A History of Arlington Street Church by Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie
(Minns Lecture from June 29, 2003)
Compiled by Gene Navias, Associate Minister Emeritus
1729 The Church of the Presbyterian Strangers (Scotch-Irish) meets in a converted barn on Long Lane and hires the Reverend John Moorehead, a Harvard graduate, beginning a long line of liberal and highly educated clergy. By 1735, the church had 250 members.
1744 New meeting house built.
1773 Congregation resents oppression of the British government despite peace sermons by Moorehead.
1787 Congregation dislikes the rigidity of the Presbyterian doctrine and discipline, breaks with the Synod and adopts the Congregational form of governance, taking total charge of its own affairs.
1787 James Belknap, leading patriot, preacher, and scholar is chosen as minister. Church used for many civic occasions, including the Massachusetts Convention which ratified the US Constitution.
1788 Belknap and congregation send a petition to the General Court of Massachusetts to abolish slavery.
1803 William Ellery Channing, frail in body, powerful in intellect and preaching, is chosen as minister. Under his leadership, the church hires Charles Bulfinch to design a handsome new building on Federal Street. (Church site is #24 on this map; now Bank of Boston, 100 Federal St, uses the site.)
1819 Channing defines "Unitarian Christianity" in the Baltimore Sermon, and in so doing helps to launch a distinctly Unitarian movement and win many to the Unitarian cause. Channing encourages the use of music in worship.
1825 The American Unitarian Association was founded at the Federal Street Church under the leadership of the Associate Minister, Reverand Ezra Stiles Gannett, a superb preacher and organizer.
1827 Channing and Boston-area ministers organize the Unitarian Sunday School Society.
1830 Channing claims that religion is not only ”a private, personal thing,...but a social principle.“
1845 Gannett, with the Reverend Joseph Tuckerman, form the Benevolent Fraternity, first social agency of its kind.
1859 Congregation votes to build a new building at Arlington and Boylston Streets. Completed in 1861.
1935 Dana Mclean Greeley chosen as minister. Congregation flourishes. Greeley is a world-class Unitarian leader, spokesman, and advocate for peace and justice. Members begin moving to the suburbs. Church becomes more of a regional than a community church. In 1958, Greeley becomes President of the American Unitarian Association, helps to lead the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist Associations, and is elected its first President, 1961–1969.
1935 Second Universalist Church merges with ASC. Founded in Boston in 1817, Second Universalist's minister Hosea Ballou (1771–1852) was one of the most influential thinkers and preachers in the second generation of the Universalist movement. His book, A Treatise on Atonement, 1805, radically advanced Universalist thinking in his ministerial colleagues and their congregations.
1959 Jack Mendelsohn becomes the minister. Responds to social and national issues with outspoken action. the cross no longer has meaning for most members and is taken down.
1965 James Reeb, ASC member, killed in march on Selma.
1967 Draft Card Turn-in and Burn-in service protests the Vietnam War.
1968 Sanctuary granted two Vietnam War resisters.
1970 Sandy Latner and other ASC members start Freedom Center to raise money for African American and other causes and groups.
1970 Church chooses African American, Mwalimu Imara, as minister on controversial 59 percent vote.
1970 Samaritans (suicide-counseling center) starts at ASC.
1970s ASC supports the freedom to assemble and makes space available to the first lesbian and gay groups in Boston: Daughters of Bilitis, Homophile Union of Boston, etc. Rings bells for Gay Pride Day.
1974 Imara’s ministry ends in conflict. Church ministers to itself without clergy for two years. Loses members.
1976 Victor Carpenter starts ministry to rebuild congregation.
1977 Boston UU Gays and Lesbians started. Dignity begins meeting at ASC.
1983 First AIDS benefit concert held at ASC.
1984 Friday Night Supper Program, co-sponsored by ASC and Dignity, begins to the feed the hungry.
1987 Membership begins to rebuild, and ASC pride reestablished. Guatemalan refugee granted sanctuary.
1988 Movement for access and other restoration of the church building begins. Essential roof repairs and outside work done with grant funds.
1989 Kim K. Crawford Harvie selected as minister. Attendance soars at Sunday worship as her preaching has a personal and spiritual emphasis. Church begins to experience the glories and problems of growth.
1992 New ASC organizational plan creates five councils and coordinators to support work of the committees.
1993 Church determines to launch major effort for the preservation, access, and restoration of the building to better provide for today's needs and those of future generations.
1994 Church authorizes access ramp. Capital Campaign launched. Goody, Clancy chosen as architects.
2004 In May, the first church- and state-sanctioned, same-gender wedding in the United States is celebrated in our sanctuary. Three days later, 55 weddings are performed in one day, with 3 clergy officiating.
There have been 16 senior ministers of this church since 1729.
John Moorhead, Presbyterian
Robert Annan, Presbyterian
Jeremy Belknap, Congregational
John Snelling Popkin, Congregational
William Ellery Channing,
Ezra Stiles Gannett, Unitarian
John F. W. Ware, Unitarian
Brooke Herford, Unitarian
John Cuckson, Unitarian
Paul Revere Frothingham, Unitarian
Samuel Atkins Eliot, Unitarian
Dana McLean Greeley, Unitarian/Unitarian Universalist
Jack Mendelsohn, Unitarian Universalist
Mwalimu Imara, Unitarian Universalist
Ministry by members, Unitarian Universalist
Victor H. Carpenter, Unitarian Universalist
Farley Wheelwright (interim), Unitarian Universalist
Kim K. Crawford Harvie, Unitarian Universalist