Over 200 years and looking forward!
On February 5, 1805, a small group of men and women gathered together to sign a Covenant establishing the First Calvinist Society of Burlington, Vermont. Led by Rev. Daniel Sanders, the President of the University of Vermont, the congregation built a typical clapboarded New England white steepled church on the corner of Pearl and South Winooski Streets. This first religious establishment in Burlington became known as the First Congregational Church. The growing congregation worshipped in the ‘White Church’ for about 35 years until it was destroyed by fire in 1841.
A new brick Sanctuary designed in Greek Revival style was completed in 1842. Funded by the sale of pews, the church was, and still is, one of the largest structures in Burlington. The unique tower, modeled on the Choragic Monument to Lysicrates in Athens, Greece, both completes the Greek Revival style of the Church and celebrates the importance of music in the worship life of the church. The foundation stone is Isle LaMotte limestone cut from the fossilized choral reef worked by the Fisk Quarry. Over time, a Chapel, Educational Wing, Dining Room with Stage, and other rooms have been added to meet the functional needs of the growing congregation.
For more than 200 years, the First Congregational Church has contributed to the well being of the City of Burlington. Dr. John Converse, an early Minister, founded a school for girls that in the mid-twentieth century became The Converse Home, an Assisted Living Residence that continues to meet the needs of elders today. In 1917, during the world-wide Influenza outbreak, the Chapel became a dormitory housing the children of sick families. The adjacent historic Victorian Parsonage (1877) is now rented for one dollar per year to Ronald McDonald House, and houses families of children being treated at the hospital. Each week day, the Dining Room is the site of the Joint Urban Ministry Project (JUMP) that provides emergency assistance to individuals and families in crisis. The Basement in the Educational Wing is home to the Possibility Shop that serves the wider community including those in need of affordable clothing and household goods, new Americans, newly arrived refugees, college students. One of the oldest AA groups in Vermont uses the Dining Room on Wednesday evenings, and New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church worships in the Chapel on Sunday afternoons. Music, arts, and other non-profit organizations make frequent use of church spaces for meetings and rehearsals.
Among church members there have been persons whose contributions have had significant impact on the development of our country. Civil War General Oliver Howard worked for the rights of former slaves and established Howard University, serving as President of that institution from 1867-1873. Senator Warren Austin became the first U.S. Representative to the United Nations serving from 1947-1953. Philosopher and Educational Reformer John Dewey was born in Burlington and was a member of the church until he moved to Chicago. Former Governor of Vermont and presidential candidate Howard Dean is a member of the Church today.