Congregational Church Records
Scope and Contents
Records of various official bodies are encompassed by the record group as it documents churches of Congregational polity individually and in cooperation on local, state, national and international levels.
The researcher should be aware that additional records similar to those appearing in this record group may appear in the Library's cataloged collections.
The majority of the records document Congregationalism in the United States (Series II through V), including material from most of the 50 states. The records of the Annual Meetings of the General Associations or Conferences of Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont are relatively complete. Local associations within Connecticut and Massachusetts are also well represented.
The publications in Series II are primarily organized by format. Of particular interest in Series II is the pamphlet and ephemeral material published from 1939 to 1961 which documents the controversy surrounding the merger of the Congregational and Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Similar material is available in the papers of Henry David Gray, Manuscript Group No. 52.
The National Organizations of Series III are primarily those related to educational, church building, church unity and ministerial support. These organizations are listed alphabetically. There are few records of national organizations devoted to home or foreign mission activity in this record group. Such documents are located elsewhere in the Library's collection.
The State and Local Records of Series V are primarily organized alphabetically by state and within each state according to the following categories:
- A. Statewide organizations and meetings
- B. Intrastate organizations and meetings
- C. Individual church records
The records in Category A include the minutes, reports, proceedings and other publications of organizations and meetings which had delegates from throughout a state. The minutes and reports of annual meetings appear first in Category A, organized in chronological order under the official name of the gathering, the designation of which varied over time and from state to state. In some states, the pamphlet containing the minutes of the annual association, conference or convention meeting also included the annual report of the state missionary society.
The organizations and meetings represented in Category B of Series V are those with membership drawn from an area within a state, usually a county or municipality. The records of these groups are listed alphabetically by the name of the organization or gathering.
Records of individual churches are included in Series V only for states other than the New England states. Records of individual Congregational churches in the six New England states are located in Record Group 48, New England Church Records.
Also in series V, the category Regional organizations and meetings includes organizations with membership drawn from more than one state or portions of more than one state.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
- I. International Records
- II. Congregational Churches in the U.S.: Publications Related to Doctrine, Polity and History
- III. Congregational Churches in the U.S.: National Organizations and Meetings
- IV. Congregational Churches in the U.S.: National Meetings
- V. Congregational Churches in the U.S.: State and Local Records
22.5 Linear Feet (67 boxes)
Language of Materials
A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog
The Congregational Church Records of Record Group 56 are an open collection of primarily printed material dating from approximately 1709-1983. Records of various official bodies are encompassed by the record group as it documents churches of Congregational polity individually and in cooperation on local, state, national and international levels.
Biographical / Historical
Congregationalism is defined as the form of church polity which rests on the independence and autonomy of each local church. This local autonomy has not prevented churches from forming county, state and national associations for mutual support and cooperative service. Historically, for Congregationalists, the term 'church' has been seen as applicable only to the local congregation and the wider associations have not had binding authority in matters related to doctrine and church discipline.
Over the years, Congregational churches in both Great Britain and the United States have followed a path toward union with like-minded bodies. In 1832, the county associations of Great Britain combined to form the Congregational Union of England and Wales. This Union merged with the Presbyterian Church of England in 1972 to form the United Reformed Church. In the United States, the National Council of the Congregational Churches and the General Convention of the Christian Churches formed a union in 1931, becoming The General Council of Congregational and Christian Churches. Under this union, local churches were free to continue as Congregational or as Christian Churches. A merger between the Congregational and Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church was begun in 1957 and completed in July of 1961, resulting in the formation of the United Church of Christ. This merger was the cause of considerable controversy, being opposed by those who feared it would cause a lessening of traditional Congregational autonomy.
- Guide to the Congregational Church Records
- Compiled by Martha Lund Smalley
- 2000, 2010
- Description rules
- Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Divinity Library Descriptive Practices
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
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