First Churches of Northampton

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The First Churches of Northampton is a combined congregation, uniting together the old First Congregational Church and First Baptist Church of Northampton. This union occurred in 1988. However, the Congregational Church that meets on this site can trace itself to the founding of Northampton in 1654. The congregants of First Churches believe in the religious authority of the local congregation. Not only are they, as a community, capable of determining how their church should be led, but they also believe in the right, or even necessity, of individuals to create and follow their own interpretations and understandings of biblical texts.[1] In this way their belief structures are founded securely in the New Testament, in the Gospels, in Jesus’ words, without a strict adherence to a universally defined interpretation of religious belief and ritual.[2] Another notable feature of the historic First Churches of Northampton is their connection with the famous First Great Awakening preacher Jonathan Edwards. One of the pastors, however, while explaining in great detail other parts of the church’s history, shied away from traditional connections with Edwards, even flat out stating that they did not prescribe to Edwards’ most famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This piece, influential to, and representative of, Great Awakening thinking, depicted the desperate state of humanity in vivid and graphic terms, greatly distinct from the progressive theology proclaimed by the community today. Things have changed, he said. The basement of First Churches had once stored the gallows of colonial times, and it now holds the preschool and other childcare programs. 

Recently, the congregation hosted a talk by Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern. This progressive political orientation is also displayed through their activism around climate change and vocal support of immigrant communities. They also have a historical opposition to slavery and racism; even in past eras when it was more accepted, they found these practices to be deeply opposed to the spirit of Christ. Overall First Churches offers  a system of faith, community, and democratic participation.

First Churches’ maintains an openness to all peoples, regardless of gender identity, race, class, or government documented status. “No matter where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here,” proclaim the pastors at every service.” They have no expectations or requirements beyond coming to “just be on the journey with us.” Their community events seem to be fairly frequent, and enthusiastically attended and supported—they a Thursday night “dinner church” service called “Common Ground” that meets twice a month; movie nights, specifically for teens; farm-to-table congregational meals at various times of the year; and liberal-minded social and political action events and discussions.

  1.  Williston Walker, “Changes in Theology among the American Congregationalists,” The American Journal of Theology 10, no. 2 (1906): 204.
  2. Ibid.