In 1640 a group of colonists from Watertown under the leadership of Pastor Edmund Brown settled near the east bank of the Sudbury River. Two years later, the original First Parish meetinghouse was built: one room with a dirt floor and thatched roof. As “Sudbury Plantation” grew, so did First Parish. Three successive meetinghouses were built (in 1652, 1682 and 1725), serving not only as church but also as community center, storehouse, and stockade.
In 1722 the settlers on the west side of the river, plagued each spring by isolating floods, built a second church in Sudbury. The communities separated in 1780: the west side of the river kept the name of Sudbury, and the east side was called East Sudbury (later to be renamed Wayland).
Construction of the present church building was begun in 1814 and completed in 1815. The building conforms largely to a federal model of the architect Asher Benjamin. The original interior had a raised pulpit and side galleries. Interior modifications resulting in the present two-story arrangement were made in 1850. The church bell (which is still in place) was cast by the foundry of Paul Revere and Son. The bell weighs 1019 lbs, according to this list.
In 1815, the Reverend John Burt Wight was called to First Parish. The church adopted the Unitarian position a decade later, under his ministry. During the periods 1839-1840 and 1848-1865, the church’s minister was Edmund Hamilton Sears, a prominent writer, social reformer, and an influential community leader. His famous hymn, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” was written for the First Parish Sunday School.
First Parish takes pride in its heritage. Reminders of our history abound throughout the meetinghouse. We also seek to forward and preserve the vitality of today’s liberal church through worship, theological discussion, social action, and practical service to the community.
Our Archives Committee maintains our records. Click here for stories from our past.