College Street Church was organized as the Third Congregational Society on July 21, 1860. The first public service was held on September 9, and their Rev. George Safford was installed as Pastor on December 9, 1860.
Forty-five of the original 52 members came from first Calvinist Congregational Church. Among them were the president and faculty of the University of Vermont; three participants in the Underground Railroad; the principal of the Burlington Female Seminary; and editors at the Burlington Free Press. They were free thinkers and activists brought together by the issues of slavery and women’s rights.
Construction of the church building began in the spring of 1863 on land given by Mrs. Eliza Buell and her brother Henry. Services were held in a chapel in the basement beginning on January 15, 1865. The building was dedicated on February 7, 1866. In 1874 the bylaws were changed to increase the number of deacons from three to six and to specify that henceforth half of the number of deacons would be women. The name of the church was formally changed in 1888 to the College Street Congregational Church.
Community service and social justice have been ongoing ministries of the church. Members of the church founded a home for Civil War orphans (Baird Center), a home for unwed mothers (Lund Center), a home for elderly women (Converse Home), the Sara Holbrook Center, and Meals on Wheels.
In 1931 discussions were held regarding a possible merger among College Street Church, the Unitarian Church and First Congregational Church. A vote taken at a joint meeting with the Unitarian Society resulted in a tie, after which it was decided to withdraw from any further discussion on merger with either Church. The College Street Congregational Church became part of the United Church of Christ in 1961.
In 1985, serious consideration was again given to the future of the church. After a number of meetings involving all members, it was again decided that the church had a unique identity worth preserving. With renewed spirit and commitment, the church set out to revitalize its Christian fellowship. Enthusiastic support of several major fund drives made possible repairs and restoration of the building.
In 1994 the church declared itself an Open and Affirming church, adopting the following statement:
College Street Congregational Church hereby reaffirms its openness to people of all faith or in search of faith, without regard to race, age, sex, economic condition, disability or sexual orientation. We invite all people to share in the worship, life, leadership and employment opportunities of the church.
In 2013, a fire burned down the steeple and caused significant damage to the sanctuary and classrooms. The sanctuary and classrooms were restored in 2015, and the steeple restoration was completed in 2016. One positive aspect of this tragedy was that Temple Sinai invited us to worship at their synagogue, helping us live into the breadth of God’s love for God’s world. We are also deeply grateful to the people of Burlington for all the support they have shown us in the restoration process.
College Street Church today is alive with God’s gifts and strong in the hope that God will lead us into new ways of being church, while continuing to call us to make a difference in the community and in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Burlington and around the world.