Who We Are & Where We Came From
At the time, the residents of Florence would make the Sunday trip to Northampton to attend church services. They even had a special carriage service for a while but as the village population increased to over 700, several of the leading citizens decided it was time to establish their own church.
The Florence Congregational Church (FCC) had its beginnings in 1857 as a fair weather Sunday school for the First Church of Northampton, which met under the pine trees in Florence, Massachusetts.
John Payson Williston was the energizing force behind the 26 founding members of this new church. These founding members were of diverse backgrounds with at least 9 denominations represented. There were Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Old and New School Adventists, liberal Christians, and Congregationalists.
Needless to say, the makeup of the church was quite an ecumenical mix of Protestant community leaders and believers.
The first service was held in the “Little South School House” on October 9, 1861.
Rudimentary foundations had already been laid for this meetinghouse at 130 Pine Street, where the church now stands. Today, our church building stands across from the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue. Our congregation boasts a rich history with its origin in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad in Florence.
The church body was founded by industrialist and evangelical abolitionist John Payson Williston along with another noted figure in the movement, Moses Breck. Both men were targeted by arsonists due to their work in the movement. Luminaries as such as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, all spoke in the Pine Grove located behind the current building.
From the beginning given its diverse and varied background, the church wrestled with the difficulty of maintaining a balance between being a spiritually conservative bible-based church while at the same time being a community church. This tension increased when the Civil War soldiers returned who had experienced revival tent meetings for the first time while serving in the Union Army.
Active community outreach programs, both formal and informal, are evident throughout our history as noted in the annual meeting records.
Of special note is the fact that from the beginning our church recognized and cherished its energetic women. They were not only very active in women’s groups like the sewing club which provided bandages and such for the Union war effort, women were also full-voting members of the church. It seems that the vision of the original founders of the church was to be of service to the local community, by the study of Scripture and the practical application of the teaching of Jesus Christ.
This applied in 1861 and still applies today.
The individuals that make up the FCC characterize the continuing remnant of the founding members described above. Each individual congregant contributes to the Lord’s work according to his or her conscience, heart and talent in an effort to promote the love, mercy and peace of God in the Florence community and world abroad.
(Extracted from “The Florence Congregational Church: 1861-2005” written by Rev. Arthur Wright, Hatfield, Massachusetts by permission.)