History of First Parish Church

map_brunswickThe beginnings of First Parish Church intertwine with the beginnings of the 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.

beecherThe 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.

jcJoshua 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.

longfellowMany 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, The United Church of Christ, 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.

Want to learn more? The early records and documents of the congregation are available online through the Congregational Library and Archives.


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