«Centennial History of First Congregational Church 1865-1965 by Everett O. Alldredge (Source: Foreword I ...»
Centennial History of First
Congregational Church 1865-1965
Everett O. Alldredge
II Howard University
IV The Rankin Period
V The Newman Years
VI A Musical Church
VII Church Organizations
VIII A Missionary Church
IX Woodrow, Stocking & Gordon
X Jason Noble Pierce
XI Depression and Stockdale
XII Howard Stone Anderson
XIII Carl Heath Kopf
Annex 1 -- Ministerial Staff (list of ministers, ass'ts with years served).
Annex II --Essay on sources (Everett Alldredge) Foreword THE OFFICIAL BIRTH of the First Congregational Church in Washington, D.C., occurred on November 15, 1865, when one hundred and four persons who three days earlier had covenanted together to be a Church stood before a Congregational Council and were recognized as a Congregational Church. Some ninety-seven years later, in the fall of 1962, the Church Council of the First Congregational United Church of Christ determined that the Church's one hundredth anniversary should be suitably observed, and appointed a Centennial Committee to provide a program of events appropriate to so significant an occasion.
This history of the one hundred years of the life of this church is a most important part of the Centennial observance. We who today are members of this church admit that we may not be entirely objective in our appraisal of the importance of the Christian Witness of this particular church; but we believe that all who read this history will agree that there have been in the experience of this church numerous occasions of unusual interest and significance. This church has, from birth, aggressively proclaimed equal rights of all races in a frequently hostile atmosphere; members of this church conceived the idea and promoted the creation of a university open to all people, which has become Howard University; from this church went a committee to President Andrew Johnson with a petition that he establish a day of Thanksgiving which he did;
this church, because its building housed for many years the largest auditorium in Washington, has been host to many of Washington's important cultural occasions; this church, in the nineteen fifties, faced the problems of rebuilding and relocating and, at a time when many inner city churches were moving to the suburbs, proclaimed its conviction that its ministry must continue as an inner city ministry, and built a new, more functionally adequate, building on its original site in the heart of Washington.
To provide the details of this century of service the Church is fortunate to have a leading archivist as its centennial historian. Everett O. Alldredge has been with the Federal Government since 1940, mostly with the National Archives. He has been president of the Society of American Archivists and has received his agency's Distinguished Service Award.
The Centennial Committee expresses its profound gratitude to this brilliant and dedicated member for giving of his time and talent to the writing of this fascinating story of the first one hundred years of First Congregational Church, Washington, D. C. It is with pride that we present it to the Church.
E. DONALD PRESTONChairman Centennial Committee I Beginnings IN 1861 THE CITY OF WASHINGTON had fifty-six churches and 90,000 inhabitants, of whom about 2,000 were federal employees. It was a southern city, hostile to Congregationalism which was identified with northern abolitionism. Prior to the Civil War two attempts had been made to establish a Congregational church in the city, and each had eventually failed because of local antagonism.
The election of Abraham Lincoln as President representing a new political party, particularly strong in New England and the Northwest, brought into Washington a sizable group of persons loyal to the new party and its principles. In addition, the Federal Government grew much larger as the Civil War lengthened and war-time logistics made its need manifest. Washington by 1865 had grown to a city of 150,000, of whom 6,000 were federal employees, but had added only four new churches.
The presence of so many New Englanders in Washington without their traditional Congregational church to attend seemed intolerable to a small group of persons who were determined to remedy the situation. From all accounts it took several years for the members of this group to meet one another, to grow to a size large enough to consider action, to find some leadership, and to decide they were not temporary sojourners in the nation's capital.
By the beginning of 1865 the leadership had gradually emerged in the persons of Llewellyn Deane, Daniel L. Eaton, Henry A. Brewster, Rev. Silas B. Hodges, Rev. Benjamin F. Morris, Rev.
Charles H. Bliss, William F. Bascom, Rev. Ebenezer W. Robinson, William Wheeler, William R.
Hooper, and Rev. Danforth B. Nichols. The large number of ministers, mostly retired, was due to the war-time work of the U. S. Christian Commission, headquartered in Washington.
The U. S. Christian Commission was formed in 1861 to provide to the armies and navies comforts and supplies not furnished by the Federal Government. It received its support primarily from the churches. During the four years of the Civil War it collected more than $2,500,000 in cash, besides immense quantities of stores and clothing. Needless to say, it was popular with the troops.
William Hooper was an executive in the Office of the Sixth Auditor (forerunner to the present General Accounting Office). The Rev. Benjamin Morris was an employee of the Post Office Department rather than the Christian Commission. Llewellyn Deane was active in the real estate business, Henry Brewster in the insurance business, and William Wheeler was an official at the U.
S. Patent Office.
These men were true leaders. They did not want to "think small" occupy a small rented building, under a second-rate minister, with a minimal missionary program, and unrelated to the pressing events of the day. Yet "thinking big" involved raising much more money than they could see in their own midst. Were they stymied?
As the Civil War drew to a close, elements within the national Congregational body felt a challenge to establish some Congregational churches in the freed areas. Petitions from existing churches led to convening a National Council in Boston on June 14, 1865. One of the petitions
"Whereas, by the present war, the structure of society and of ecclesiastical organization is being dissolved or greatly changed, and the shackles are being struck from millions of slaves, and whereas, vast regions and populations are being opened to the free thought, free speech, and free missions; and whereas, ideas and emigration from the Free States are likely to follow the triumph of the Union cause southward; therefore, resolved that it is the duty of the Congregational Churches of the United States, to inquire what is their obligation, in this vast and solemn crisis, such as comes only once in the ages, and what new efforts, measures, and policies, they may owe to this condition of affairs, this new genesis of nations."
Governor William Alfred Buckingham of Connecticut was designated to preside at the Council.
Word of the National Council gave the Washington group hope that here was the medium through which they might move on the scale they wished. A petition on the need and prospects of a Congregational Church in Washington was speedily prepared in early May by the Rev. E. W.
Robinson and his colleagues, signed by the sixty persons for whom Llewellyn Deane had cards, and sent to the presiding officer of the Council.
Additionally, a committee, composed of W. R. Hooper and the Rev. B. F. Morris, was dispatched to the Council to plead the Washington cause. Their cause met with favor. The Council passed the
"Resolved, That the trustees of the American Congregational Union be advised and requested to take into consideration the importance of a well sustained Congregational Church in the city of Washington, and, having ascertained what facilities there are for the establishment of such a church, and what aid will be necessary, to institute arrangements, according to their best judgment and discretion, for building or purchasing a suitable edifice in the national Capital in which a Congregational Church may maintain the preaching of the Gospel and the public worship of God."
The Committee which had attended the Council at Boston reported back the results of their trip on
August 17, at which time the following resolution was adopted by the Washington group:
"Resolved, That, in our opinion, measures should now be attempted to inaugurate a Congregational Church and Society in Washington."
For a few weeks after the August 17 meeting the group continued to meet informally, securing as the speaker whatever minister might be in the city for a Christian Commission meeting. The Rev.
Charles Bliss told the group that Dr. Charles B. Boynton, a leading Congregational clergyman, had just accepted a position at the Naval Academy with his headquarters in Washington. His appointment was to write a history of the Navy during the war. Bliss knew Boynton and, with Hooper and Nathaniel A. Robbins, interviewed him.
Dr. Charles Brandon Boynton was born in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1806. He entered Williams College in the class of 1827, but in his senior year left on account of ill health. He read law and was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature. In 1840 he was ordained by the Columbia Presbytery. He afterwards preached at Housatonic, Massachusetts, Lansingburg, New York, and the Vine Street Congregational Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the last named place he gained the reputation of being an eloquent preacher and a strong anti-slavery man. His book, English and French Neutrality and the Anglo-French Alliance, in Their Relations to the United States and Russia, published in 1864, had brought him to the attention of the Naval Academy officials seeking a historian.
When interviewed by Bliss et al, Dr. Boynton agreed to be the pastor of the new church, when formed, at a salary of $1,800 per year. This made possible the first public worship service, well advertised by Mr. Hooper, to be held on September 17, 1865, at the small Unitarian Church, corner 6th and D Streets, with Dr. Boynton preaching. At this service the following paper was
distributed as the basis and objects of the Church and Society:
"1. The doctrines of its faith, Scriptural, and such as are held in substance by all Evangelical denominations of our common Christianity.
"2. Its ecclesiastical polity, Congregational and self-governing, after the pattern of the Bible and the genius of our republican institutions, and yet in practical fellowship for counsel and cooperation, with orthodox Congregational churches throughout the land, and in interchanges of Christian salutations with other denominations who hold to the 'truth as it is in Jesus, who is head over all things to the church.
"3. Its doctrine, in their expositions and applications, designed to save the soul, to meet the demands of humanity, and the openings of Providence in this new era of our nation's history.
"4. The law of God, being the only true and solid foundation for the establishment and stability of civil government and for the reconstruction and regeneration of civil States that may need the wisdom and application of true statesmanship, one leading aim of this Christian organization in its relations to the wants of civil Society, will be to unfold and apply the principles of true Christianity to the exigencies and wants of our civil government and political policies, and thus to give moral support to the administration of law, and to demonstrate the wisdom and power of that sublime truth of the Scripture, and confirmed by all history, that 'righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.
"5. Intellectual culture and social fellowship being the genius and results of a spiritual Christianity and productive of many blessings, the Church and Society design to provide ample means to attain these ends.
"6. In laboring for these results, the Church and Society, in the true spirit of Christianity and of Christian patriotism and philanthropy, will cordially co-operate with all Christian Churches and patriotic and benevolent associations.
"7. Taking our stand on this basis of Christian faith and fellowship, invoking the blessing of Almighty God, inviting the sympathy and prayers of all (Christians and patriots, and the practical co-operation of the friends of Congregationalism in this city and throughout the land, as well as of the citizens of Washington, members of the Government, and transient sojourners, we hope to build up a Christian Church and Society which will promote the glory of our common Redeemer, contribute largely to the loyalty, patriotism and prosperity of our now doubly-endeared country, and to the highest and best interest of the capital of our Christian Republic."
Another gathering pointing towards a permanent church was held at the Unitarian Church on October 11, with the Rev. E. W. Robinson in the chair. Fifty-six persons agreed to join the new "communion of saints." Some lengthy discussion ensued on a name, with a choice from thirteen alternatives (Pioneer, Plymouth, National, First, etc.) but First Congregational Church finally prevailed. At this meeting, too, a committee composed of Dr. Boynton, Rev. Morris, Rev.
Robinson, Henry Brewster, and William Russell was chosen to prepare Articles of Faith. Another committee was named to arrange for calling a Council to recognize the church. This committee consisted of Llewellyn Deane, Rev. Hodges, W. R. Hooper, William Wheeler, and Leonard Watson.
At a meeting on October 21, Dr. Boynton was formally called to the pastorate, a call he accepted on the spot.