The First Parish in Lincoln holds a unique and fascinating history, dating back before the Revolutionary War. In the 1730s, the rural community that is now Lincoln did not have its own church, and townspeople were weary of traveling to churches in Concord, Lexington, and Weston. So they petitioned the General Court to be declared a separate township. On April 24, 1746, the Second Precinct of Concord was set aside, and within a year—even before the town of Lincoln was founded—the community organized the Second Church of Christ in Concord and built their meetinghouse where our “Parish House” now stands.
In the 18th century, Sunday services were eagerly anticipated by Lincoln’s residents, offering a welcome diversion from their lives lives as farmers and craftsmen. The Sunday meeting included morning and afternoon services, broken by a lengthy “nooning” filled with food, trade, and socializing.
Following the successful tenures of Rev. William Lawrence and Rev. Charles Stearns, Rev. Elijah Demond arrived in 1827. Demond presided over a rocky five years at the church. He held rigid theological beliefs, and his fire-and-brimstone sermons did not comport with the religious and political thinking in Lincoln. After three years, the town dismissed an article intended to fund Demond’s salary, and two years later, he left the church.
Many parishioners alienated by the Demond ministry left to attend the Methodist Episcopal Society in Weston, the Unitarian churches in Concord and Lexington, and other Congregational churches outside of Lincoln. Some Unitarians wanted to worship in the Lincoln meetinghouse, but were unable to gain approval from town meeting to do so. The Unitarians then decided to build their own meetinghouse and erected today’s Sanctuary in 1842.
For the next 80 years, the Unitarian church had no resident minister, and clergy from nearby towns led the services. Only in the early 1900s did the Unitarian church begin to gain traction under the seasonal ministry of Rev. Dr. James De Normandie from the First Church in Roxbury, who summered in Lincoln.
In 1922, Dudley DeForest Zuver became the first resident employed Unitarian minister. For the congregation’s musical needs, John Pierce had donated a Hook & Hastings organ in 1901, which was replaced in 1970 by a Noack organ.
Meanwhile, a fire destroyed the original Congregational church in 1859. A second church was then constructed. In the 1880s, parishioners rejected repairing the second church in favor of new construction. In 1892, today’s Parish House or “Stone Church” was built. This church acquired a Hutchings organ, long preserved and still used to this day. In 1928, Rev. Charles N. Thorp was called to serve the Congregational Church, where he remained until 1934.
Though it took time for a union to come to fruition, the Unitarian and Congregational churches held combined services as early as 1920. For many years, the members of both churches enjoyed strong personal and community ties with one another. In 1935, a joint committee was formed to pursue a trial merger agreement, and called the Rev. Charles M. Styron to launch the process.
From the start, Rev. Styron’s Sunday services were based on a new unity, embracing the strengths of each church while keeping the denominations’ strictures at arms-length. Under Rev. Styron, the church members enjoyed several years of joint services and shared spaces, followed by a trial federation, then a complete union. The First Parish in Lincoln’s parishioners formally began worship in their united church on May 25, 1942.
Rev. Styron’s tenure at First Parish in Lincoln would last 35 years (1935-1970), during which time he established a deep foundation that supports the church to this day. The congregation agreed to worship in the former Unitarian Meetinghouse, and retained the former Congregational Church as a Parish House that provides office, meeting and classroom space.