History of the Roslindale Congregational Church, UCC

The story of a church, as of any organization, must, of course, include dates and events. Yet the story is told by and about the people who formed the community and wrote the continuing narrative that is our story, the story of Roslindale Congregational Church, UCC (RCC). Those who gather today at 25 Cummins Highway take our part in the developing history of RCC, and we enjoy the fruits of the labor and toil that were bestowed upon us. And we, too, will leave our gifts to those who come to worship after we are gone.

The story of our church begins in the early eighteenth century—in 1712, when Roslindale was part of Roxbury, a church was gathered on Walter Street on land now part of the Arboretum. This congregation stood for many years as the “Congregational” denomination in our area. In 1868, Roslindale become part of Boston and by 1890 a group led by Rev. Richard Grover, Assistant Pastor of Old South Church, gathered in a private home on Conway Street to begin the process to gather RCC. Soon after, RCC was commissioned by the Massachusetts Home Missionary Committee of Old South Church and Rev. Grover was called as the congregation’s first pastor to serve the 67 members that constituted the original congregation.

The original statement of intent stated that “We constitute ourselves as a Church of Christ, professing His name and devoting ourselves to His service.” That mission has continued unabated since the day our church was commissioned. We gather to love and serve God by loving what God loves; we love and serve God’s people (all people) and God’s creation.

Land was obtained at the present site, 25 Cummins Highway, and the cornerstone for our building was laid in 1894. The building was designed in the Richardson Romanesque style, a distinctive architecture most noted in the design of Trinity Church in Copley Square. On October 27, 1896, the building was completed and the church dedicated. The earliest room completed was the chapel, in the front of the building. Today we use the chapel for Sunday coffee hour and many community functions. Shortly after the completion of the chapel, the bell that rings each Sunday from our bell tower was donated by John Pearce. The clock that we see today in the clock tower was donated by Frederick Knapp of the Roslindale Baptist Church.

By 1914, the upstairs Sunday School rooms were added. The next year, the pews that we use each Sunday were installed, replacing the folding chairs that had been used. Those folding chairs can be seen today in the balcony. In the years between World Wars I and II, the church continued to grow, and by 1927 proudly listed 880 members. The congregation developed an abiding interest in the local community. As early as 1905 a group of women met to study missions, which soon became a permanent organization. Concern for and dedication to community service played a central role in the congregation. In a history of the church by Ruby H. Cole, this social concern in serving God is made clear when she writes, “Humanity needs our witness for the things that belong to peace and we must strengthen our goodly fellowship to meet the summons of these days and all days.” Certainly, today as then, humanity needs our witness for the things that belong to peace. This spirit is as active today as it was generations ago.

In any organization, the dedication and persistence of various members leave their imprint for future generations to see. The Ladies Parlor, to the side of the Chapel, was built in 1956 and owes its existence to a persistent congregant. A history of the church written by Claude MacGray tells that Mrs. William Dunham tried for nearly forty years to have the parlor built, but consistently received the response that “there is no place where we can find room for a Ladies Parlor.” Though Mrs. Dunham did not live to see the dedication of the Parlor (as it is referred to today), it stands as a testament to her foresight and dedication.

During the 1950’s the church had a strong focus on families. RCC held two services on Sundays, and the choir sang at both. The church had a men’s club, two women’s groups, a young men’s group, youth group, and Sunday School. The youth group remained active into the 1990’s. RCC also supported a Boy Scout troop into the 1970’s. There were many fundraising events that also served as times of fellowship for those participating: periodic church suppers, silent auctions, plays, and the annual Harvest Fair, with many handmade crafts, which continued until 2010. Fondly remembered today by those who participated are the 20 years of the church’s annual production of a musical Spring Pops, each with a special theme and many songs, accompanied by a dinner and dessert—this was a major fundraiser until 1996.

Churches, as all institutions, are affected by current events and resulting change. In the 1970’s—when there was already a nationwide trend of urban to suburban migration—Boston was in the throes of school bussing, which also affected population movement. RCC saw from one-third to one-half of its members move to suburban towns in the Greater Boston area.

In the period following this out-migration and the resulting decline of church attendees, RCC’s single parents group disbanded.  The couple’s club was renamed the Rosco Club to include ‘Singles’ and continued to be socially active until the late 90’s.

Today the spirit of community service continues to be strong in our congregation and flows out into our local community and beyond as we witness to “things that belong to peace” (as noted above by Ruby Cole). Our church serves the community by housing a preschool and the Food Pantry, and by hosting meetings of community groups, music (Jazz in the Square and Roslindale Porch Fest), films, and local artists participating in Roslindale Open Studios. Following the 2016 presidential election, RCC hosted several meetings of RISE (Roslindale IS for Everyone). We serve the wider world though our missions outreach. In April 2016, we voted to officially become an Open and Affirming Congregation in the United Church of Christ. This historic vote bears witness to the fruit of the faithfulness of those who came before us and our trust that God is still speaking. As Ms. Ruby Cole noted, a vital church is living and evolving to meet the “summons of these days.” We strive to honor our rich history by our dedication to be a church for today and future generations.

While we cannot imagine all the changes and challenges that the church will face in the coming years, we trust that the core of RCC will remain constant. As today and in years past, the future congregation of Roslindale Congregational Church, UCC, by God’s grace, will remain dedicated to serving Jesus and loving God as demonstrated by an active commitment to justice, compassion, and peace.