Christianity, a global religion with three major branches–Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant–traces its roots back to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Since 1630, Christianity has been a vital part of Boston’s history, continually evolving as new waves of immigrants incorporate their own Christian traditions into the life of the city. Recent immigration from Asia, Africa, Latin American and the Caribbean is creating an increasingly vibrant and diverse Christian community in Boston. Among the trends that will shape the future of Christianity in Greater Boston are multi-ethnic churches, emerging churches, and multiple congregations that share the same house of worship.
Christianity in Boston (Full Essay)
A visitor to Boston, walking along the historic “Freedom Trail” or strolling along the streets of the Back Bay, can hardly fail to notice the presence of Christianity in the city, as represented by Boston’s many beautiful and historic churches. The tall spires of Park Street Church and Christ Church (known affectionately as “Old North Church”) grace the skies above the downtown area, and the architectural grandeur of Trinity Episcopal Church in Copley Square and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End lend an impressive beauty to the city. Old South Meeting House in Downtown Crossing, and the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill, both offer a glimpse into the nation’s history as important movements for revolution and the abolition of slavery gathered momentum in Boston. These and the many other historic churches in the region testify to the influential role Christianity has played in the history of Greater Boston.
In addition to these historic churches, many other churches have emerged over the past several decades, located mostly in the city’s neighborhoods. In Chinatown, a bright mural decorates the side of the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church, the city’s largest Chinese congregation. Ornate onion domes and beautiful iconography adorn the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Roslindale. A simple white clapboard building serves as home to the Indian Pentecostal Assembly in Waltham, a congregation that shares space with the Community Church of the Nazarene. Signs by the entrance to St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Chelsea welcome visitors in Vietnamese, Cambodian, Spanish, and English.
As this snapshot suggests, Christianity in Greater Boston is a broad and diverse religious tradition. Its many churches include Roman Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal congregations, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints. Today, each of these traditions is experiencing increased diversity from immigration. Since Congress passed the 1965 Immigration and Nationalities Act, Christians from around the world have arrived in Boston, bringing their own traditions to the city. In other words, the global dimensions of Christianity are now at home in Boston. As a result, both the diversity and the number of churches in Boston have increased dramatically in recent years.
Several key trends have resulted from this increased diversity. As new immigrants settled in neighborhoods, some established congregations reached out to embrace the new arrivals; many now provide worship services in several languages to accommodate non-English speaking members. This is especially the case with many parishes in the Roman Catholic Church, which is the largest of Boston’s many denominations. In the Archdiocese of Boston, which ministers to over 1.8 million area Catholics, over 20 languages are used to celebrate Mass each Sunday. In another trend that has become commonplace, Protestant churches are frequently sharing space with or renting their building to “micro-churches,” which are smaller, newly established churches that minister to a targeted ethnic or denominational group. Some of these partnerships are simple rental arrangements; however, some congregations like Faith Lutheran Church in Cambridge are intentionally creating a “multi-congregational” church community in which the various congregations see themselves as one large church family.
Other changes are also altering Boston’s Christian landscape. Gradually, women are becoming better represented among the Protestant clergy, especially at high profile congregations such as Trinity Church and Old South. Emergent Churches are growing, and new styles of worship are being designed to meet the needs of younger generations of Christians. The Massachusetts Council of Churches and the Archdiocese of Boston continue to take a leadership role in ecumenical and interfaith relations. Mission projects and outreach programs, such as those of the City Mission Society, help Christians to engage their communities by working on such pressing social issues as homelessness, hunger, and poverty. Increasingly, churches are also working together with people of other faiths on these critical issues.
Challenges remain, however, and deep divisions exist between Christians of different denominations (and sometimes within the same denomination) on social and moral issues as well as theology and doctrine. Trends nevertheless suggest that Christian communities in Greater Boston will continue to engage in dialogue, outreach, and common service in the years and decades to come.
History of Christianity in Boston
The stone edifice of Old South Church towers over the sidewalk across from Copley Square. On Sundays, its spacious sanctuary is filled with families dressed in their Sunday best. Established in 1669 by the Puritans, Old South Church is today the oldest Christian Church in Boston. The Puritans, the original settlers who established Boston, were serious and devout Protestants who sought to create a model “commonwealth” based on the Bible and Calvinist teachings. They established the Congregational Church as the official religion in Massachusetts, and settled by the thousands in the area in the 1630s. To this day, there are towns and villages throughout Greater Boston with a Congregational Church adjacent to the village green; most of these are now affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the largest Protestant denomination in Massachusetts. The Puritans founded many historically significant institutions, including the Boston Latin School, the first public school in America, and Harvard College, the first American college. Many Congregationalists, such as John Adams, the second President of the United States, were also leaders in the American Revolution.
Yet, the Puritans also severely restricted religious freedom, and harshly punished dissidents; in the worst incidents, they executed people for being heretics or witches. Those who suffered the most included the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Baptists, and the Roman Catholics, as well as Jews and other non-Christians. Attitudes changed slowly, but eventually the right of individuals to worship according to their conscience emerged as a core American value. After the Revolution, the new Massachusetts Constitution guaranteed all persons, regardless of their tradition, the right to worship freely in Boston. Episcopalians, Baptists, and other Protestant denominations began to establish more churches and to increase their presence during this time. The First Baptist Church in Boston was established as early as 1665, but had been severely persecuted; during the Great Awakening in the 1740s, however, the Baptists experienced an increase in their churches. After the Revolution, they continued to spread throughout the Greater Boston area. Similarly, the Episcopal Church, newly independent from the Church of England, began to grow, and today is one of the largest Protestant denominations in Boston. But perhaps the most significant development after the Revolution was the establishment of a small Roman Catholic Church in 1788, which grew steadily; Jean de Chevrus was appointed the first Bishop of Boston in 1808.
Many other changes impacted Boston’s churches in the late 18th and 19th centuries. King’s Chapel became the first Unitarian Church in the country in 1785, and in the following years, Unitarianism grew and flourished in Boston; by the 1840s many Congregational Churches had either become Unitarian Churches or divided over the issue. At the same time, several independent African-American Churches began to emerge; the First African Baptist Church was established in 1805, and Rev. Thomas Paul became the pastor the following year. (Today, Twelfth Baptist Church and People’s Baptist Church both trace their history to that congregation.) Inspired by the Second Great Awakening, many new Christian denominations established churches in Boston, including the Seventh Day Adventists and the Salvation Army. In 1875, Mary Baker Eddy founded The Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, and a few years later she began publishing The Christian Science Monitor. The “Mother Church,” or First Church of Christ, Scientist, still graces Massachusetts Avenue today.
Many social movements emerged or drew support from Boston’s churches, including women’s suffrage, education reform, and temperance. The American missionary movement developed in Boston, and the first American foreign missionaries were commissioned in Salem in 1812. The abolitionist movement was supported by many black and white congregations: Park Street Church hosted the first anti-slavery speech by William Lloyd Garrison, and Rev. Leonard Grimes, pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church, and Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker were active in the Underground Railroad.
In the 19th and 20th century, immigration would change the face of Christianity in Boston dramatically. The potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s marked a watershed moment in Boston’s history, as hundreds of thousands of Irish arrived in Boston to flee the Great Hunger. Despite experiencing prejudice and sometimes outright violence from Yankee Protestants, the Irish made Boston their new home. Irish immigrants settled in mill towns like Lawrence and Lowell, and in Boston’s North End, Dorchester, and South Boston. Many new churches were built, and Boston was raised to the level of an Archdiocese, becoming one of the largest Catholic Archdiocese in the country. (The beautiful Cathedral of Holy Cross in the South End was consecrated in 1875.) Boston’s Irish eventually gained political power, and over the following decades, many Bostonians of Irish descent became highly influential leaders; in 1960, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic elected President of the United States.
Similarly, immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe also helped reshape the city’s religious landscape. Italians settled in the North End and East Boston in the thousands. In 1873, Italian immigrants built St. Leonard of Port Maurice in the North End, which still celebrates Mass in Italian today. Immigrants from Poland, Lithuania, Portugal, and Germany, many of who were Roman Catholic, formed new ethnic parishes where they worshipped in their own languages. In 1878, the Mission Church, known formally as the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, was built on today’s Mission Hill neighborhood to reach out to new immigrants and the wider community. Protestants also established new congregations. In 1881, the Armenian community established the Armenian Congregational Church of the Martyrs in Worcester, the first Armenian Church in the United States. In Cambridge, Swedish Lutherans founded Faith Lutheran Church, in 1909, which was known for years as “The Swedish Church.”
At the same time, many Eastern and Oriental Orthodox communities began establishing churches of their own. In 1891, the first Armenian Orthodox Church in America, the Armenian Church of Our Savior, was consecrated in Worcester. The Greek community also grew rapidly. In 1923, Father Joakim Alexopoulos was consecrated as the first Greek Orthodox Bishop in Boston. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England was completed a few years later. In 1907, St. John the Damascus Orthodox Church was founded to minister to the growing Arabic-speaking Orthodox community from the Middle East. Russians, Albanians, Ukrainians, and other communities from Eastern Europe also began to establish Orthodox churches in Boston.
In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act, thereby establishing a national origins quota system to effectively shut down immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe and to prohibit Asian immigration. Over the following decades, however, Christian denominations continued to grow and change. Pentecostal Churches first emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. The First Church of the Nazarene in Cambridge traces it beginnings to 1899. The Church of God of Prophesy was one of the first Pentecostal churches in Roxbury, built in 1903. Today, denominations like the Churches of God in Christ and Assemblies of God are increasing rapidly, as Pentecostal churches constitute the fastest growing group of churches locally and globally.
Ecumenism emerged as a vital movement in the 20th century, and helped to improve relations among Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics. The Massachusetts Council of Churches was organized in 1902, and formed in 1933 by a merger of the Massachusetts Federation of Churches and the Council of Religious Education. In the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council, attended by Cardinal Richard Cushing, led to profound changes in worship and church life in the Roman Catholic Church. The Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of theological schools, was established in 1968. Many Christian clergy also played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, and in the second half of the century, Christians increasingly began to engage in cooperative action and dialogue with people of other faiths.
The passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationalities Act reformed the restrictive quota system of the Johnson-Reed Act, and allowed a broader scope of immigrants to come to the United States. Since that time, the story of Christianity in Greater Boston has been shaped greatly by the global dimensions of its practice.
Christian Diversity Today
Today, Boston is home to Christians from all around the world, and its many religious centers embrace widely diverse traditions, languages, cultures, and rituals. New ethnic communities began to emerge in the 1960s, as universities and employment opportunities in Boston drew people in search of new beginnings, and as events around the world caused others to seek relief from war and political upheaval. As a result, Christian churches in Boston today span an incredible range of ethnic and denominational variety.
An early wave of immigration from Puerto Rico in the 1960s marked one of the most important changes in Roman Catholicism in Boston – the beginning of significant growth in the Hispanic community. Over time, immigration from Latin America has expanded to include immigrants from Mexico, Central, and South America. In response, the Archdiocese of Boston has established the Hispanic Apostolate of Boston to support Spanish-speaking Catholics. Thirty-eight different Catholic parishes throughout Greater Boson offer masses in Spanish, including the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
In addition, the Roman Catholic Church has seen a growing diversity of communities that worship within its many parishes. In Somerville, St. Anthony of Padua Parish ministers to the large Brazilian community in the area, part of the growing Brazilian Apostolate of the Archdiocese of Boston. Another community that has grown significantly is the Haitian community: St. Ann Parish, also in Somerville, is one of the many Catholic Churches in Boston that offers separate masses in Haitian Creole. Likewise, there are several Asian Catholic congregations, including many Vietnamese and Cambodian, and some African as well, including a large Cape Verdean community in Brockton.
Mainline Protestant churches are experiencing a similar growth in new members from many of the very same immigrant communities. For example, Anglicans from African countries such as Nigeria and Kenya are worshipping in local Episcopal churches: St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Lynn has begun offering services in Kiswahili. In Roxbury, St. Cyprians’ Episcopal Church was originally founded by West Indian immigrants in 1910. Today, they continue to welcome new immigrants and minister to a mix of generations with West Indian heritage. The First Hispanic Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain was established in 1975, and is affiliated with the American Baptist Church. Likewise, the Hispanic Community Church in Jamaica Plain is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Similarly, several Asian Protestant congregations have emerged in the past few decades, including the Korean Church of Boston, and the First Korean Church in Cambridge, founded in 1978.
The Chinese community has had a significant presence in Boston since the late 1800s. St. James the Greater Catholic Church was established as early as 1854, and new immigrants continue to join this long-standing community. The Boston Chinese Evangelical Church, the largest Chinese church in Boston, was established in 1961, and embraces a mix of generations. Over the last few years they have developed a vibrant English-speaking ministry for their young American-born members, in addition to hosting regular worship services in Cantonese and Mandarin for new immigrants and older generations. They have two campuses, one in Chinatown and one in Newton. The Wollaston Lutheran Church in Quincy also holds services in Cantonese, and the Episcopal Boston Chinese Mission has established centers for the Chinese community in both Allston and Quincy.
In addition to Catholic and Protestant communities, Orthodox communities also are experiencing new diversity. St. Mary’s Church in Maynard is home to the Indian Orthodox Christian community in Boston. Established in Kerala, India, by St. Thomas the Apostle in the first century, the Indian Orthodox Church is an autonomous Oriental Orthodox church that is in communion with the wider family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. Formed into a parish in 1972, St. Mary’s was only the second Indian Orthodox parish in the United States. Other Oriental Orthodox communities have established parishes in recent years, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Church.
The Quiet Revival
While many mainline Protestant churches are struggling with declining membership as their members grow older and younger members tend to go to church less frequently than previous generations, the dramatic growth in the number of churches in Boston in recent years has also been fueled by the intentional planting of new congregations by Evangelical, Charismatic, and Pentecostal churches. These new churches are designed, in many cases, to minister to specific immigrant communities. For example, the Seventh Day Adventist Church has established several ethnic congregations throughout Greater Boston, including a Korean Seventh Day Adventist congregation in Cambridge, Portuguese-speaking Cape Verdean congregations in Brockton and Dorchester, and Hispanic congregations in East Boston, Everett, and Cambridge. Similar diversity exists within the Church of the Nazarene, the Salvation Army, the Assemblies of God, and the Greater Boston Baptist Association. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is another Christian denomination that has been utilizing this model; they also have established Hispanic, Haitian and Portuguese-speaking congregations in Greater Boston.
The proliferation of new ethnic congregations has contributed to a movement that has been called the “Quiet Revival,” a term coined by the Emmanuel Gospel Center, an organization that researches and resources urban churches in Greater Boston. New ethnic congregations offer worship in the native language of immigrants and provide a link to the culture of one’s homeland. In many cases, they retain close links to the communities and churches from which they emigrated. These churches stay intentionally small in size – usually under 100 people – a size known as “micro-churches.” They often rent space in storefronts or share a building with a more established congregation. For example, the first Cambodian Evangelical church in the Boston area was established in Revere in 1981 by Pastor Ratha Nyem to minister to Cambodians who fled the terror of the Khmer Rouge regime. While many Cambodians are Roman Catholic, there are also several Evangelical Cambodian churches in the area. Today, the Revere Evangelical Cambodian Christian Church continues its ministry and worships on Sunday afternoons at the First Congregational Church.
Reflecting a global trend, there is a rapid growth in the number of Pentecostal churches emerging in Greater Boston. For example, there are now a significant number of Hispanic and Brazilian Pentecostal congregations in Boston. The first Spanish-speaking Pentecostal churches began to emerge in the 1960s, such as the Iglesia de Dios, M.B., founded in 1965 by Pastor Amador Ramirez. Today, they number in the hundreds. Similarly, there are many significant Brazilian Pentecostal churches in Boston, including the World Revival Church Assembly in Somerville. African-American Pentecostal churches are also plentiful, especially in Roxbury and Dorchester, where the Church of God, the Church of God in Christ, and other denominations are growing. Many of these churches also include immigrants from the West Indies or from Africa, and second and third generation families. For example, the Pentecostal Tabernacle in Cambridge is a thriving Pentecostal church with a culturally mixed congregation.
In some cases, these new churches established in the last few decades have grown rapidly and now minister to very large congregations. For example, Congregatión León de Judá in the South End, is the largest Spanish-speaking evangelical church in Boston, with a membership that comes from over 23 countries throughout Latin America. In addition, Jubilee Christian Fellowship in Mattapan, a predominantly African-American church established in 1996, has grown to become the largest church in Boston today. In Lexington, Grace Chapel is another dynamic church that draws members from across the Greater Boston area.
Emergent Churches and Second-Generation Churches
In contrast, another interesting trend is the growth of Emergent Churches, like the Crossing, which meets in St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral. Other emerging churches in Boston include the Mosaic Church, which met in a YMCA near Northeastern University, before moving to Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline; and Hope Fellowship in Cambridge. These churches are intentionally developing new models of what church looks like in the 20th century. They emphasize relationships and joyful praise, and they have moved beyond old church buildings and traditional forms of worship.
Other churches, while not specifically designed to be Emergent, also minister in ways that are relevant to a younger generation of Christians. Heart Change Fellowship in Roxbury offers worship and life ministries geared toward young adults and uses Facebook to help its members stay connected to one another and for outreach. In some cases, churches are specifically focused on the needs of second generation immigrants who want to retain fellowship with others from the same ethnic or cultural background but who find worshipping in their parents’ native languages to be a barrier. City Life Church, for example, is a multi-cultural church that ministers to many second-generation immigrants and is led by a Korean-American pastor.
Multi-Generational and Multi-cultural Churches
As communities continue to change and the face of Christianity becomes more diverse and varied, there is an impact on the ways Christians interact with one another and with the wider community. Partnerships between and among diverse churches are becoming increasingly common.
In some cases, older, established churches are taking steps to minister to the new immigrant groups in their community. As an example, St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Chelsea is a thriving multi-cultural parish, with separate weekly Masses in Spanish, English, Cambodian, and Vietnamese. Established in 1849 to minister to the growing Irish community arriving in the midst of the Great Potato Famine, St. Rose of Lima today serves as a welcoming parish for newer Latino and Asian immigrants. In the late 2000s they ranked fourth in the Archdiocese of Boston for number of baptisms celebrated.
Among Protestant Churches it is common now to find congregations with large buildings renting space to smaller ethnic churches, Christian fellowships, emergent/young adult churches, or other organizations. One building may house an English speaking Lutheran congregation, a Brazilian Baptist church and an Hispanic Pentecostal church, or one church might host two or more congregations from the same denomination but which worship separately in different languages.
Harvard Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, for example, hosts the Korean Mission Church and Youth on Fire, a drop-in center for homeless youth. St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Boston hosts the Episcopal Boston Chinese Ministry as well as the Crossing. This kind of arrangement often means that organizations or new congregations can develop before having to raise funds for a building of their own. But at the same time, these arrangements can be the cause of challenges in the shared use of space and in finding a convenient time for worship. Therefore, many ethnic churches worship in the afternoon on Sundays or on Saturday evenings, while older congregations in these same buildings worship at the traditional Sunday morning hour. Communication between congregations varies greatly; in some cases there is almost no cross-cultural encounter, and for others, there are cooperative ventures that occasionally bring people together, such as a food pantry or Christmas celebration.
In a few cases, however, churches have moved beyond a rental model to a more intentional fellowship model. As mentioned in the introduction, Faith Lutheran Church in Cambridge has been intentionally building community with the two congregations that share their building, the Medhanialem Eritrean Christian Fellowship and Calvary Praise and Worship Center, and they gather on special occasions throughout the year for joint worship and fellowship. The Newton Centre Worship Center is another well-known cooperative venture among six smaller congregations; together they jointly own the building and worship together a few times a year. The International Community Church in Allston hosts several smaller congregations as well, including the Overseas Burmese Christian Fellowship, and a church for the deaf community that worships in American Sign Language. As small ethnic churches continue to grow in number, we can expect to see more churches like these intentionally forming community by sharing space, worship, and fellowship.
In addition, numerous universities and colleges in Greater Boston offer opportunities for students, including large international student bodies, and they give rise to new Christian collaborations. Many Bible study and fellowship groups minister to the diverse students in the city, and campus ministry programs help bring students together across cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Many Christian student groups also participate in interfaith dialogue and initiatives.
Civic Engagement and Pluralism
Clergy are often very involved in making connections across the city with other faith leaders and with civic and community leaders. The Black Ministerial Alliance, the Fellowship of Hispanic Pastors of New England (COPAHNI), and other clergy associations meet together regularly for support, resource sharing, and to discuss common concerns. The Ten Point Coalition, a clergy-led community network, was established after a shooting at a funeral at Morningside Baptist Church in Mattapan; today they are actively involved in ending youth violence in the city.
Mission projects and outreach programs help Christians to engage with their communities by working on such pressing social issues as homelessness, hunger, and poverty. Most churches have food pantries and participate in food drives for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Pilgrim Church in Dorchester houses a men’s shelter at night. Similarly, a variety of churches work with Starlight Ministries, the Concord Homeless Advocacy Network, and other organizations to try to end homelessness in Boston. Many congregations organize teams to participate in charity events, such as the Walk for Hunger held every spring. The Faith and Justice Network is bringing evangelical and liberal Protestants together to work on issues of fair trade and global warming. Many ethnic churches are also involved in mission work and provide aid to members’ home countries. Missionary Baptist Church in Roxbury, for example, has organized trips to the Bahamas to work with the Haitian community there, and as worked in Haiti as well.
Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations
Ecumenism has become an important vehicle for dialogue among Boston area churches over the years. Several different institutions facilitate exchange and engagement. The Massachusetts Council of Churches, organized in 1902, continues to be an important vehicle for ecumenical dialogue among Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics; the Commission for Christian Unity of the Council works on overcoming the theological issues that divide the church. The Archdiocese of Boston is engaged on many fronts, working with the Massachusetts Council of Churches, and participating in dialogues with other faith communities. The Emmanuel Gospel Center provides excellent research and insight into the challenges and changes in urban ministry in Boston, as well as leadership in the area of church planting and multi-cultural leadership training. The Center for Urban Ministerial Education, which serves as the Boston campus for the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, sponsors many innovative programs for urban ministers. The Boston Theological Institute offers a variety of programs as well, including a certificate program in International Mission and Ecumenism, and conferences on current issues facing the church.
Various social issues greatly impact, and sometimes impair, ecumenical and church relations. For example, in recent years a movement has emerged in liberal churches in support of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender members. Some churches, like the United Church of Christ, allow clergy to officiate at weddings for same-sex couples, who can legally wed in Massachusetts. This remains a divisive issue with the Christian community, however, and many Christian churches, including the Archdiocese of Boston, have spoken out in opposition of legalizing same-sex marriage. Similarly, debates about abortion and other hot topics are ongoing in many traditions. The Archdiocese of Boston has recently begun the long process of recovering from the deep pain and anger that emerged in the wake of the sex abuse scandal of the early 2000s.
As Boston becomes more religiously diverse, churches are also working together with people of other faiths on critical social justice issues. City-wide organizations like the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries are helping to foster relationships and partnerships among diverse individuals and communities. In addition, the many area universities and colleges are engaging students in conversation around diversity and pluralism.
Women’s leadership has been prominent throughout the history of Christianity in Greater Boston. In 1660, for example, a woman named Mary Dyer was one of four Quakers to be put to death on Boston Common for practicing her faith. Debates about women’s roles and leadership have also had their roots here, such as feminist theologian Mary Daly’s historic “Exodus” of the Church staged at Memorial Church at Harvard University in 1971. At the same time, in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, most mainline American Protestant denominations began ordaining women as clergy, and creating spaces for women’s leadership at the highest institutional levels, forever changing the face of Christian leadership. In 1989, Rev. Barbara Harris was elevated to Bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, becoming the first woman bishop in the Anglican communion. Over the years, women have consistently participated in Christian leadership as lay leaders, teachers, professors, ecumenists, and social service providers, and their influence is becoming increasingly visible.
In summary, the development of the diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-denominational Christian communities in Boston is a direct result of the demographic changes that have occurred since the passage of the Immigration and Nationalities Act. These new communities are supplementing the rich legacy of Christianity in Boston which stretches back over three hundred and fifty years. Were they to walk down the streets of Boston today, we can imagine that the Puritans would be astonished by the many changes that have occurred since 1630. While challenges remain, and cultural differences, language barriers, and theological stances can keep communities separate and suspicious of one another, the Greater Boston Christian community is nevertheless richer for these differences. Civic collaborations, interfaith dialogue, mission and social justice work, and other avenues of engagement have led to better communication and increased partnerships among people of all faiths. In the end, trends suggest that Christianity will continue to grow in its diversity, and Christians from many different backgrounds will help shape Greater Boston in new and exciting ways in the future.
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