Old South Church Celebrates 350th Anniversary
On May 12, 1669, the founders of Old South Church in Boston first gathered. Since then, the church has become known as the church of Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Phillis Wheatley, the Boston Tea Party, and the many bold social justice stances it has taken over its long history.
350 years to the day, the vibrant congregation and historic leadership institution is marking the occasion with a special worship service, ceremony, and celebration. All of the following events are free and open to the public:
11 A.M. WORSHIP SERVICE AND OPEN DOOR AWARD
A special Anniversary Worship Service at 11am on Sunday, May 12th, featurees the presentation of their Open Door Award to racial justice icon Rev. Traci Blackmon. Blackmon serves as the Executive Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ, and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO. She is a prominent speaker and activist in the Black Lives Matter Movement, a leader in the Poor Peoples’ Campaign, and one of the most effective women preachers today.
Old South Church established the Open Door Award in 2014. Carved in stone above the Portico to Old South’s 1875 National Historic Landmark building are these words from the Book of Revelation: BEHOLD, I HAVE SET BEFORE THEE AN OPEN DOOR. They take these words to mean that in God’s name, it is their duty and privilege to pry open doors shut against any persons and to keep oiling the hinges of any doors rusting shut.
12:30 P.M. CEREMONY
Following the worship service, Old South will hold a ceremony featuring heraldic trumpets and an interreligious blessing. Faith leaders performing the blessing include Sarbpreet Singh (Sikh), Rabbi Howard Berman (Jewish), Sister Clare Carter (Buddhist), Imam Taymullah Abdur-Rahman (Muslim), Dr. William H. Smith (Baha’i), and Rev. Laura Everett (MA Council of Churches).
1 P.M. PARTY FOR THE CITY
Old South Church presents a free, family-friendly celebration inside and outside of the church at 1 p.m. The party features dance music by Keytar Bear and DJAB Entertainment, historical reenactors, face painting, children’s games, cupcakes and ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s), a magician, tours of the 350th Anniversary exhibits, and more.
In 1669, dissenters broke from the First Church in Boston over the requirement of religious conversion for membership (and hence, citizenship in Massachusetts) to form the Third Church in Boston, which later became known as the Old South Church. Thus began Old South’s history of proclaiming justice, inclusiveness, and reconciliation.
The church’s first home was the Old Cedar Meeting House, followed by The Old South Meeting House (AKA the Sanctuary of Freedom, today a museum on Boston’s Freedom Trail). The Meeting House was a rallying point in the rebellion against the British crown. Among its members were such well-known patriots as Samuel Adams and Old South Deacon William Dawes, who was one of the midnight riders that famed night when the British were coming. Benjamin Franklin was baptized in the church in 1706. Other notable members were Elizabeth Vergoose, (AKA Mother Goose); Judge Samuel Sewall, who presided over the Salem witchcraft trials, who later repented of his participation, and then went on to write in 1700 the first pamphlet advocating the abolition of slavery in the colonies; Phillis Wheatley, a freed slave and the first published African American poetess; William Billings, the father of American choral music; Rev. Joseph Secombe, the father of American angling literature; Samuel Adams and his Sons of Liberty used the Meeting House as a springboard for their seditious activity, including the Boston Tea Party. Old South Church moved to the current Back Bay site in 1875.
Today Old South Church stands as a vibrant, intergenerational, multicultural, theologically progressive Christian church that opens its doors to all.
OLD SOUTH CHURCH: A CHURCH OF MANY FIRSTS
1640: Prevented by King James from publishing their own materials in the Old World, the Pilgrims set up a press in the New World and publish the 1st book on this soil, The Bay Psalm Book. Today Old South Church owns one of only eleven extant copies. In 2013 we sell a second, lesser copy for $14.2 million, making it the most expensive book in the world.
1676: During an outbreak of the measles and small pox, our first minister, Thomas Thacher (also a medical doc) writes and publishes the 1st Medical Tract on this soil (a life-saving patient information broadside: free medical advice to a severely under-doctored populace).
1700: Congregationalist opposition to slavery begins in earnest when Old Souther Samuel Sewall, writes the 1st anti-slavery tract on this soil. The Selling of Joseph is a carefully argued, biblically informed treatise on why slavery is anathema to God.
1704: The Boston News-Letter, the 1st Anglo-American newspaper continues to be published until the Siege of Boston (1776). Its founding publisher-proprietor and printer are, respectively, John Campbell and Bartholomew Green, both Old Southers.
1743: Old Souther, Rev Joseph Secombe publishes the 1st angling literature (and the earliest known document pertaining to recreation) on this soil: a sermon on recreational fishing, Business and Diversion inoffensive to God...A Discourse utter’d …in the Fishing-Season.
1773: Old South member Phillis Wheatley becomes the 1st published African American poet and the most famous African in her day.
1773: "No tax on tea!" is 1st heard in the Old South Meeting House (our former home) which becomes the staging area for the Boston Tea Party. It is led by Old South communicant (and malster) Sam Adams.
1785: William Billings, the 1st American choral composer and the 1st US singing teacher, leads a singing school at Old South Church.
1851: The 1st YMCA in America is established at a meeting in our Chapel to provide a safe home away from home for sailors and merchants. The Boston YMCA founds Northeastern University.
1875: The Reverend Joseph Hardy Neesima (Niijima Jo), born into the samurai class in feudal Japan, becomes the 1st Japanese ordained to Christian ministry. He takes the name “Hardy” for Old Southers, Alpheus & Susan Hardy who take him in, educate him, and take him to church.
1955: At a meeting at Old South Church the National Council of Churches 1st declares racism a sin.
1995: New Century Hymnal, chaired by Old South’s 19th Senior Minister, James W. Crawford, becomes the 1st Christian hymnal to use inclusive language for both God and humans.
2001: Nancy Taylor is elected Moderator of the UCC’s General Synod, becoming the 1st ordained women to hold the highest elected volunteer office in the UCC. In 2005 she becomes the first female, and 20th senior minister, of Old South Church.
2004: Equal marriage becomes the law of the land in Massachusetts. Two Old Southers are plaintiffs in the Goodridge decision. We are the 1st Christian church in Boston to officiate at these legal unions