The First Parish of Watertown, established in 1630, is one of the oldest parishes in America.
The First Parish of Watertown is one of the oldest congregations in the United States.
Puritans, who were seeking religious freedom in England, left there in 1630 on a flotilla of ships with the Arbella as the flagship for the fleet. A model of the Arbella can be found in our sanctuary. It also serves as a symbol of our long history and advocacy of freedom, and can be seen on our newsletter and church banner. Those Puritan immigrants arrived in the New World to found three communities, and their respective churches. These were Charlestown, Boston, and Watertown, the first inland community in the Massachusetts Bay colony.
In Puritan times every resident was required to belong to the geographical parish and pay taxes for its support. The Watertown congregation gained a reputation for non-conformity very early in its history when its first minister George Phillips said that churches other than Puritan ones were legitimate congregations, and residents of the community affirmed a revolutionary rallying cry of no taxation without representation. Our present Congregational form of church government owes its foundation to these Puritan times, where the members of each congregation, in democratic fashion, have authority over property ownership, membership rules, and the call of the minister.
The First Parish of Watertown has worshipped in eight different meetinghouses since 1630. The first building was constructed near present day Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, where the original Watertown settlement was located. Subsequent meetinghouses included sites at the corner of Arlington and Mt. Auburn Street, on Hillside St., at the top of Common Street, and then in 1755 a fifth building was erected at the bottom of Common Street on Mt. Auburn Street. This structure became the meeting place for the Provincial Congress during the American Revolution, when Watertown was the capital while Boston was occupied by the British. The four cornerposts of this meetinghouse can be seen in the Common Street Cemetery.
The sixth, seventh and eighth buildings have all been located near the corner of Church and Summer Streets. After the separation of church and state in 1833, the old Parish Church was required to separate from the town, and it built a new church, now officially Unitarian, in 1836. This structure burned and was replaced in 1842. In 1889, the church built a new parish hall called, The Unitarian Building, designed by Charles Brigham. This building was converted into a church, when the old wooden Gothic building (1842) was torn down in 1975, after the church had declined in numbers. In recent years (1996 and 2003), capital fund drives have enabled the congregation to construct an accessible addition to the building with an elevator, and more recently install structural steel supports and remodel the sanctuary to ensure the preservation of this historic structure.
Known for non-conformity in its early years, the First Parish of Watertown was guided into the Unitarian faith during the ministry of Convers Francis. Francis was active in the Transcendentalist movement, and a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He became the mentor of famed preacher and abolitionist, Theodore Parker, who taught school here in Watertown. Francis sister was the abolitionist and writer Lydia Maria Child, who is best known for her Thanksgiving poem which begins, Over the river, and through the wood . .. Francis was followed in the ministry by John Weiss, another abolitionist preacher. Weiss was one of the first theologians to follow a scientific naturalism for his faith. He was also the founder of the Free Public Library of Watertown.
The 20th century brought many demographic and religious changes to Watertown, and the congregation declined, while the meetinghouse fell into disrepair. Thanks to the work of Helen Robinson Wright and others the congregation refused to die. Wrights memory is preserved in a fund that assists non-profit organizations and individuals in need. One of the better known ministers from the 1960s, David Rankin, helped revive the church, and also hid draft dodgers in the parsonage attic during the Vietnam War. In the meantime the Unitarians consolidated with another liberal religious movement, the Universalists, in 1961. After the present meetinghouse was converted from a parish hall, the congregation experienced slow but steady growth. Much of this was achieved after the church called its first woman minister, Andrea Greenwood in 1992, who later served as co-minister with her husband and our present minister, Mark Harris. The congregation celebrated its 375th anniversary in 2005 in a beautifully refurbished sanctuary.Below are links to two papers that Mark Harris presented at conferences: The first is on the early history of Watertown and Congregational polity; the second is on Convers Francis and John Weiss, and some of their contributions to the UU movement.
Charles Brigham designed our current building. Below is a link to a biography of him by David Russo:
First Parish offers a variety of programs to respond to individual spiritual needs.
Our church building is an accessible facility (via the parking lot – Summer Street entrance).
Orientation classes for newcomers are offered in the Fall and Winter.
Adult classes and support groups are offered on a regular basis. Our Social Action Committee sponsors a monthly Giving Box where parishioners have the opportunity to contribute to a variety of local social service organizations. Our Adult Choir, Youth Choir, and Children’s Choir provide further opportunities for participation.
The First Parish of Watertown is a Welcoming Congregation. We welcome and celebrate the presence and participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender people in every aspect of congregational activity.
Sunday Worship Service
Worship services are held every Sunday morning at 10:30 am from September to June in our Sanctuary. Our services last about one hour and fifteen minutes. Dress is informal.
Lay-led services are held during the summer months starting at 9:30 am.
The first fifteen minutes of the service includes our weekly announcements, a musical prelude, our opening rituals and chalice lighting, and a time for all ages.
Children remain with their families for the first few minutes of nearly every worship service. After that, they are invited to attend age-appropriate Religious Education classes.
Services are followed by social hour downstairs, where you can enjoy coffee, refreshments and conversation.
Remembering the Sources of our Strength
Rev. Wendy Bell
Sunday, November 10th, 2019
We are living in uncertain times, in the midst of what some are calling a Constitutional crisis, and in the face of a looming climate crisis. What inner resources do we have to help us cope with the anxiety, grief and disorientation of today’s world? What new resources can we develop?
Committee Governing Structure
In the tradition of Congregational Polity, our church is organized and governed by volunteer committees.
The Parish Committee is the governing board of the church. This committee makes policy decisions and manages the overall direction of the church.
Religious Education Committee
The Religious Education Committee is responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of all aspects of the First Parish Watertown RE program. We meet monthly to review such issues as curriculum and class planning, RE policy, special programs, youth group and childcare concerns, adult RE programs and the hiring and direction of our Director of Religious Education.
The Finance Committee manages short- and long-term financial activities of the church. Its main areas of responsibility are managing the budget and performing an annual review and presentation of the church budget. It is responsible for the Every Member Canvass which solicits annual pledges from all members and friends of the church. It also sponsors the Annual Dinner and Talent Show.
Social Action Committee
The Social Action Committee’s mission is to initiate projects of social importance, most notably the monthly giving box. They also try to facilitate congregational participation in and advocacy for a variety of social action programs.
Building and Grounds Committee
The Building and Grounds Committee supervises the maintenance, repair, and improvement of Parish buildings and grounds, including the parsonage. It may recommend action on issues of furnishings and decoration. This committee helps to select and supervise the sexton, and oversee all the regularly contracted service and maintenance work on the church.
Helen Robinson Wright Fund Disbursement Committee
The Helen Robinson Wright Fund Disbursement Committee makes decisions on appropriations of grants to local charities and Watertown residents in financial need. It was established through the generosity of lifetime Watertown resident Helen Robinson Wright. Mrs. Wright’s estate endowed the trust fund that bears her name.
The Worship Committee advises and assists the minister in planning and presenting worship services. They provide overall guidance and technical support for our worship services, including arranging lay services, and special music. This committee helps to coordinate several special services during the year, and is also responsible for summer services.
The Fellowship Committee is responsible for coordinating social hour and many other social events at the church, including Newcomer Breakfasts and the all church retreat. Their goal is to make everyone feel welcome and part of the community, to the end that the church’s membership will increase in both numbers and warmth. They are especially charged with integrating new people into the congregation
Committee on Ministry
The Committee on Ministry serves as a liaison between the congregation and the minister, and also addresses any special issues the minister wishes to discuss. A sub-committee also serves to support and advise the intern minister. Any discussion issues related to the ministers should be addressed to this committee.
Trustees of First Parish Watertown
The Trustees of First Parish Watertown meets quarterly to monitor and review the stability of three endowment funds which support the church. The trusts are: The Perpetuity Fund, The Ministerial Fund and The Helen Robinson Wright Charitable Fund.
Planned Giving – How can you help insure that First Parish will continue for many generations to come?
See our Planning Giving brochure here – Planned Giving Brochure
Make a Lasting Gift by including The First Parish of Watertown in your Estate Plan
The First Parish of Watertown gratefully accepts bequests from donors who wish to include THE FIRST PARISH OF WATERTOWN in their estate plans. Bequests may be unrestricted or restricted to a particular purpose, and they may be in the form of specific property or amounts of funds, percentage of a total estate or balance of an estate after other bequests are made. Sample language for these bequests is set forth below, along with a sample bequest intention letter that can be sent to the Minister. If you have any questions, please contact THE FIRST PARISH OF WATERTOWN’s Minister, Mark Harris, or have your attorney or estate planning professional contact him.
Sample Bequest Language
To make a General Unrestricted Bequest: I give __________ Dollars ($_______) to The First Parish of Watertown, for its general charitable purposes.
To make a Restricted Bequest: I give __________ Dollars ($_______) to The First Parish of Watertown, to be used for ________________ [describe gift purpose, e.g. “to be added to Perpetuity Fund or its Helen Robinson Wright Fund ”; “to be used to support the building fund”].
To make a Specific Bequest: I give __________ [property description, e.g. “my residence located at 123 Main Street, Boston, Massachusetts”; “___ shares of XYZ Corporation common stock”] to The First Parish of Watertown, for its general charitable purposes.
To make a Residuary Bequest: I give the residue of my estate to The First Parish of Watertown, for its general charitable purposes.
To make a Percentage Bequest: I give ____ Percent (___%) of the residue of my estate to The First Parish of Watertown, for its general charitable purposes.
SAMPLE BEQUEST LETTER
Dear Reverend __________,
It is my/our pleasure to inform you that I/we have named The First Parish Of Watertown (FPW) of Watertown, Massachusetts, as a beneficiary of my/our estate plan. This letter signifies my/our intention to make a bequest through my/our estate plan of approximately $_________ to be used [STATE YOUR DESIRED USE FOR THE GIFT: e.g., added to FPW’s Perpetuity OR Helen Robinson Wright Fund; or to be used for general charitable purposes; etc].
This gift will take the form of being [STATE THE TYPE OF GIFT THIS IS, e.g., the sole beneficiary of my/our Individual Retirement Account (IRA), or life insurance policy, or bequest in a will/trust, bank or investment account, etc].
Understanding that this gift intention may be changed at any time I/we will inform you should I/we change my/our intent toward FPW or should the dollar value of my/our potential donation significantly increase or decrease.
I/we am/are gratified to be able to support First Parish and the wonderful work it does, both in Watertown and in the world.
BE SURE TO KEEP A COPY OF THIS LETTER WITH YOUR ESTATE PLAN DOCUMENTS.
Green Sanctuary Committee
The Green Sanctuary Committee is charged with informing the members about environmental issues and helping to transform individual lives and the church’s building and programs so that we can all reduce our carbon footprint and avert greater environmental desecration.
The Personnel Committee is charged with creating and maintaining Personnel Policies and understanding of job/salary needs and requirements for the congregation.
First Parish of Watertown Policies for a Safe Congregation
Maintaining Right Relations in the First Parish of Watertown Community
At First Parish of Watertown we aspire to be a religious community where there is maximum possible safety—physical safety, safety in our interactions, and spiritual safety. We aspire to be a place where we will not be physically or sexually threatened or abused; a place where we can respectfully give an opinion that rings true to us without being condemned or harshly criticized; a place where our thoughts and emotions are respectfully received and discussed; a place where telling the truth in love is the norm, and the increasing disclosure of ourselves and our thoughts and feelings toward larger realities is welcomed.
The well-being, strength, and reputation of our church depend on a sense of fellowship among the adult members and friends, the children in our community and our staff, which thrives in an atmosphere of trust, respect, and cooperation. Within such an atmosphere, differences of opinion and their resolution through compromise or consensus can enhance a sense of community. However, differences or misunderstandings that go unresolved and descend into prolonged conflict can threaten the social fabric of our church.
The policies and procedures in this document are intended to identify the steps to be followed in our church should serious challenges to the safety of a member of our community or our right relations with one another occur. The UUA Principles and Purposes and our own church Covenant are the guiding principles for these policies and for our behavior toward one another.
Documents which support our Right Relations within this community:
Approved and Available on First Parish Website
- Policy Regarding Disruptive Behavior and Emergency Information
- Child Protection Policy
- First Parish Emergency Information
- Electronic Media Policy and Guidelines
In Process of Being Develped
- Sexual Harassment Policy
- Conflict Resolution Policy
- First Parish Communication Map
The following are documents with which each member should be familiar:
Registration for the 2019-2020 Church Year is now open! Click the button below to fill out this year’s registration form.
A Typical Sunday
Classes for all ages center around a story and include questions to help children and youth explore their own ideas and the ideas of their family, culture, and faith more thoroughly. Most classes do an art project, music, or drama activity that connects to the story and discussion. Classes end at 11:55 with clean-up and a closing ritual.
Children & Youth Programs 2019-2020
In the 2019-2020 church year we will be talking about Justice. Each of our classes from preschool-12th grade will have a justice theme, with age-appropriate stories and lessons built around UU values, our Principles, and Sources.
Music at First Parish
Music at First Parish engages our community and adds a spark to every listener and participant! As part of weekly church services, we share in singing hymns. Services are enhanced by either piano or guest musicians who express a wide variety of styles that include Classical, folk, jazz, ethnic and world music, as well as popular music and music composed by contemporary artists. Those artists are often part of our congregation or friends from the musical community in the Boston area.
First Parish has an adult choir that rehearses weekly and sings at a church service once per month. We have a full rock and roll band that plays at some services, too! Recently, the choir sang with the band for an extraordinary service!
There are times that our music director hosts a family choir event, usually on multi-generational services, in which people learn the music prior to the service and then share the songs at that service. We have a wide variety of talent in our congregation and have had some wonderful youth and children singing at church services.
Instead of the annual caroling that our community does each year, our choir will be singing a Madrigal concert that will ignite our holiday spirit.
Charlyn Bethell, Music Director
Guy Urban, Accompanist