The First Parish Church
Patch examines one of the country's oldest churches.
The First Parish Church first hosted a gathering July 15, 1636 in New Town – in what would be modern day Cambridge. The first Reverend's to lead what the puritan settlers called “meetings” were Rev. Peter Bulkeley and Rev. John Jones.
From here the church flourished and became a central figure in the political and spiritual make-up of early Concord. In October of 1774, after British troops took over Harvard dorms in the infamous Boston blockade, the church functioned as classrooms for Harvard students and even helped to find homes for the wayward students throughout the community.
“Students were farmed out to various families,” said First Parish Curator and Sacristan, Douglas Baker. “The church was happy to provide classroom space for roughly two years, because at this time, it wasn't considered sacred space as it is today.”
During this time, and all throughout the 18th century, the church was used as the Town Meeting House, as all deacons in Concord were also the selectmen. Since there was no antidisestablishmentarianism (the separation of church and state) the church was also the social and political leader of the town.
“All parishes in early New England were where town meeting's were held,” said Baker.
In 1747, one of the church's most important add-ons, Wright Tavern, was built behind the church.
“Back then, the church was never heated,” mentioned Baker. “Services would be three or four hours, then break for a quick lunch, then come back for another three or four hours of 'meetings'. Wright Tavern was used as a place that practitioners could go to get something to eat and warm up in-between the long services.”
Today, Wright Tavern's two floors are split between a private business on top, and classrooms for the church's various spiritual education programs below.
In 1826, the early Calvinist practices of puritanical New England gave way to the modern Unitarian worship the First Parish currently demonstrates. Two of the churches most famous members, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, joined the church shortly after this time.
In 1873, a federal law was passed that forced the separation of church and state, and the resemblance of a more modern day First Parish Church began to take shape.
Today, The First Parish Church of Concord boasts over 1,000 regular practitioners. Services are regularly held, September through June, on Sundays, at 9 and 11 a.m. The current summer time schedule is abbreviated to one 10 a.m. Mass.
The First Parish Church of Concord is also involved in 1,500 functions year round. Whether it's educational programs, musical atonements through one of the churches five choral groups, including the gothic, Transylvania Choir, or the churches social actions and expansive committees for betterment of Concord and the church, the First Parish Church of Concord is as spiritually and socially committed as it was some 375 years ago.
Coincidentally, the First Parish Church is getting ready to celebrate in 375th year as a church this October 21 and 22. According to Baker, the church is planning “panel discussions at the church and art displays of our various paintings at the library, along with a film that is currently being made and a fashion show throughout history.”
For more information on the First Parish Church, visit their website.
In 2004, the church handed all their records and historical documents over to the Concord Free Public Library. For anyone interested in seeing some of the churches preserved history in the flesh, simply schedule a time with the library by heading over to their website.