Gerry Brookes has recently put together an excellent written discussion on this history of First Parish. Learn more about our history and how our governance is currently structured in the firstparish.net Features Section
If it weren't for First Parish Church, there would be no town of Brunswick.
That's because at the time New England was colonized, in the 17th and
18th Centuries, you couldn't have a town without a church. Traders and
missionaries, farmers and entrepreneurs were pouring into New England to
stake out claims. But a settlement could earn the status of a town only
if it had a church and "settled minister." And so First Parish Church
was established in Brunswick, Maine, in 1717. All who lived in Brunswick
were automatically members of the parish. Taxes supported the church,
and parish business was town business.
As the town grew, other churches were established. But First Parish
continued to maintain its importance to the community, taking leadership
in social and economic issues and acting as an anchor as Brunswick
evolved from a sleepy country village to a busy manufacturing town.
A rich relationship developed between Bowdoin College and First Parish Church.
The Abolitionist Movement attracted many ardent supporters in the
congregation. Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose husband was a professor at
Bowdoin, was sitting in Pew 23 during a communion service when she had
a vision of the death of a slave which became the pivotal element in her
book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. She was affected so deeply that she wept.
Joshua Chamberlain first came to Brunswick as a Bowdoin student. He married Fanny Adams, the adopted daughter of
First Parish minister Dr. Adams, in the new meeting house. After graduation from Bangor Seminary,
Chamberlain taught at Bowdoin College until he enlisted in the Twentieth
Maine and won distinction commanding these troops in the defense of
Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg. Joshua Chamberlain later
became Governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College. He was a
faithful member of First Parish for much of his life, serving on various
committees, moderating meetings, and eventually donating the East Window
behind the pulpit in memory of his father-in-law, Dr. Adams.
Many notables have been members or spoken at First Parish Church. Both
Dr. Lyman Beecher and Dr. Henry Ward Beecher preached from the pulpit.
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was awarded an honorary degree here shortly after
the Civil War. The Bowdoin Class of 1825 held its 50th reunion here in
1875. Class member Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was asked to read one of
his poems. Disfigured by the fire which had killed his wife, he was
reluctant at first to appear in public. But when it was explained that
he would be partially hidden by the pulpit, he delivered his Morituri
Salutamus (Salute to Death) to the packed house.
Later came President William Howard Taft, Jane Addams, Ralph Waldo
Emerson, England's Poet Laureate John Masefield, Eleanor Roosevelt, and
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the mid 20th Century, when the four denominations decided to merge
into one, First Parish Church was an early supporter. Two of our members
were delegates to the conference which established the
United Church of Christ.
Today First Parish Church is the one of the largest UCC congregations in the state of Maine.