The First Congregational Church was organized in 1836.The first worship was held in the Broome County Court house in September 25 of that year. The congregation continued to worship there until a building was erected on Chenango Street near the present First Presbyterian Church site. By 1860 the congregation had grown to about 600, but because of financial difficulties (and a very popular minister in the Presbyterian Church) the church building had to be sold.
The Present Day Sanctuary is Built
After almost 10 years of meeting at various sites, the present sanctuary was erected in 1869 on the corner of Main and Front Streets. A number of members were not happy to have the church “so far out of the city”! The church prospered in its new location and by 1885 it had to be enlarged. The columns on either side of our sanctuary (the original location of the side walls) were installed and the walls on either side moved out for more seating.
Late 1800’s to the 1950’s
During the late 1800s and early 1900s the church was the site of a number of gatherings of Congregational churches. A regular forum was also held that attracted speakers such as Civil War hero Major General Oliver Howard and Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Many of these events were standing room only.
By the end of World War II membership was around 1200 people. In the late 1950s after a lot of debate on whether to sell the property and move to the suburbs or remodel, a decision was made to stay at the present site. The old church house structure was taken down and the present building was built onto the sanctuary. During the national bicentennial celebration, the church bell was removed from the steeple and installed on the front lawn. The bell cast in 1836 is 50% larger than the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
From the 125th Anniversary to Now
In 1961 the congregation celebrated the 125th anniversary and voted to become a member of the newly organized United Church of Christ. During the second half of the twentieth century the church became very active in community outreach. This is reflected in the call letters of our local public TV and radio station, WSKG, so named in honor of our then pastor, the Rev. Dr. Stanley Keil Gambell.
The end of the 20th Century found many “main line” churches having difficulty with falling membership and theological disputes. First Congregational was not spared from these problems and also had a number of pastors for short periods. In 2007, First Congregational Church joined in conversation with First and West Presbyterian churches to consider merging. After two years of discussion, First Congregational voted not to join the merger. In 2009 the congregation voted to be an Open and Affirming church.
With the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Arthur Suggs, and Rev. Janet Abel there is a renewed energy in the congregation, and we listen for and hear that GOD IS STILL SPEAKING!