Village Church History
In what was originally the “west part of Needham,” the middle of the 18th century found most people living and working as farmers. Beyond the needs of day-to-day life, three themes kept their attention: their civic and spiritual duty, their controversial relationship with the provincial government, and their lengthy and arduous journey to get to church each Sunday. The playing-out of these themes led to the formation and establishment of what would become Village Church in Wellesley.
Beginning with the arrival of the first settlers at Plymouth in 1620, the public attitude was that church worship and civic duty were more or less seamless. As communities developed, it was the government which authorized the establishment of a local parish, and in many cases, it required the assurance that the local inhabitants could support a pastor. Taxes collected went to support both schools and churches, but clergy compensation was an additional expense to be borne by those in covenant in each parish. Attendance at worship on Sunday was virtually compulsory—everybody went to church. At least since about 1725, the inhabitants of “West Needham” had attended worship in what is now Needham Center. On a good day, it was nearly an hour’s ride. With the snow and ice of winter, or the rain and mud of any New England season, the trip could easily take much longer. Finally, in June of 1774, 86 “westerners” signed an agreement to build their own meetinghouse. They did not want to wait for the Legislature, still a colonial entity, to act on a petition for “setting off” a separate parish, which would bring on a new tax levy.
Within two years, many of those who had signed the agreement were fighting in a war that drained both money and supplies. The financial and human costs of the war delayed the construction of the meetinghouse. Although the Legislature finally acted to establish the “West Precinct of Needham,” the building was not completed until sufficient funds were raised. That took nearly twenty years.
Finally, on Thursday, September 6, 1798, the Congregational Church of West Needham was organized with seven men and three women. They adopted the first church covenant and they met in the first of four buildings to stand on the present church site. Within a year, they had selected two deacons and called the first pastor, Rev. Thomas Noyes.
Since that time, Village Church has been served by 18 "settled" senior pastors. For at least the past 40 years, the church has been led by a team of ordained ministers varying in size from two to as many as six. Throughout its entire history, in true Congregational fashion, the church has governed itself by its dedicated lay and ordained leadership.
In many ways, Village Church has remained true to its origins. More than just a house of worship, the covenant we hold speaks of God’s call to be present in the world, to be engaged in the community, and to be living witnesses of Christ’s teaching in matters of contemporary issues and social justice. Early member families were prominent in civic life in Wellesley—the names of Kingsbury, Washburn, Hunnewell, Fuller, Bacon, and Hunting, among others, were used to designate streets in the town.
Other landmarks in the history of the church:
- In 1872, Charles Dana, bought the second church building because worship attendance had grown beyond capacity. He moved it and gave it to his friend, Henry Durant, a founder of Wellesley College. Later still, the building served as home to the Dana Hall School.
- In 1916, on the last Saturday evening in December, the third edifice burned to the ground. By invitation, worship took place the next day in the Town Hall, where it continued on Sundays for several months. Considering that a place of community gathering should take precedence, the congregation chose to build a Parish House first. The sanctuary could wait.
- In 1923, our present sanctuary was completed. It was designed by architects Carrere and Hastings in the Colonial Revival style.
- In 1955, a rapidly growing church school enrollment brought the addition of new classrooms between the sanctuary and the parish house.
- 1968 brought the installation of the Rieger organ in our sanctuary.
- In 1992, Village Church voted to become an “Open and Affirming” church. The statement was amended for fuller inclusivity in 1998.
- In 2000, following a comprehensive visioning process, a major renovation of the church was undertaken. This work made the building accessible to all persons regardless of their abilities or limitations.
- In 2002, with major support from Lilly Endowment, Inc., Village Church initiated its Pastoral Residency Program, which continues to this day.
- In 2011, responding to the changing landscape of ministry in the present day, Village Church began a realignment of its organizational structure, bringing its governance into a more agile and responsive form. Village Church continues to adapt and to thrive!
- On September 22, 2014, The Wellesley Congregational Church and Cemetery were accepted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.