Congregational Library & Archives
About the collection
The Congregational Library holds some 225,000 items, both archival and published, covering Congregational Christian history and a broad array of related topics.
Our rare book section includes an unusually rich and complete representation of English and first-generation Puritan works, including an original copy of the Cambridge Platform of 1649. The Library’s archive of colonial-era church records is also extensive, containing many sets of seventeenth-century documents as well as full collections from large and historically significant modern churches like Boston’s Old South, established in 1669, and Park Street Church, formed in 1809. Many are available in digital form as part of our Hidden Histories collections, and accessible on our website.
The Congregational Library also has a large sermon collection, some 15,000 individual pieces, covering the period from the late 1600s to the twentieth century, in both manuscript and printed form.
As the designated archive of the Congregational Christian churches (up through 1957), the Library holds all the major institutional records of the denomination, as well as some 1500 different periodicals representing its longstanding interest in social reform, missionary work, and education. The Congregational Library also holds rare newspapers from the Christian Connection, a denomination that merged with the Congregational churches in 1931.
Library and Archive Tours
The Library offers tours of our stacks and archive room, both of which are otherwise closed to the public. Join us for an introductory tour of the library, its history, collections, and services. Reservations are required. Please contact Claudette Newhall, Librarian, by email, or call 617-523-0470 x 229 to arrange the date and time for your visit.
Our free booklet, Exploring Boston's Religious History, takes visitors on a 1-2 hour circuit of significant sites on and around Beacon Hill. Download a copy and start exploring. We hope that you will visit the library to initiate your journey.
Prearranged walking tours of "Congregational Boston," led by our executive director Peggy Bendroth, are one of our member benefits, available for individuals, church, or school groups. The minimum group size is five people, and the maximum is ten.
Non-members are also welcome to reserve a tour, at $8.00 per person.
Please contact us by email to arrange the date and time for your tour.
Who are the Congregationalists?
The Congregational tradition dates back to sixteenth-century England, where Protestant reformers formed the ideal of independent local churches free from liturgical ceremony and hierarchical control by the Church of England. These reformers, also known as Puritans, emigrated to New England in the mid-1600s, to establish a "godly commonwealth" of locally governed church with simple forms of worship, governed by the people of the congregation. As a Protestant denomination built on strong community bonds, the Congregational churches went on to exercise a broad influence on American culture, both in the world of ideas and in efforts for social reform.
These churches exist today within the United Church of Christ, and in two continuing bodies, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.
Who Were the Christians?
The Christians were a small but vigorous group, with a similar ideal of simplicity and liberty of conscience. A product of the religious revivals of the early nineteenth century, they rejected all denominational labels, preferring to call themselves simply "Christians." They emphasized a simple standard of belief and behavior, following the way of Christ, rather than a set creed or catechism.
In 1931, the General Convention of the Christian Churches, representing about 100,000 members, and the National Council of the Congregational Churches, with about one million members, joined to form the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches. In 1957, this body united with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches to form the United Church of Christ.