The First Congregational Church is a welcoming, faith based Christian community. We draw upon the energy, talents and financial support of the congregation to provide spiritual, educational, social, and fellowship experiences to our congregation and circle of friends and to carry our benevolence into the communities in which we live and work.
This church has a sustained tradition which focuses on the wonderful hope of Christian teachings and connects people with Christ and each other through active participation in the church community and in all aspects of our lives. We understand that there are many paths to the goal of Christian living.
Our Church continually moves forward to better meet current, emerging and future needs of our circle of friends and community. All these efforts are flavored with humility, humanity and the enjoyment of people and life.
The continuing goal of First Congregational Church is to serve each generation that passes through this church community and to assure that future generations can continue to build and enjoy what we have today.
The Congregational Way is a way of following Christ. People of a Congregational Church do not seek to be led by a creed, but by the Spirit. Ours is the tradition of a free church, gathered under the headship of Christ and bound to others by love, not law.
When King Henry VIII of England broke with Rome and made the Church of England subservient to the English crown, many of his subjects thought he had not gone far enough in reforming the church. These people, sometimes called Puritans, wanted a church that was thoroughly reformed in its worship, governance, and outlook.
Some of them tried to purify the English Church from within. Others, known as Separatists, left the state church and formed local groups of believers bound together by mutual covenants. They found warrant for these gathered churches in Matthew 18:20, which says, "for where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
The original Congregationalists were strict Calvinists, who espoused a covenantal theology. Ensuing generations began to fall away from the particular tenets of this belief, until, in the early 1700s, New England was ripe for the first religious revival movement on American soil. This Great Awakening was led primarily by Jonathan Edwards of Northampton, Massachusetts, who worked with spiritual and intellectual distinction over the course of a long life to support the tenets of the original New England theology.
Also in the eighteenth century, the tradition of freedom and self-government started by the Congregationalists of New England fostered the spirit of independence which informed the American revolutionaries. Many small New England churches participated actively in the War of Independence.
By the 1800s, as the effects of the Great Awakening began to recede, many were turning to more liberal theologies. A great controversy arose in which many of the old First Churches of New England became Unitarian.
Nevertheless, the Congregational churches went on, joining with the Presbyterians in a Plan of Union for the purpose of joint missionary endeavors on the western frontiers. The Congregationalists pulled out of this Plan of Union later, when fifty years' experience showed its effect had been the building of a large number of Presbyterian, not Congregational, churches in the western states.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many of the Congregational churches in the United States, which had resisted the Unitarian impulse, nevertheless became more liberal in their theological outlook. No Congregational church could impose a particular creed on its members. But the members, in general, came to see Christianity in a different light: They interpreted the Bible less literally than their ancestors did, and they began to re-adopt some previously discarded worship practices of the more liturgical churches.
At the same time, Congregationalists often led in Christian social activism. They championed the abolition of slavery, the elevation of women's status -- a Congregationalist, Antoinette Brown, was the first woman ordained to the Christian ministry in America-- and the new "social Gospel" movement of the later years. The Social Gospel, championed by the Congregational minister Washington Gladden and the Baptist Walter Rauschenbusch, attempted to get Christians to embrace the struggles and relieve the difficulties of impoverished urban laborers.
The early twentieth century was a time of mergers. The Congregational churches had formed a national body, the National Council of Congregational Churches. In 1931, this National Council merged with the General Convention of the Christian Church to form the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches. (The Christians were a group of churches operating on principles almost identical to those of the Congregationalists, but laying more importance on the use of the name Christian to identify followers of Christ.) This merger was accomplished smoothly and with little dissent.
A few years later, another merger was proposed: Churches of the General Council would merge with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a group of mainly German heritage which had theological affinities with many Congregationalists but did not accept the autonomy of the local congregation, which had always been the distinctive feature of Congregationalism.
This merger was eventually completed, to form the United Church of Christ. But about 200 Congregational Christian churches chose not to join the merger, mainly on the issue of congregational polity. The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches was formed in 1955 to give those congregations a national fellowship which would not threaten the freedom of each congregation.
Since that time, the National Association has doubled in size and has remained true to its guiding vision. New churches are added to our number each year, and the future growth and vitality of our fellowship is grounded in the mission statement of the NACCC:
To encourage and assist local churches in their development of vibrant and effective witnesses to Christ in Congregational Ways.
(Source: The website of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches)
The First Congregational Church of South Paris was organized on November 14, 1812 by twelve women and two men. The first meetinghouse was erected in 1819 on the hill at Brimstone Corner on Oxford Street.
In 1835, a smaller version of the Church was taken apart; brought down off the hill; and rebuilt in Abijah Hall¹s garden, where it resides to this day.
In 1859, the vestry was added and the sanctuary enlarged. The organ was purchased in 1890; a new church bell in 1941; and in 1959 the front porch was added.
In May 1961, to preserve its congregational heritage, the people voted to join the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.
In 1996, the exterior of the Church building was extensively renovated and painted.
In 1997, an elevator was added to the back of the church and new siding placed on the Haskell House.
The current minister is Reverend Donald Mayberry who has been here since August 2001. In addition to his work within the church, he takes an active role in community events