Central Congregational Church, organized in 1852, has a history of over 150 years of Christian witness in Providence, Rhode Island. Its present building, erected in the late 1890's, expresses the neo-Renaissance architectural style of the late 19th century and is symbolic of the spirit of liberty, hope and new life.

Central Church Decorated for Thanksgiving. Photo dated Nov. 21, 1897

Central Church Decorated for Thanksgiving. Photo dated Nov. 21, 1897

Central is a member of the Rhode Island Conference of the United Church of Christ and the national United Church of Christ, a denomination of 1.7 million members.

Central's approximately 600 members come not only from the city but from neighboring Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts communities. With diverse social and economic backgrounds and a wide variety of geographic and denominational origins, Central members are brought together seeking to find God and to follow God's son, Jesus Christ.

A Brief History of Central Church

by John S. Chaney


1852 - Central is established with 82 charter members in response to the need for a Congregational Christian church east of the Providence River. Before he will accept its call, Leonard Swain, D.D., the first minister, requires the newly organized church, whose building on Benefit Street with an E. & G. G. Hook organ, cost just under $59,000.00, be completely free of debt.

1853 - Mission quickly becomes of prominent interest. The treasurer reports a total of giving toward mission for the year of over $4,000.00.

1863 ( circa) The Sanitary Commission, an organization which provides medical supplies and nursing care for the wounded receives support as does the National Freedmen's Association.

1867 - A collection is taken up to be placed at the disposal of "destitute Southerners".

1868 - The first meeting called for women interested in foreign missions in the Congregational denomination in Rhode Island is held in the vestry of Central Church.

1869 - Leonard Swain dies after a prolonged illness.

1877 - The church membership stands at 487.

1880 - The Woman's Home Missionary Society is formed for the purpose of aiding home missions and sending boxes of clothing and supplies to missionary ministers living in all parts of the country. This continues for almost a century.

1882 -  A Roosevelt organ is installed at a cost of $7,093.42 and is the first organ in Providence to be equipped with pneumatic action.

1889 - Edward Caldwell Moore,D.D., of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Yonkers New York, is called to be the 4th minister.

1891- Work begins among the Portuguese in the Fox Point area.

1891-1893 - The church builds a new building, designed by Carrère and Hastings, at the corner of Angell Street and Diman Place. The location reflects the geographic center of the parish.


1904 - The church raises $10,000 and builds “The Portuguese Chapel and Parish House” on Sheldon Street to house the religious and social work it is supporting.

1916-1918 - Sixty seven men, two of whom die, and one woman, from Central Church and the Portuguese Mission serve in the armed forces during WWI.

1917 - Austin Organ Co., Opus 754, is installed. Joseph Bonnet plays the dedicatory recital.

1918 - Arthur Howe Bradford, D.D. is called as the 7th minister. His 34 years of ministry will be the longest ministry to date.

1918 - Central calls Marian H. Jones to be the minister for the Portuguese Chapel and is listed as such in all church publications. Beginning in 1924, she is also listed among the assistant ministers of Central Church.

1922- Pew rental, a method of guaranteeing income, is abolished at the urging of Dr. Bradford, who hopes that doing so will encourage the congregation as a whole to better appreciate the need for everyone to financially support the church.

1935 - The “Social Action Committee”  ( the forerunner to Mission and Action) was formed.

1941-1945 - Two hundred and eighty-three men and women, eight of whom give their lives, serve in the armed forces.

1949 - The Portuguese Mission becomes independent and is established as the Sheldon Street Congregational Church.


1950 - The church becomes involved in refugee resettlement.

1952 - Central celebrates its 100th Anniversary. Dr. Bradford retires.

1955 - The Refugee Resettlement Committee is organized and remains active through 1965.

1957 - The United Church of Christ is formed by a merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and Congregational Christian Churches. Central becomes a member of the United Church of Christ.

1961- Raymond E. Gibson, PhD., is called as the 9th minister.

1964 - The church adopts, at its Annual Meeting, a policy covering a wide range of concerns in matters of race. It begins:" Our church welcomes all persons, regardless of race or color."

1964 - Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co., Opus 1440, is installed in honor and appreciation for the ministry of  The Rev Arthur Howe Bradford.

1968 - "Life-Time Learning", a program for those who in retirement find that "leisure is not enough", starts up, using Central's facilities.

1973 - Central provides the location for the establishment of "Hamilton House", a center for activities and educational programming for people over 55 years old.

1976 - Hospice Care of Rhode Island is formed and its office is located at Central Church. The Bursting Pomegranate, a SERRV mission craft shop, is opened by the Mission and Action Committee.

1979 - The Mission and Action Committee explores the possibility of supporting refugees from Laos. Two family groups will be resettled.

1988 - Rebecca L Spencer, M. Div., is called as the 10th minister, the denomination's first woman who becomes a senior minister without first serving as an associate to the same congregation.

1993 - The Second Century Fund contributes generously toward a Traveler's Aid mobile medical van.

1999 -  The Board of Deacons adopts for inclusion in the weekly Order of Worship: “This church is open to all and welcomes everyone who chooses to worship here. We affirm that all of us are created in God’s image regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental facility, economic circumstance or physical condition.”


2002-2003 - Central celebrates its 150th Anniversary with special events and services through the program year.

2003 - A gift from Central member, Darrell West, author, political scientist, and political commentator establishes an annual lecture the topic of which is to involve the intersection of politics and religion.

2007- Responding to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Reverend Claudia Demick, associate minister, organizes a group of Central members and friends to go to New Orleans to assist in the rebuilding process.  This ongoing mission will involve over 30 individuals, many repeat volunteers, from seven different states.

2010- Central becomes a Global Mission church.

2011 - The United Church of Christ acknowledges Central's status as "Open and Affirming".

2012 - Central staffs an informational booth at RI PrideFest. Members of Central march as part of the religious institution contingency in the parade.

2013 - Church membership stands at 661. Faith at Central is both active and vibrant. Membership in Sunday School and in church continues to grow, this during a time when many churches are losing members.

From 1852 through today, there have been three constants at Central. They are: message, mission, and music. MESSAGE. The message is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed weekly from the pulpit and reiterated during child, youth, adult learning, and social activities. MISSION. Since its founding, Central has remained seriously committed to mission, locally, nationally and internationally. MUSIC. Central strives to continue its heritage of musically offering up to Almighty God only the best of what we have to give.