Throughout its 175-year history, Church of the Covenant has shown continuous commitment to social justice ministries rooted in inspirational worship. One of our progenitor churches, the Central Congregational Church, was organized in 1835. During the 1800’s the church had a nationally known music professor as director of music. One church member, one of the first women active in world missions, became well known and presented papers internationally. In the 1860’s the Central Congregational Church supported a mission in the South End. Each decade of Covenant’s history offers similar examples of church staff and members’ contributions to the arts, education, and social justice ministries locally and globally. The congregation undertook construction of the current Newbury Street building in 1865, and it was one of the first churches to relocate to the then-new Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. The sanctuary was entirely decorated by Tiffany Studios in 1894, including a huge early electrified chandelier, and memorial windows were installed soon after. The magnificent Welte-Trippe organ was installed in 1929.
The second progenitor church, First Presbyterian, was in fact the first Presbyterian church in the Boston area. In 1852, A committee of seven Scottish residents of Boston, who wanted to worship under the Presbyterian form, arranged for a minister to be sent to them through the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland. “Knox Presbyterian Church” held its first service on December 11, 1853. In 1858, upon joining with what is now the Presbyterian Church (USA), they changed their name to First Presbyterian Church. First Presbyterian was a prosperous church with many members but it had a history of moving from building to building. In 1931, the Central Congregational Church and the First Presbyterian Church began worshipping together after a fire at the Presbyterian church. Both congregations agreed to become a federated church while retaining some aspects of their distinctive identities.
In 1979, the Committee to Renew the Covenant (CRC) was established to plan for renovation and restoration of the building. A revitalization of both the structure of the building and the mission and ministry of the members occurred in the following years. The CRC launched a capital development campaign that raised $1.3 million by 1989. The church was renovated with substantial improvements made to the parish house for use as church offices and to create affordable rental space for non-profit agencies, including an art gallery and a women’s day shelter, both of which continue to operate out of the church six days a week, and numerous other groups including a community choir, an organization to prevent domestic violence, and offices for spiritual directors and counselors.
In the 1970’s, Church of the Covenant introduced gender-inclusive language in our worship service and began to address issues of sexuality and sexual orientation. In the late 70’s the church became one of the first congregations to join the “More Light” movement in the Presbyterian Church (USA) as part of the struggle for equal standing within the church for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people (LGBT). Covenant members founded the parallel “Open and Affirming” movement within the United Church of Christ. Covenant continues to work toward LGBT equality within the church and larger society, including working to reform Presbyterian ordination standards, issuing a 2004 congregational statement recognizing samegender marriages, and bringing overtures to the 2010 General Assembly to allow PC(USA) ministers explicitly to officiate at same-gender marriage ceremonies and to provide same-gender benefits for clergy and church staff from the Presbyterian Board of Pensions.
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