The West Church was founded in 1737. For the next 150 years it was one of the most socially active congregations in Boston. William Hooper became the first minister of the West Church, a post that he held for nine years.
In March 1747, Jonathan Mayhew became the minister. Mayhew was a revolutionary, in theology and in politics, and was acknowledged as a great orator in New England and in Britain. His close associates included John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Paine. He was to them The Herald of Revolution, the Assertor of Civil and Religious Liberty, and the last of the great colonial preachers. Mayhew was succeeded by Simeon Howard. Howard preached civil and religious freedom guided by a strong sense of personal holiness.
The building was occupied during the Revolution as one of the highest spots in the city. The British destroyed the tower to prevent patriots from using it to signal the harbor. That church’s custodian hung the lanterns used to signal Paul Revere.
Charles Lowell was ordained as the fourth minister of the West Church on New Years Day, 1806. Also in 1806, the congregation commissioned Asher Benjamin, an architect and builder, to design the new church building – the current building you are standing in. Lowell took up the mantle of social activism – supporting the abolitionist cause. Encouraged by associate minister, Cyrus Bartol, he ended the practice of segregated seating in the congregation. Lowell began the first Sunday school classes, providing lessons for both the wealthy and poor children of Boston. Bartol served the West Church for over 50 years. He was a staunch abolitionist. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the church was a safe house on the “Underground Railway.”
The West Church congregation disbanded in 1887. Andrew Wheelright, member of West church bought the building to save it from demolition. The West Church was converted into a desperately-needed branch library in 1894. In February 1896, the building was structurally remodeled to serve one of the most heavily populated sections of Boston. For the next sixty-six years. During the WWI, the library stayed open long hours to keep impoverished residents warm. This practice continued through the Great Depression, the WWII, and the Korean War.
In 1961, the building was purchased by the Methodist Church to provide a home for a new congregation, formed by the merging of Copley Methodist Church and the First Methodist Church on Beacon Hill. In May 1964, the Rev. John Lilly led Old West Church in its first service of worship. Dr. Wilbur C. Ziegler succeeded him and Rev. Dr. William E. Alberts succeeded Dr. Ziegler.
The Metropolitan Community Church of Boston began holding its worship services at Old West. The church became an urban training parish for students from Boston University School of Theology. Over 50 students have received training within Old West’s parish.
In 1971, Old West Church was designated an Historical Landmark. In this same year the internationally-acclaimed organ was completed by Charles B. Fisk and dedicated on Easter Sunday. This instrument is recognized as one of the finest contemporary organs in the world.
Dr. Richard Eslinger served from 1973 until 1978. From 1978 to 1982, Dr. Richard E. Harding served as pastor of Old West Church. From 1982 until 1991, the Rev. F. Willard Moffat served as Pastor, building the congregation to represent a diverse cross-section of people and neighborhoods throughout the Greater Boston area. The Rev. Gary F. Nettleton, led the congregation from 1991 to 2001.
During the last decade, Old West has participated actively in the founding and continuing operations of Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership (formerly Boston Justice Ministries) against domestic violence, which provides assistance to adults and children faced with domestic abuse.
Pastor Sara Garrard and this congregation look forward to serving our people, our city, our nation, and our world through the United Methodist Connection in radical faith, bold hope and lavish love.