November 26: The Oldest Congregational Church in America


As the oldest continuously active Congregational church in the United States, the First Congregational Church of Windsor, Connecticut has celebrated more anniversaries than nearly any other church in the country.   One of the most memorable anniversaries in the congregrations’s existence was its 275th anniversary, celebrated on November 26, 1905.  That year, the church organized a week-long commemoration that celebrated its role as one of the earliest-established institutions in Connecticut history.  The proceedings included a series of historical lectures on the ancient Puritan churches of 17th century England and New England, a re-enactment of a sermon delivered by Hartford founder Thomas Hooker during one of his many visits to Windsor, historical hymn-singing, a guided tour of the graveyard behind the church, and (of course) plenty of receptions and dinners open to the entire community.

A modern rendering of what the first meetinghouse at Windsor might have looked like in the early 17th century. (First Church in Windsor)

As with many other contested American “firsts,” historical context is key: the Windsor congregation considers its founding date to be sometime in the spring of 1630, when a group of 140 Puritans formally incorporated (or “covenanted”) themselves as a church congregation on the docks of Plymouth, England, shortly before boarding a ship to the New World.  After living for a few years in the community of Dorchester in the new colony of Massachusetts, the congregation traveled southward to be among the first people to settle the new town of Windsor along the banks of the Connecticut river.

The first meetinghouse was a humble, wooden, square-shaped building with a thatched roof, positioned in the middle of the defensive palisade that surrounded the settlement of Windsor.  In 1794, the fourth meetinghouse was constructed, and still stands today as the primary sanctuary of the congregation, now formally known as First Church in Windsor, United Church of Christ.  Now well into its fourth century, First Church remains an active pillar of the Windsor community and stands as a continuous reminder of Windsor’s incredible history as one of Connecticut’s foundational colonial settlements.  A venerable history remembered, today in Connecticut history.

First Church in Windsor as it appears today. The building, the church’s fourth meetinghouse, was built in 1794. (Wikimedia Commons)

Further Reading

History,” First Church in Windsor website

Florence Mills, Bruce Whyte, and Maureen Sullivan, “Highlights of History of the First Church in Windsor