The people of the First Congregational Church of Reading (FCCR) are part of a rich history of Congregationalism that began almost 400 years ago in New England. Our congregation gathered for the first time on February 21, 1770, which means that this February marks our church’s 250th Anniversary! The founding doctrine is that each congregation, or local church, has free control of its own affairs. The church has evolved over the years and continues to transform to meet the needs of the Reading community.

We at the First Congregational Church of Reading are members of the United Church of Christ (UCC), a mainline Protestant Christian denomination that is traced back to  the Puritans of New England. We are conscious of that tradition and also the changing role of religious is today’s world. As independent local bodies, this denomination has become important in many social reform movements, including abolitionism, temperance, and women’s suffrage.  In fact, Sarah Reid, the wife of Rev. Reid, pastor at FCCR in 1823, helped found the first female anti-slavery society in North America. 

The UCC has roots in the “covenantal” tradition—meaning there is no centralized authority or hierarchy that can impose any doctrine or form of worship on its members. Christ alone is Head of the church. We seek a balance between freedom of conscience and accountability to the apostolic faith. The underlying principle is that each local congregation has as its head Jesus alone and that the relations of the various congregations are those of fellow members in one common family of God.

Our History

by Alan Ulrich

The town of Reading (originally spelled Redding) was first settled in 1639. It included the present day towns of Wakefield (1st parish), North Reading (2nd parish), and Reading (3rd parish).

In the early 1600’s with the arrival of Pilgrims and Puritans seeking religious freedom, the town of Reading, comprising what are currently the towns of Reading, North Reading and Wakefield was first settled in 1639. The first church was established in the southern part of Reading in present town of Wakefield in 1645, becoming the 12th church in Massachusetts Bay colony. Services were held in a small wooden building on Reading Common until the early 1800’s.

5 Nov. 1645

 First church gathered in Reading with 41 members. This was the 12th church in Massachusetts Bay. The church was located near the corner of present day Main and Albion Streets in Wakefield.

1658

Town ordered the minister to be paid “this year to be 1/3 in wheat & barley, 1/3 in pease & rye, and 1/3 in butter and Indian (corn)”. 46 persons were assessed to pay the minister.

1692

The witch hysteria spreads to Reading. Eight Reading women are accused of witchcraft. One, Lydia Dustin, would die in jail.

1713

In 1713, a second parish was established when residents of the northern part of Reading formed their own Parish in what would in 1853 become the town of North Reading. The first meetinghouse for the third parish of what is present day Reading was a small wooden structure that stood on what is now Reading Common with services first being held there on February 21, 1770. These services were held in this structure for more than 35 years.

1730

Woodend (present day Reading) petitioned the town to be set off as a separate parish. It was voted down 45 – 50. Woodend however, was voted 17 pounds a year for “preaching among them in the winter season” on condition Woodend would “give the said Parish no trouble at home or abroad referring to a separation” and would “agree to tarry with us during said term of ten years.”

1732

Funeral of Rev. Richard Browne – expenses L45.15s.6d much of it for food & wine.

1733

His successor, Rev. William Hobby’s installation cost L16.6s.1d. of which L13.8s. was for a barrel of wine.

1766

Woodend residents again petitioned to be set off as a separate parish. This was bitterly opposed by residents of the First Parish. However, the General Court of Mass. Bay allowed it and ordered the Third Parish to be incorporated. The act was passed 14 July, 1769. Parishes functioned much as separate towns, each having definite boundaries, boards of officers, and full responsibility for finances and management of their own school and church property.

9 Aug. 1769

A committee was formed to provide materials and hire workmen to complete the new meetinghouse. The site is marked by a boulder with a bronze tablet on the Common just north of Woburn Street. Another committee was subsequently chosen to “supply the pulpit” and provide a boarding house for a minister.

8 Feb. 1770

108 members dismissed from First Church in order to be incorporated into 3rd Parish Church. Covenant and Confession of Faith of 3rd Parish written in full. Jonathan Temple and Samuel Bancroft were chosen deacons. The earliest records of the church are in the “clear and accurate handwriting of Deacon Bancroft.”

10 Nov. 1770 

Rev. Thomas Haven is ordained as the first minister for the 3rd Parish. He purchased the house which stood where the present day Town Hall Annex Building stands. The house was moved years later to School St., and still stands today. History records that Reading minutemen left their bayonet marks in a wall after training.

7 May 1782

 Rev. Haven died. He was 39 years old and had been pastor for 12 years. He is buried in the old burying ground at Laurel Hill Cemetery with his wife Anna who predeceased him. The Church possesses one gift from him, the small flagon in the old communion service. Haven St. was named after him.

9 June 1790

Rev. Peter Sanborn installed as the 2nd pastor. Rev. Sanborn once said he was the 32nd candidate . He was offered a yearly salary of 80 pounds, fifteen cords of oak wood and five of pine. His ordination was said to have been somewhat stormy on which doctrinal differences prolonged the examination until sunset, so the public exercises were concluded by candle-light. During Rev. Sanborn’s pastorate, a great religious revival swept through Reading.

Many changes took place in 1800’s in the town of Reading. In 1812, the old First Parish withdrew from Reading to form the separate town of South Reading which was later renamed Wakefield. In 1815 felled timber from a hurricane was used to build a modern, federal style church at the head of Reading Common and was first occupied in 1818. By the middle of the century, doctrinal differences caused a split within the congregation creating a second Congregational church. This church, dedicated in 1850, was called the Bethesda Church and Society and was built on Woburn Street on the site of the present First Congregational Church. By 1886 differences subsided and the two congregational churches reunited, adopting the name First Congregational Church.

July, 1812

The 1st Parish was incorporated as a separate town and named South Reading which was later renamed Wakefield. The 1st Parish was strongly Republican and supported President Madison and the war with England. Both the 2nd and 3rd parishes were Federalist and opposed the war. A record of the dispute between two members is contained in the earliest church record book.

Sept. 1815 

A hurricane knocked down many of the trees in the parish and it was decided to use the timber to build a larger, more modern church. A Federal style church was built at the head of the Common, site of the present day Old South Methodist Church.

7 June 1820

Rev. Sanborn was dismissed from the ministry due to poor health. He continued to reside in Reading and never took another pastorate. He was succeeded later that year by Rev. Samuel Green.

8 Oct. 1823 

Rev. Jared Reid was ordained as pastor. His parsonage was located on the east corner of Highland and Lowell Streets.

1827

“The liberal elements {of the parish} set up a new….Congregational Society of Reading with 46 original members headed by Edward Tasker. Rev. Sanborn gave the society land for a building” where Town Hall now stands. This society was the precursor to the Unitarian Church.

1832

Mrs. Emily Richardson moved from Reading to Charlestown and applied for communion in the 2nd Congregational Church there. But Rev. Reid wrote Charlestown: “This church has withdrawn all Christian watch & fellowship from Mrs. Emily Richardson. The offence was her violation of her own covenant vows, and has departed from what we consider the faith once delivered to the saints”. She was, in short, suspected of Unitarian leanings.

22 March 1833

 Sarah Reid, wife of Rev. Reid, helped found the first female anti-slavery society in North America. Membership dues were 20c year or $3.00 life. The anti-slavery women of England sent a china tea set to the Reading Society in honour of their founding. Each piece had the picture of a kneeling slave raising manacled hands. A few pieces are in the collection of the Reading Antiquarian Society.

25 Sept. 1833

 Rev. Aaron Pickett became the church’s fifth pastor. His wife was active in the anti-slavery society.

1853

The old Second Parish was set off as a separate town, present day North Reading.

14 Sept. 1853

Rev. William H. Beecher is installed as 2nd pastor of Bethesda. At his installation the sermon was preached by Rev. Thomas Beecher, Rev. Lyman Beecher, his father, offered the installing prayer, Dr. Calvin E. Stowe gave the charge to the pastor, and Dr. James C. Beecher was present as a delegate. Also known as “William the Unlucky”, Rev. Beecher had a tumultuous pastorate here and was dismissed in the spring of 1856.

20 Feb. 1856

 Dr. William Barrows was installed in the Old South Church and would serve here for thirteen years. He was a passionate and articulate advocate for the Union during the Civil War, preaching many sermons on the topic. He also traveled extensively in the US and was greatly interested in the development of the American West. He would serve as the financial agent of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. He would also serve as Secretary of the Massachusetts Home Missionary Society.

5 Aug. 1857

 Rev. Peter Sanborn died, just before his 91st birthday. As a result of Rev. Sanborn’s generosity, land was donated for an academy, a Unitarian Church, a Presbyterian Church, and the Bethesda Church.

5 April 1885

 The Bethesda and Old South congregations began worshipping together. Many members of the disputing factions had passed away and time mellowed others. Many members could no longer see a need to maintain two separate churches. Rev. Frank Adams was installed as pastor of the Bethesda Church in 1880 and worked hard with Rev’s. Lorenzo White and Frank Mills to make reunification a reality.

25 Feb. 1886

Permanent union accomplished. The merged churches had a membership of 430. The Bethesda church was decided upon as the meeting place as it was the newer of the two buildings.

April 1887

Old South sold to the Methodists with the stipulation that the Congregationalists could use it while the Bethesda church was remodeled. For other meetings and for Sunday School, the Presbyterian Church was used.

15 May 1887

Last service in the old Bethesda building was held. The building was then remodeled, a new organ was installed and the auditorium had a seating capacity of more than 800. The expense of remodeling was $12,264.70

9 March 1897 

Rev. Frank S. Adams passed away. The memorial window at the back of the chancel, the Resurrection, is in memory of Mr. Adams.

In 1909, an electrical fire destroyed the church, which had been remodeled in 1887 in a Romanesque Revival style. The present stone church was built in 1910 in the Collegiate Gothic style. In 1957, the Congregational-Christian Churches and Evangelical and Reformed Churches, after years of discussion formed the United Church of Christ. In 1960 the church voted to join the United Church of Christ. In 1959 an educational wing was added to the church. A majority of the beautiful stained glass windows in the sanctuary, which tell the story of the life of Christ, were added in the 1960’s.

1901

The Church changed from renting pews to voluntary contributions for church support.

5 March 1909 

Church burned to the ground due to defective electrical wiring.

10 Oct. 1909 

Deacon Stillman Parker laid the cornerstone of the new church building. A copper box was placed in a receptacle close to the cornerstone. The box contained several photos of former pastors as well as current pastor Frank S. Hunnewell, several issues of The Reading Chronicle, Boston Herald and Boston Transcript, church calendar, two 1st issue Lincoln pennies, a sermon and many other items.

May 1911 

The new church building was dedicated with a seating capacity of 650. The organ was given by Miss Clara Pierce, in memory of her father, Mr. Samuel Pierce, well-known maker of organ pipes in Reading.

16 Oct. 1916 

A certificate of incorporation for the First Congregational Church of Reading was issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

10 May 1921 

The mortgage was burned

1957

The Congregational-Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Churches merged to form the United Church of Christ.

1959 

A major building program was begun which added the present educational wing and the chapel to the north side of the building.

Our current church was built in 1910.