The First Congregational Church was one of the most influential churches in Albany during the 19th century. In 1852, the First Council or Synod, representative of American Congregationalism as a whole, that had met in England since 1646, took place at our previous church building, with our church being significantly involved. The meeting, known as the Albany Convention, was composed of four hundred and sixty-three pastors, delegated from seventeen states and Canada, called by the General Association of New York “to examine the denominational situation.” Lyman and Henry Ward Beecher were both present.
Spirited debates regarding the slavery question and “the plan of union” between the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches took place. It was at this meeting that the plan of union was terminated to “the mutual satisfaction of both bodies.” A fund of fifty thousand dollars was raised for extension work and the American Congregational Union, later called the Congregational Church Building Society, had its inception in this church. The Convention was also significant for the city of Albany itself, as it placed the city on the front stage of the national and international audiences. The Convention was so significant to the city, that the Common Council of the city ordered that “tan bark be placed around the church during the sitting of the members to deaden the noise caused by the rumble of cart wheels over the cobblestone pavements.”
Today, the Albany Convention is pointed to as the establishment of Congregationalism as a distinct denomination – an outcome that had both national and international impact. The First Congregational Church, although having been moved to a new building, retains this event as part of its history and physically within its archives.
Another significant event associated with the church relates the history of the City of Albany, specifically the construction of the church as a response to the westward expansion of the city.
In the early 1900s, many residents were moving out of congested portions of the city into the “suburbs” located nearby. The result of this was the eventual establishment of neighborhoods such as Pine Hills, Woodlawn, and University Heights. Prior to the church’s 1917 construction, a small chapel had been located on the property to serve those in the area. However, newspapers of the day pointed out that the westward expansion of the city was growing at such a rate that the attendance at this chapel was “challenging the downtown church.” As a result, the 1917 church building was constructed to provide accessible religion to those living in the country. In fact, church members often recalled that city trolley lines would stop at the end of the sidewalks somewhere near the intersection of Lake and New Scotland and approximately two blocks from the 1917 church building.