Church History

This collection is a copy of the minutes of an Ecclesiastical Council meeting called in 1699 and 1670, in Newbury, Massachusetts to determine the proposal brought forward by the Newbury First Congregational Church (founded 1635). Ecclesiastical councils are when a local parish or church turns outside the local community for help in determining answers to problems facing the church. Typically these involve the ordaining new ministers through examination by the council or questions of orthodoxy. Ecclesiastical councils in the 17th century were made of Congregational ministers/pastors, and happened relatively infrequently due to the effort of gathering enough ministers to form the council. As with today, ecclesiastical councils of the 17th century lacked any real or hard authority and the local parish was able to reject the council’s findings without any serious consequences, although they rarely did.

The 1669-1670 council in Newbury was called to advise church at Newbury on changing their church governance. Typically Congregational churches were governed by a body called the Council of Elders, a form of republican representation. Elders were usually prominent members of the church, were usually landowners, and were wealthy. Newbury First was interested in moving to a more democratic system of governing through popular vote by hand of all members of the church, thereby removing the elders. The response of the ecclesiastical council was overwhelmingly negative, claiming that such a process was against the Congregational way and promoted popery. Despite this, by 1683 Newbury First had no ruling elders.

Digital Materials

Ecclesiastical Council Meeting Minutes, 1669-1670

Ecclesiastical Council minutes 1669-1670

This booklet contains a handwritten copy of the council minutes made in 1853. Also included in this booklet is a written history of the town of Newbury.