Print / View Finding Aid as Single Page

New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the New York Society of the New Church Records
 MS 3210

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

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Lia Warner

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on October 13, 2022
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

The New York Society of the New Church was a Swedenborgian denomination, based on the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Swedenborg was a scientist who experienced a spiritual awakening that moved him to develop theological and philosophical texts on the nature of the afterlife, the trinity, and the Second Coming of Christ. Ultimately, his ideas inspired other Christians who sought to reform and reinterpret Christianity, and he is credited with the ensuing theological developments as his texts were revelatory turning points, though Swedenborg himself never attempted to establish a church. Swedenborgism, or the New Church, was founded in 1787, after Swedenborg's death. Swedenborg is said to have influenced other writers, philosophers, and cultural figures such as Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and King Carl XIII of Sweden.

According to the New York Society of the New Church's Historical Sketch (1860; in Box 1, Folder 8), the Society was founded in 1816 by Edward Riley, with the help of James Chesterman and Samuel Woodworth. This group of religious organizers was informally active as early as 1812. Earlier locations of the Society include buildings on Pearl Street and 11th Street, but the archival records were created from and document the Society's primary location on 35th Street. The 35th Street location was deeded to the Society in 1854 and construction of the present-day church building began in 1858. The Society, which also is known as the Society of the New Jerusalem and the New York Association of the New Church, occupied the 35th Street location until it ultimately stopped holding services in 2020 due to declining membership, financial struggles, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The church structure remains, though it is unclear whether, as of 2022, it is currently inhabited or maintained by the Society.

A series of construction and maintenance issues exacerbated the financial decline of the church in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Society is described to have been gifted three original lots by James Chesterman in 1854; however, two of these lots were sold by the Board of Trustees when the church was in financial crisis (circa 1990).

The New York Society of the New Church was part of a larger network of regional and national Swedenborgian sects. The archival material reflects ties to New Church societies in Brooklyn, northern New Jersey, and Boston.

Notable clergy who supported the New York New Church include Chauncey Giles (1813-1893), a prolific writer and editor of the New Jerusalem Messenger, also known as the  New Church Messenger. For later editions of the  New Church Messenger, see Box 3 Folder 12.

The Society was organized by the Board of Trustees and multiple permanent committees and was governed by a constitution and bylaws. The committees included the Church Committee, Ladies Aid Society, Sunday School Committee, Organ Committee, Advertising Committee, and the Flower Committee, amongst other temporary committees. Administrative positions included the Pastor, Treasurer, and Secretary. The overall structure of the Society, and subsequently its documentary record, remains highly consistent from the 19th to 20th century, though this collection does have gaps in that record.