A Brief History of the First Congregational Church

To establish a town in Massachusetts a church was required. The earliest church in Billerica was established in 1663 and its ministers were of the Congregational Order. The Massachusetts Churches adopted the “Cambridge Platform” in 1650 and the “Savoy Declaration” in 1680 both of which approved the Congregational form of church government and the Westminster Confession which was Calvinist in doctrine. As late as 1800, the 1383 inhabitants of Billerica continued as one congregation. In the Eighteenth Century, a reaction to Calvinism began to affect New England Churches with Unitarian thought. In 1825 the American Unitarian Association was organized and one-hundred Massachusetts churches joined.

This theological schism caused two members, Martha Bowers and Huldah Blake, who were greatly outnumbered by Unitarians to withdraw from the original church. Martha Bowers was listed among the first members of the First Orthodox Congregational Church. The History of Billerica – written in 1883 by the Rev. Henry Hazen, a former minister of this church, stated that not more than four or five members of the original church ever joined the new Congregational Church. Thus, the Unitarian Universalist Church in the center of town on the common came to be known as First Parish and we would come to be known as First Congregational.

It began on the first of January, 1829, a company of more than ten citizens of Billerica, qualified to vote, sent to a justice of the peace a request that they be organized into the First Orthodox Congregational Society of Billerica, and were organized January 17. The deed for the land and building was given to the trustees April 26 by Rev. Joseph Bennett of Woburn. The church was expressly designed by him. On April 30 of that year, the church was organized with twenty- five members. Significantly, the Moderator of the Council which organized the church was Dr. Lyman Beecher, foremost of New England Congregational preachers of that day. The meeting house (our current sanctuary) was raised October 28, 1829 and dedicated to worship January 13, 1830.

The history of the First Congregational Church in Billerica can be obtained from the records kept by the church for nearly one hundred years. Apparently, it was customary in Congregational Churches of that day to have one arm (the society) which was responsible for all legal aspects of the operations of the church, and another arm (the church) primarily concerned for the spiritual life. Separate membership was held in both arms and each held their own separate meetings. (Of course, many of the holders were active in both society and church. This dualism seems somewhat strange and unnecessary today.)

The main records of the society are contained in two books, and the records of the church are contained in three volumes. The records of the society and church run parallel for approximately one-hundred years (1829-1929).

The First Congregational Church in Billerica has been central to the life and community of Billerica for 188 years. The church continues to be relevant for the growing and diverse community that is Billerica. The church was born from a community of 1383 people, and now serve a community of near 45,000 people. To respond to the growing needs of the town the church seeks to be a home for meaningful worship and Christian learning, as well as programs that foster health, wholeness, and community. The church sponsors AA Meetings, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and volunteer committees that support Billerica. The church actively works to be central to community life in Billerica, collaborating with other faith communities and community organizations.