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Guide to the Broadway Tabernacle Church and Society Papers
1835-1980 (Bulk 1840-1970)
  MS 74

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Ruth Mary Pollack and Alex Poole

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on October 19, 2011
Description is in English.

Historical Note

Broadway Tabernacle, a Congregational Church created as a result of the religious upheaval of the 1830s, evolved into an important New York City religious center. Organized in 1836 with the financial help of reformers Lewis and Arthur Tappan as the Broadway Tabernacle Church, the institution boasted Charles Granderson Finney as its first pastor (he also played a key role in designing the building itself), albeit only for one year. After some internal organizational strife, abolitionist Joseph P. Thompson then assumed pastoral duties, guiding the church between 1845 and 1871. In addition to abolitionism (Church members raised funds to defend Africans captured aboard the Amistad and published an anti-slavery newspaper, the  Independent), the Church advocated women's suffrage and temperance; not surprisingly, speakers at the Church included William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth. In this progressive vein, the Church granted women voting rights in 1871. Similarly, it sponsored mission activities globally, as well as educational and religious activities locally. Under the leadership of Charles Jefferson between 1897 and 1930, the Church provided weekly canteens for soldiers during World War I, provided a venue for local theatrical productions during the Great Depression, and once again provided weekly canteens to soldiers during the Second World War. For his part, Jefferson helped establish the New York Congregational Home for the Aged and the New York Peace Society. He later advocated for the League of Nations and the World Court. In 1928 the Church ordained a female minister; when Jefferson left two years later, Allan Knight Chalmers took over pastoral duties. A follower of the Social Gospel, Chalmers served as head of the national Scottsboro Defense Committee and as Treasurer of the NAACP. Finally, he, too, continued his predecessors' tradition of pacifism. Later in the twentieth century, the Church fought for global human rights and embraced the ecumenical movement epitomized by the Second Vatican Council. In fact, the Church became an Open and Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Christ in 1991, thus welcoming all worshippers regardless of their sexual orientation. Members supported Habitat for Humanity and ministered to prisoners, women on welfare, and persons with HIV and AIDS.

As New York City mushroomed in size and in population, Broadway Tabernacle coped with demographic shifts and economic challenges, at times even moving its congregation and selling its land. Ultimately, the Church changed its name and moved its physical location multiple times. More specifically, the Church's members worshipped until 1857 in the Broadway Tabernacle, located on Broadway between Worth Street and Catherine Lane, then beginning in 1859 from a new building at 6th Avenue and 34th Street, then from 1905 on in another new building on Broadway and 56th Street. Its name, meanwhile, changed from Broadway Tabernacle Church to Broadway Congregational Church in the early 1950s, then to Broadway United Church of Christ in 1957. Ultimately, the Church shared space with the Church of St. Paul the Apostle (Roman Catholic) starting in 1970, Rutgers Presbyterian Church starting in 1980, and St. Michael's Church (Episcopal) starting in 1985.

By and large, the Church's organization maintained a dual structure that included the Broadway Tabernacle Church and the Broadway Tabernacle Society. Whereas the Church focused on congregational and religious issues, the Society managed financial, real estate, and legal matters. The arrangement proved durable, lasting well over a century. But when the dual structure was dissolved, Broadway Tabernacle Church became the name used for all aspects of Church life and operation. In 1955, moreover, the name of the Church was changed to Broadway Congregational Church; finally, it became Broadway United Church of Christ, a name that remains in use currently.