brattle 1696-1717
  • Nathaniel Appleton 1717-1783
  • Timothy Hilliard 1783-1790
  • Abiel Holmes 1792-1831
  • Nehemiah Adams 1831-1834
  • John A. Albro 1835-1867
  • Alexander McKenzie 1867-1912
  • Raymond Calkins 1912-1940
  • John H. Leamon 1940-1962
  • Wells Grogan 1962-1976
  • Allen Happe 1977-1999
  • Mary Luti 2000-2008
  • Daniel Smith 2008 -

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