History

The plan of forming a new church originated with those residing on the Mill Dam, who have long felt the inconvenience of attendance on distant places of public worship. Many others in favor of extending the sphere and influence of our church, sympathize in the movement. And a third class, who for various reasons wish to connect themselves with some new Society, favor the project.

Thus is described the impetus for a meeting at the home of Dr. William Richards Lawrence on the night of March 17, 1860 at which Emmanuel Church was formed. The meeting took place in the Lawrence home at 98 Beacon street. This rather bland description begs as many questions as it answers. Who were that third group who wanted to form a new society? There are a few important abolitionists in the list of attendees. And the question of distance- the selected location at 15 Newbury Street is less than a quarter mile closer to 98 Beacon Street than St. Pauls on Tremont Street is. In the early records there is no mention of the Civil War, yet the corner stone of the new building was laid as the first Battle of Bull Run was commencing.

We are told that the lot for the church was privately purchased by William Lawrence. The Lawrence Family played a critical role in arranging the funding for the Back Bay fill project. This William was the brother of Amos Adams Lawrence, and their interest in Beacon street was not limited to the Back Bay. It was the Lawrence brothers who were most interested in the business potential of the Cottage Farm area of Brookline. They played a central role in developing Beacon Street as an extension of the Mill Dam Road and foresaw the increase in demand that would occur with the improved commute to Boston. 10 years later they founded the Church of our Saviour in that area as well, using the same architect, Alexander Esty, as had built Emmanuel.

Their Father was Amos Lawrence, the great philanthropist who was the secretary of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, and Amos Adams’ son was Bishop William Lawrence, long time bishop of Massachusetts. Yet the person called to be the first Rector, Fredric Dan Huntington, was a Unitarian at the time. Eventually he became the first Bishop of Central New York. The Second rector, Alexander Vinton had been a mentor of Phillips Brooks, in fact he was invited by Brooks to give the sermon at the dedication of the new Trinity Church in Copley Square. Dr. Vinton also organized the extensive education and social service committees that had formed in the Parish, and promoted the establishment of mission churches in poorer neighborhoods.

This story continues with Leighton Parks, with Elwood Worcester and the Emmanuel Movement, and it becomes impossible to write a history of this parish which is distinct from its history of social outreach, for which we have a separate page (link). Or distinct from our musical history- Within the first few years, the annual parish budget for music was equal to one tenth of what construction of the building had cost! That history is on the History of Music at Emmanuel page.

What is most important about Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston is evident in that founding meeting: forward thinking, and rather free thinking, individuals, able to look beyond strict denominational boundaries, concerned with the well being of their fellow citizens, and encouraging the best in the arts, particularly music. That was, and continues to be, Emmanuel.

For more details and images of our history, please see Timeline of Emmanuel’s History and History of Our Building.