What role did the Congregational church play in life of New England villages?

By 1620, the Newfoundland was facing worsening conditions at home which had instilled in some English men and women the mixture of desperation and idealism needed to settle and uninviting, unknown world. Religious differences among English Protestants became a matter of sharper controversy during the seventeenth century. Along with religious crisis came mounting political tensions and continuing problems of unemployment and recession. Times were so bad that anticipation of worse times to come swept English men and women to the shores of New England. Congregational churches had been introduced to New England. The model of Congregational churches was carried by migrating settlers from New England into New York and the old northwest. People of the Congregational churches did not want to be led by a creed, but a by the spirit. In New England congregational churches believed that each congregation should conduct its own affairs independently, answering to no other authority. They also regulated their own membership; those wishing to join had to convince ministers and church members that they had experienced a genuine spiritual rebirth or “conversion”. Most New Englanders sought and won membership.

The members of the congregational church are also known as puritans. Puritans were reformers with in the church that wanted a church that was thoroughly reformed in its worship, governance, and outlook. Like all Christians, Protestants, and Catholic, the puritans believed that god was all knowing and all powerful. Some of them tried to purify the church from within. Others known as separatists left the state church and formed local groups of believers bound together by mutual convents. Many separatists moved to Holland for a time and then contracted to come to America under the aegis of the London Company. These separatists are the same famous Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 (Sage 2007). Puritans thought they could push for reform and get along under the rule of Elizabeth I, they did not do so well under James I, who threatened to outcast them. During the reign of King Charles I they decided that the only way to find the religious environment they were looking for was to go to America. This sparked the great Puritan migration (Sage 2007).

In the decades that followed, New England became filled with Congregational Churches. These churches believed that they were free to rule the way that they saw fit and hired its own pastor and ran its own affairs. By the eighteenth century, this tradition of self-government and freedom helped to spark the same ideas for the Revolutionary war. May of the New England churches participated in the war. These same ideals also led to conflicts of interest. Each church began to see Christianity in much different lights. It also led to tension with other colonies. Not to say that New Englanders were not motivated by material progress but religion was the main focus and driving force behind most people's decisions in New England. In Virginia on the other hand, capitalism tended to be the primary motive for all that happened. These two different sets of values eventually led to division between colonies and the country.

Congregational churches also had other impacts on New England. With their insistence on the independence of local bodies, they became important in many reform movements, including those for abolition of slavery, and women's suffrage. Many of the same views on gambling and drinking were held by the Suffragists and the Congregational churches. Martin Luther Edwards, member of the Free Congregational Church of Hudson, owned a home that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. This was an underground network that was used to help slaves reach the colonies where they could be free.
As of the early 21st century, congregationalism in the U.S. split into three major bodies the united church of Christ, National Association of Congregational Christian churches, and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. There are still many Congregational churches today, many of which have had reforms from centuries ago.
Congregational churches in New England where a result of two basic Christian groups that wanted to escape to a place where they could worship freely. New England became saturated with these churches, all of which had different viewpoints. These differences paired with the differences of their southern counterparts eventually resulted in war. These churches did many positive things for New England though. These groups valued the idea of freedom to govern themselves and this idea helped to spawn the idea to revolt against Briton. Congregational churches also played a valuable role in the antislavery and woman's suffrage movement.


National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. (2010, January 19). Congregational Way. Retrieved March 5, 2011, from Community Congregational Church: http://comcong.com/about.hml (Taken from the NACC website: http://www.naccc.org/AboutUs/CongregationalWay.aspx)

Sage, H. J. (2010, May 21). The Puritans of New England. Retrieved March 5, 2011, from Academic American History: http:// www.acedemicamerican.com/colonial/topics/puritannewenglad.htm

Written by: Justin Brown, Erika McGarry, and Michaelene Huth