First Parish in Cambridge

This data was last updated on 18 June 2019.

Address: 1446 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617-876-7772


History: The first Meeting House was founded in 1632, and Thomas Hooker became the first minister. After he moved to Connecticut, the First Parish in Cambridge, was founded in a new space in 1636 and led by Reverend Thomas Shephard. In later years, three more meeting houses were founded (1652, 1706, 1756). Until the eighteenth century, ministers of these spaces preached Calvinist doctrine. However, during the eighteenth century the doctrine became more liberal. In 1805-1830, Calvinists and Arminians, or the more liberal party, had a crisis when the minister of the time, Reverend Abiel Holmes, wanted to stop contact with the liberal ministers. However, the Parish did not agree with him and became mostly Unitarian in 1829. Dr. Holmes left and founded the Shephard Congregational Society, a more conservative society. Reverend William Nowell served as the Unitarian minister from 1830 to 1868, Francis Greenwood Peabody served soon after, and then Dr. Samuel McChord Crothers served from 1894-1927. In 1833, the fifth and current Meeting House was built. The First Parish in Cambridge has maintained ties with Harvard University, and Harvard commencements were held in the fifth Meeting House until 1873. Additionally, the parish has changed and adapted to meet the needs of the ever changing downtown urban Cambridge community.

Demographics: The First Parish in Cambridge welcomes people of all beliefs, gender identities, sexual orientations, colors, ethnicities, and ages to work together on justice work and form a multicultural community.

Activities and Schedule: They hold Sunday morning services at 10:30 AM every week. They host a weekly service hour after the Sunday service. During Sunday morning services, nursery care is available for children under age 4. Additionally, a structured Religious Education program is available for children ages 4 and up. On the First Parish in Cambridge website, there is a middle school curriculum available called “Worship Weaving” to help middle schoolers learn about components of worship, learn about resources for worship, and even experience leading worship. The First Parish in Cambridge has a Junior Youth Group that takes field trips to support community learning. They parish holds annual meetings in early June to discuss parish affairs. They have a safe congregation policy in order to ensure the safety of all members. Additionally, they have an annual First Parish retreat for members of the congregation to socialize and relax.

Leadership: The staff of the First Parish of Cambridge includes two ministers, a congregational administrator, a director of religious education, a music director, and a building manager.

Outreach and Interfaith Activity: The First Parish of Cambridge publishes a community guide four times a year, which contains information about the ministry, activities, and programs. They participate in a Shared Offering program, in which they donate half of their weekly offering to non-profit organizations in their community that work to forward social justice and service. A new organization is chosen each month. The music community at the First Parish is an important way to reach out and connect with parish and community members. They sponsor events such as caroling and sing-alongs at the Sancta Maria Nursing Facility. The children of the First Parish in Cambridge annually vote on and partner with a local nonprofit organization. They work with the chosen organization on different projects throughout the year. The Social Justice Council at the First Parish in Cambridge is in charge of organizing social justice activities and projects so that they can have an impact locally, nationally, and internationally. They work with organizations such as UUMassAction and the GBIO. The First Parish Environmental Task Force works to educate parish and community members about the dangers of human activities and our impact on climate change. They work with the MA Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action and UU Mass Action on climate legislation, and recognize their moral obligation to divest from fossil fuels and move towards the use of renewable sources of energy. In order to become open to immigrants and refugees, the First Parish in Cambridge joined the Sanctuary Covenant with other congregations in Harvard Square, and organized the group Beyond Borders - Sin Fronteras to promote awareness of immigration issues and to advocate for refugees. The Abilities and Access Committee works on recognizing and improving the barriers that keep those who are challenged with access concerns and disabilities from participating fully in the congregation. The First Parish of Cambridge also sponsors the Tuesday Meals Program, in which volunteers provide healthy and nourishing meals for community members on Tuesday evenings.