First Parish Church, Brunswick, Maine

Founded in 1717, First Parish Church’s current structure, completed in 1846 and designed by architect Richard Upjohn, is a radical departure from the traditional congregational church design that preceded it. The Gothic Revival design sparked a major shift from “puritan simplicity” that would spread across the country. The Christian Monitor wrote, “It is something of a novelty…yet there is an air of dignity and repose about the whole building, exceedingly appropriate to a Christian temple.”

The Church’s ground-breaking design also acts a metaphor for its many times forward thinking parish. From its inception, First Parish Church had been a place of discussion, debate and reflection. From providing support to the Continental Congress to debating the separation of Maine from Massachusetts to the inspiring moment when Harriet Beecher Stowe on March 2, 1851 in pew 23 envisioned the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which portrayed the evils of slavery, these intangible fragments of First Parish Church’s heritage reflects some of the pinnacle moments in U.S. history.

Congregation Mishkan Israel, Hamden, Connecticut

Founded in 1840, Congregation Mishkan Israel is the oldest Jewish congregation in Connecticut. The Congregation’s current building, which includes a religious school, was designed by Fritz Nathan and Bertram Bassuk in the Modernist style and completed in 1960. The main sanctuary includes an extraordinary ark designed by Ben Shahn, which represents the Ten Commandments in mosaic tile, reminiscent of an illuminated manuscript. Adjoining the ark on both sides are abstracted twenty-five foot high stained glass windows containing shards of blue and purple hues and the names of twelve prophets—six historical and six modern. Since its founding, the Congregation has been committed to serving the community with its liberal religious thought and social activism—especially in the struggle for Civil Rights.

Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island

Founded in about 1698, Trinity Church is the oldest Episcopal parish in Rhode Island. Inspired by Sir Christopher Wren’s London church designs of the late 17th century, Trinity’s structure was designed by local builder Richard Munday and constructed between the years 1725 and 1726. Built entirely of wood, this Georgian style church is believed to have the only remaining freestanding three-tiered, center-aisle chalice-shaped pulpit in America today. The placement of the pulpit confirms the significance of the sermon during Colonial times and it is where it continues to be held at Trinity. With this in mind, it is not surprising that Trinity Church’s mission states in-part that, “Our historic church is a living beacon calling all for worship, fellowship, and growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.”

Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Providence, Rhode Island

With roots that date back to 1832, the parish of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the mother church of the Diocese of Providence, celebrated its first mass in 1838 in what was then a modest church on the same location. In 1847, the church was promoted to “cathedral” when Providence became an independent diocese. From the designs of Irish-born New York church architect Patrick Keeley, plans to build a monumental cathedral began in 1878 and the Cathedral was consecrated in 1889. Its Romanesque style exterior, built of Connecticut Brownstone, graces the Cathedral’s facade, while the interior is distinctly Gothic. The ornate sanctuary, lighted in-part by large illustrative stained-glass windows, has a high, pointed arch, wooden roof and marble walls and floors. The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul’s intentional grand scale and placement within the community reflects the significance the Roman Catholic faith has in Providence.

North Church of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Formally organized in 1671 as “The Church of Christ in Portsmouth”, North Church of Portsmouth’s roots can be traced back to 1638 when the first public worship in town was held. The structure, located on Market Square, was completed in 1855. Seen from most parts of the city, the steeple, as well as the building’s edifice, is constructed in the Italianate style, which references 16th-century Italian Renaissance architecture. North Church has a notable list of members and visitors, which includes: General William Whipple, who signed the Declaration of Independence, John Langdon, signer of the U.S. Constitution and President George Washington. With this in mind, it is not surprising to read that the church’s mission states in-part, “We the members of the North Congregational Church family, a loving and compassionate people of faith, gathered to worship God, accept our responsibility to seek justice for all God’s people.”

St. Mary’s Church, Newport, Rhode Island

Established in 1828, St. Mary’s Church is the oldest Catholic parish in Rhode Island. Designed by noted church architect Patrick Keely along with clergy, this brownstone Gothic Revival style structure was completed in 1852 to meet the spiritual needs of Newport’s growing Irish population. With the sanctuary’s 42 stained glass windows, ornamental woodwork and vaulted wooden hammered beam ceiling, one may certainly bask in the beauty and grandeur of the interior, which can elicit a desire to contemplate the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Trinity Lutheran Church, New Haven, Connecticut

Organized in 1865, Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven is the oldest Lutheran congregation in Connecticut. Its structure is regarded as one of New Haven’s finest examples of High Victorian Gothic, an eclectic architectural style of the mid to late 19th century. Designed by David Russell Brown for the Church of the Redeemer, the building was constructed in 1870 and has been occupied by Trinity since 1916. The sanctuary retains its late 19th century Victorian style. At the front of the church above the altar resides a large stained glass window referencing the rose, which is considered the unofficial symbol of the congregation. With such amenities as a classroom and bowling alley, the church strives to be a beacon or community center for “uniting all people in a common bond of Christian fellowship.”

United Baptist Church, John Clarke Memorial, Newport, Rhode Island

Exiled from Massachusetts Colony in 1637 due to religious beliefs, Dr. John Clarke, a medical doctor and Baptist minister, relocated to what is now known as the State of Rhode Island, which he helped co-found. In the spring of 1638, he and other exiles from Massachusetts gathered to form what is now known as the United Baptist Church. Its current structure, built in 1846, is constructed in the Greek Revival style and its sanctuary reflects the simple elegance of a New England meetinghouse with its high vaulted ceiling and pews. The United Baptist Church not only serves as a place of worship for the Baptist community, but acts as a memorial for Dr. John Clarke. Clarke, an advocate for religious freedom and author of the 1663 Rhode Island charter wrote in it, “that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested [harassed], punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony.” Clarke remained a pastor at the church until his death in 1676.

Emmanuel Church, Newport, Rhode Island

Formed in 1841 by three women who wanted to make the Episcopalian faith available to all who wished to attend, Emmanuel Church began with humble “cottage meetings” in local homes, which had quickly grown to eighty-eight parishioners by 1849. In 1855, the first structure was built to house the Emmanuel Church, and as the parish grew, a new and more permanent building was erected in 1901 and completed in 1902. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram of the architectural firm, Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, its current stone structure is built in the Gothic Revival style referencing the shape of a Latin cross. At the front of the church above the choir seats are oak carvings of faces that represent people of all ages, means and abilities—symbolizing the entire community the church wishes to serve. Through its fervent mission of being accessible to all, Emmanuel Church has become known as “the Church of the people” where the “rich and poor, high and low, great and humble—all worship and work together as friends.”

South Church, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Completed in 1826, South Church also known as the “Stone Church” because of its granite exterior has been a Unitarian Universalist church since 1945. The building, which is thought to have been designed by Jonathan Folsom, is built in the Greek Revival style. Nevertheless, it should be noted that its current interior is in the Baroque style after an 1858 remodel. South Church is one of the first monumental granite buildings to be built in northern New England. On a plaque located on the facade of the building, it states that in 1717 Portsmouth’s first identified black family was baptized by South Church. With this in mind, it is fitting that the Unitarian Universalist church is housed in this very important landmark, as its mission in part celebrates “the worth and dignity of all people.”