The History of the Congregation
Built in 1723, Christ Church in the City of Boston, better known as “Old North Church. is the oldest church building in Boston. Local master builders, following sketches of London churches designed by Christopher Wren, raised the building in only six months.
Old North was built to accommodate the need for a second Church of England Church in Boston, which was at that time predominately Puritan. In colonial times, Church of England churches in the British colonies were administered from England. Because of that, our first rector, Timothy Cutler (who was also the third president of Yale University) was forced to make the long and hazardous journey to London in order to be ordained to the priesthood. After the Revolutionary War, Christ Church became part of the new “Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States.” Today, together with other Episcopal churches, Old North is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The congregation and clergy of Christ Church-Old North strive to keep faithful to the mission of openness and welcome proclaimed by Timothy Cutler in his inaugural sermon on the text from Isaiah, “My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all people.” Services of Holy Eucharist are celebrated every Sunday at 9:00 and 11:00 am and all are welcome!
Old North is also a national shrine and a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. When the sexton of Old North, 23 year old Robert Newman, shone two lanterns from the steeple on April 18, 1775, he signaled the birth of the American nation and the beginnings of the freedom which we have long cherished and still strive to proclaim. Nearly a century later, in 1861, Boston poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used the story of the lanterns and Paul Revere’s ride to rally his fellow Northerners to persevere in the fight against slavery. With the publication of Paul Revere’s Ride, Christ Church-Old North Church became an internationally known symbol of freedom from all forms of tyranny and oppression.
Old North Church’s Congregation Today
The Old North Church is now a mission church of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. It was one of the original congregations in the diocese, which was formed in 1783. Old North Church was a parish from 1723 until 1939, when it was changed to mission status due to a lack of members during the Great Depression. While the membership of Old North has grown significantly in recent decades, the congregation remains a mission in recognition of its special vocation as a national landmark.
The bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts is the rector of Old North Church. The bishop is represented by our vicars, the Revs. Stephen T. Ayres and Eleanor A. Terry (who act “vicariously” for the bishop).
The congregation of Old North is governed by the Vestry of Christ Church in the City of Boston. This board includes eleven elected members of the congregation, plus the clergy. They meet monthly to oversee the operations and ministry of the church.
A separate organization, The Old North Foundation, governed by a board consisting of both civic leaders and members of the congregation, assists with the management of historic site programs and building preservation.
Today’s congregation numbers about 150. Many of us live in the North End/Waterfront or in the adjacent neighborhoods of Charlestown, Beacon Hill and Back Bay. We also have a significant number of members who commute in from outside of the city, drawn by the beauty and history of the church, the friendliness of the congregation, and/or because they were married at Old North Church. Our membership reflects the makeup of downtown Boston. We have many young professionals, married and single, and a growing number of babies and toddlers as well as several school-age children. We also include many “empty nesters” and retirees, both married and single, who have settled back in town in the past decade.