Academic Programs 

Writing Congregational Histories   (HI-645)
Fall 2008

Many who are members of religious communities have discovered what interesting histories they possess. But many congregations have neither an intentionally written history nor one that is available and up to date. This course will offer concrete help to those who are either interested in writing the history of their congregation or those engaged in that process. Individual projects will be discussed and building blocks and critical questions necessary to the completion of any project will be offered. Writing congregational histories can be a daunting task, but the rewards are great. Examples of successful projects will be given, as well as important reading assignments.

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 7 and 28, Nov. 18 and Dec. 9

Dr. Ralph Ahlberg 

Contact Information:



Course Syllabus

Aims of Course:

The overall aim of this course is to explore the history of a local congregation. Students will be encouraged to identify and organize historical materials, to analyze complex factors such as how external or outer historically significant theological, cultural and demographic factors have shaped the inner life and decisions of a congregation. More specifically, students are asked to:

  • To research potential sources (archival records, other published and unpublished documents, historical societies, newspapers, etc.) which are necessary for the development of a congregational history.
  • To develop skills in discovering essential clues that shapes a congregation's history.
  • To read previously written congregational histories and analyze their construction.
  • To discern the particular uniqueness or "plot line" of a congregation through understanding its location and by mapping its formal and informal organizational structure and it's sometimes changing mission.
  • To develop an outline or plan for writing.
  • To consider various publishing possibilities.

Required Reading:

James P. Wind: Places of Worship: Exploring Their History.
American Congregations: Volumes 1 and 2:
edited by James P. Wind and James W. Lewis. Studying Congregations: A New Handbook, Edited by Nancy T. Ammerman, Jackson W. Carroll, Carl S. Dudley and William McKinney.
One published congregational history (See bibliography below for available local congregational histories at the Hartford Seminary Library).

Additional Suggested Reading Resources:

Sydney E. Ahlstrom. A Religious History of the American People (1972).
Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff. The Modern Researcher: Fifth Edition (1992).
John Beckett. Writing Local History (2007).
Gary Dorsey. Congregation: The Journey Back to Church (1995).
Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. The Churching of America 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (2007).
David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty. Nearby History: Exploring the Past around You (1982).
James F. Hopewell. Congregation: Stories and Structures (1987).
John J. McCusker. How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Commodity Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (2001).
Steve Wiegand. U.S. History for Dummies (2001).

Course Requirements:

1) Using the congregation whose history you will research, write an introduction which describes its origin, key players and denominational background. Look for the factors that may have led to its early beginnings. This is due on September 16, 2008, the first class meeting. Additionally, develop a timeline of the significant historical markers from its beginning to the present. To be shared with the class October 7, 2008. (All submitted work should be typed, 12 pt. font, double-spaced, 1 inch margins, with proper citations.)

2) Develop an outline for your proposed congregational history listing proposed chapter divisions. Due for class discussion on November 18, 2008.

3) Write one chapter of your congregational history. Due on December 9, 2008

4) Critically read one published congregational history. How did critical points in the larger society such as a war, the Temperance Movement, Civil Rights, etc. impact that congregation? How did such critical points affect your congregation? Illustrate. Due for presentation on October 28, 2008.

Schedule of Topics and Readings:

September 16: Read Wind: Places of Worship, Chapters 1, 2 and 8. Also Wind and Lewis: American Congregations, Vol.2, chapter 1.

Morning: Introduction, Discussion of assigned reading, sharing congregation introduction of origins, which will be due at this meeting. (see above).

Afternoon: A look at Sources/Traces in uncovering a congregation's history.

October 7: Read Wind: Places of Worship, Chapter 3. Develop a timeline of your congregation from its origins to the present. (See Studying Congregations: A New Handbook, Ed. Ammerman, Carroll, Dudley, and McKinney, Chapter 2 for guidance on creating a congregational timeline.) Read Ned Edward's doctoral project abstract.

Morning: Discussion of Critical Questions and sharing of congregational timelines.

Afternoon: Field Trip to the First Church of Christ, Congregational in Farmington, Ct. The Rev. Dr. Ned W. Edwards will describe his doctoral project in using local church history as a methodology within the congregation for understanding and healing.

October 28: Read Wind: Places of Worship, Chapter 4 and American Congregations, V.1, Chapter One.

Morning: Bring samples of potential sources and traces available to you that can contribute to the development of your congregational history. Include published and unpublished documents, significant stories, potential oral histories of key individuals within the congregation, visual documents, such as photographs, drawings and paintings, artifacts.

Afternoon: Presentation and discussion of critical points from your reading of a congregational history. (See course requirement 4).

November 18:
Morning: Read Wind: Places of Worship, Chapter 5 and 6. Bring to class a preliminary outline of your intended history.

Afternoon: Some tips on publishing your local congregational history. Guest: Arto Szabo of the Round Hill Community Church in Greenwich, CT.

December 9: Read Wind: Places of Worship, Chapter 7.

Morning: Be prepared to discuss the question: "Who is the audience, genre and purpose of my intended congregational history?"

Luncheon Celebration at Ahlberg home in East Hampton, CT.

Afternoon: Wrapping up.

Bibliography of Local Congregational Histories available at Hartford Seminary Library. (Note that these are suggestions. Any published local congregational history is acceptable for this course.)

Ahlberg, Ralph E. Holy Granite on High Ground: A 300-Year History of the Second Congregational Church, Greenwich, Connecticut, 2005.

Baker, Robert A. and Craven, Jr., Paul J. History of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina: 1682-2007, 2007.

Cashin, Edward J. Old Springfield: Race and Religion in Augusta, Georgia, 1995.

Kathan, Boardman W. A Church Set Upon a Hill: The Story of the Prospect Congregational Church, UCC 1798-1998 - Prospect, Connecticut, 2004.

McFadden, John T. The Open Door: A History of First Congregational Church: 1850-2000, 1999.

Metzer, Roscoe F. Hezekiah's Children: A History of the First Congregational Church in Bloomfield, Connecticut, 1989.

O'Foran, Shelly. Little Zion: A Church Baptized by Fire, 2006.

Spinka, Matthew. A History of the First Church of Christ Congregational, West Hartford, Connecticut, 1963.

Weld, Stanley B. The History of Immanuel Church: 1824-1967, 1968.


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