History of the Conference

The Massachusetts Conference
The churches of the Massachusetts Conference represent the oldest and largest Protestant denomination in the Bay State. Most of our churches are of the Congregational tradition, and direct descendants of the churches founded by the Pilgrims of Plymouth and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Forty of our churches were organized before 1699, and another 150 before 1799. Until 1833, the Congregational Church was the official, tax-supported church of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Conference itself finds its roots in the founding of the Massachusetts Missionary Society in 1799, when 38 Congregationalists banded together with plans to spread “the knowledge of the glorious Gospel of Christ among the poor Heathens.” The following year, the Society sent out its first missionaries to remote areas of Maine and New York where they set about planting new churches. The Society later merged with a clergy group, the General Association of Massachusetts, at which point its focus began to broaden into what it is for the Conference today: to bring churches together to support one another in ministry and mission, to start new churches and grow current congregations, and to work for positive changes in society.

The United Church of Christ
Our foundations in the United Church of Christ are in 16th, 17th and 18th century Europe where the Protestant Reformation changed the face of Christendom — and oppression, war and poverty sent men, women and children to different parts of this land. First came the Pilgrims and Puritans from England, who formed Congregational churches. They were soon followed by Swiss and southern German immigrants, who started the Reformed denomination. Later Prussian immigrants arrived and started the Evangelical churches. In the 19th century, frontier congregations joined to form a uniquely American denomination simply called Christian.

While each denomination was different in terms of ethnic origin and specifics of religious belief and practice, all were ecumenical at heart, resulting in the 1931 merger of the Congregational and Christian churches and the 1934 merger of the Evangelical and Reformed branches. The United Church of Christ was established in 1957, when these two denominations joined to form one new church... in response to Jesus' prayer for his followers: “that they may all be one” (Holy Bible, John 17:11).

The United Church of Christ clearly affirms the important gifts from its heritage. We are "Christian," for we are a part of the body of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior. We are "reformed" for we hold to the Reformation belief in the authority of and personal access to God. We are "evangelical" because we preach the good news of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And we are "congregational" for we affirm that all churches are to be in covenant with each other, yet local congregations are autonomous to follow Christ and order their own life and worship. This commitment to freedom within covenant forms the basic structure of the United Church of Christ.

While our history lies with those who came from England, Germany and the American frontier, our identity today is so much more.

Today, approximately two-thirds of our members have come to the UCC from other denominations, or from no denomination. Our ranks are swelling with former Roman Catholics and Generation Xers who are seeking a spiritual home for their children. And just as those from England and Germany banded together to form churches in the past, today's immigrants are finding fellowship within the United Church of Christ. They are receiving support from the established UCC churches in their endeavors to form new congregations, which in turn become a welcome addition to our family. The over 400 churches in the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ include congregations which are predominantly African-American, Hispanic, Korean and Laotian.

“That they may all be one” was important to our four original denominations... and is the hallmark of the United Church of Christ today. It reflects our spirit of unity and inclusiveness and points toward future efforts to heal the divisions in the body of Christ.