Give me a Definition
Congregationalism is a type of church government or polity in which every church is autonomous. As such, every individual church defines its own church laws, elects its own officers, and decides what it believes without reference to any outside identity. Popes, bishops, or any other overreaching body cannot dictate our faith.
What is the Congregational Way?
Quite simply, every individual interprets the Word of God according to her/his own conscience. We believe in strength in diversity, and true religious freedom under Christ our Lord.
Where did We Come From?
Congregationalism began as a religious philosophy in 16th/17th Century England. Separatists believed the Established Church (modern Episcopalianism) had grown decadent, overly structured, and was participating in Catholic idolatry. Government opposition caused many separatists to flee to Holland, where they lived in exile.
A Movement Split
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, congregational or “independent” churches were able to legally form in Great Britain. They flourished and formed fellowships in Scotland, Ireland, and the combined countries of England and Wales. Congregationalism began a decline in Great Britain in the 20th Century, and in 1972 most British Congregationalists and Presbyterians merged into the United Reform Church.
America had quite a different fate. The exiles in Holland bought passage on ships setting for America, including The Mayflower, which landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. Congregationalism thrived in New England and in satellite communities in the Midwest. In 1846 the American Missionary Association was formed. It was primarily focused on converting Native Americans and Hawaiians.
In the 19th Century, over 100 churches ceded from Congregationalism to create Unitarianism. Christian Unitarians later merged with Universalists, becoming Unitarian Universalists.
Congregationalism in America Today
Congregationalists later formed into two wider associations.
The United Church of Christ (1957, or UCC) is the product of certain congregational churches who merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
The other is the National Association of Congregationalist Christian Churches (1955, or NACCC) for those whose chose to retain Congregational Polity. We at Florence Congregational Churches are members of this association and are fully committed to individual conscience in our relationship with God.