Mission & History

Jonathan Edwards memorial plaque

Our Mission

Our purpose as a church is to carry on the mission and ministry that God initiated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we recognize as the Christ–to represent Christ, God’s saving and healing love, both locally and in the wider world.

Our congregational covenant–or promise–expresses our commitment to spiritual growth, to mutual care and support, and to serve God’s creation. In essence, we covenant together to strive to become what the Bible calls “the body of Christ.” Our basic premise is that God’s work in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is ongoing. God is still vitally interested in reaching, healing and redeeming the world, and the church is an important means by which God acts in today’s world.

Our History

The history of the First Congregational Church stretches back to the earliest days of Stockbridge. It is a long and storied history. And yet we recognize that no moment is more important than God’s calling on our lives in the present.

Our church was formally organized in October 1734 in the Indian settlement of Stockbridge. A young tutor from Yale named John Sergeant was sent to preach to the Muh-He-Kun-Ne-Ok (Mohican) people of the Berkshire Hills. His stated intentions were to fulfill his dream of “cultivating humanity and promoting the salvation of souls,” when he assumed his duties in the wilderness. On October 18, 1734 at a meeting with Lt. Umpachene (John Sergeant’s interpreter) and a Christian Mission, Umpachene was baptized by the Rev. Nehemiah Bull. This was the birth of our church.

Sergeant was well loved by his adopted people, and many became Christians because of his influence. He died in 1749 and was succeeded by Jonathan Edwards, a fiery and controversial pastor from Northampton. While in Stockbridge, Edwards devoted his time to continuing Sergeant’s work among the Mohican people and to writing. It was during his tenure here that he wrote his masterpiece, Freedom of the Will, which remains one of the greatest works in American theology.

The very first church building stood from 1739-1785 a stone’s throw from our current building on the green where Children’s Chimes Tower now stands. It was two stories high, built of wood with three doors: one at each end and one on the south side. There were two aisles in this church. It was torn down to make a barn. The second church building (1785-1824) stood on high ground at the foot of Old Meeting House Road. It was also made of wood, 60′ x 50’, and the steeple rose to 62’ at the east end. It was often repaired and finally deemed unsafe. The present brick building, built in 1824, was restructured in 1865 to accommodate the famous Johnson Organ; the Education building was added in 1956 and the pulpit/lectern area redesigned in 1998. (Information taken from “The First 250 years…1734-1984.”) Also in 1824, the church was the first congregational church in Berkshire County to disassociate itself from the state, thus separating the church’s finances from those of the town.

From 1950 to 1971, famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr made this his church home. In 1957 ours was the first Congregational Church in the nation to cast an affirmative vote to join with Congregational, Christian, Evangelical and Reformed churches to form the present United Church of Christ. In 1973, the church was the first in the Berkshire Association of the UCC to ordain a woman, Rev. Lois Rose.

In recent decades, this congregation has witnessed many changes in Stockbridge and the Berkshires, and has continued as a vital institution in our historic town. In 2009, the church continued its tradition of standing on the side of justice, sensing that God was calling the church to extend an explicit and extravagant welcome to LGBT persons, and consequently voted to become an Open and Affirming Congregation. In 2012, the church called its first openly gay minister, Rev. Brent Damrow. Today, after nearly three centuries of ministry, the First Congregational Church of Stockbridge finds itself with a renewed spirit, energy, and sense of calling as it seeks to follow the way of Christ in the 21st century.