First Church In Jaffrey UCC is one of the oldest congregations in the Monadnock Region. Over the generations, this congregation has evolved to serve the changing spiritual, educational, and cultural needs of the surrounding community.
THE MULTIPURPOSE MEETING HOUSE
When the middle Monadnock area was opened for settlement around 1750, the land grant specified that shares must be set aside for “a Good Convenient Meeting House near the Town Center” along with land for a settled minister, support for the ministry and a school. All would be funded by taxes. When Jaffrey qualified for its town charter in 1773, a town meeting confirmed these requirements. ” By June 1775 the wall frames were raised into place while the cannon roared at the distant Battle of Bunker Hill. The impressive white building provided space for the First Congregational Church, which was formally organized in 1780 and called its first settled pastor, Laban Ainsworth, in 1792.
BUILDING THE BRICK CHURCH
When the 1819 NH Act of Toleration cut the ties between church and state (taxes would cease funding the churches by 1831), the Congregationalists, the Baptists, and the Unitarians had to share the Meetinghouse space with each other and with town meetings. This arrangement pleased no one, and the Baptists and Congregationalists started to plan their own buildings. Work on the Brick Church adjacent to the Jaffrey Meetinghouse began in 1831 and was completed the following year. Jonas Melville, nephew of Rev. Laban Ainsworth, led a successful fundraising effort. The Brick Church was finished in 1832 and continues to be our home.
ADAPTING TO A CHANGING COMMUNITY
People, mills, and other businesses started to move to downtown Jaffrey (known then as East Jaffrey) along the Contoocook River in the 1830s and 1840s. In December 1849, 23 members of the First Church in Jaffrey asked and received permission to leave First Church and organize the Jaffrey East Orthodox Congregational Church. Jonas Melville again applied his fundraising skills to build a church on Main Street, which is now the United Church, UCC.
GROWING TO MEET NEW NEEDS
Thanks to a donation of land adjacent to the church, a parsonage was built in 1877. The parsonage initially had an attached barn, in the New England style. This barn with loft evolved into a carriage house, a garage, and then a small meeting room. Minor improvements continued in the 1950s, but the limitations of the structure became apparent. Fundraising and planning began in 1969 for a major renovation that would include a pastor’s study, classrooms, and proper stairs. In 1977 the Parish Barn became the Parish House.
CHANGING WITH THE TIMES
The sanctuary underwent a complete redecoration in 1956, when the light style returned (during the Victorian 1890's the style was dark). Pews and interior shutters were again painted off white, and the walls soft peach. Much of the sanctuary’s structure that we see today dates from this renovation. In the 1970s, peach was changed to a soft gray, brass chandeliers were installed, pew cushions, recovered, and new chairs were designed for the altar area by Bradford de Wolfe, an architect and summer resident. In 2017, the front pew and the choir rail were removed and the carpet repaired to make the space more flexible for services and concerts.