These Are America’s First Churches — and They’re Still Worshipping

Find out which churches made the list of congregations that have been gathering since the colonial days.

“I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion — for who can search the human heart? But I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

This observation from nineteenth-century French statesman Alexis de Tocqueville mimics the convictions held by most of the Americans tasked with shaping national and state governments in the newly established United States of 1776. After all, when European settlers first came to America in the seventeenth century, many were seeking a new home where they would be able to worship God as they saw fit.

Now, it’d be difficult to drive through any town in America without passing at least one church marquee boasting its congregation as the first — First Baptist, First Presbyterian, First . . . Church. But the following churches are the first of the first. Below is a list of the oldest still-worshipping congregations in each of the original 13 colonies, all of which have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

VA - St. John's
Image courtesy of Nondscript.

Virginia

Name: St. John’s Episcopal Church
Date founded: 1610
Location: Hampton (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 9:30 a.m.
Denomination: Episcopal
Fun fact: Not only is St. John’s the oldest English-speaking parish in America still in existence, but it is also home to the oldest communion silver still used by an American church. The chalice and patens were made in London in 1618.

 

 

MA - First Parish Church
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Massachusetts

Name: First Parish Church in Plymouth
Date founded: 1620
Location: Plymouth (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 10 a.m.
Denomination: Unitarian Universalist
Fun fact: First Parish traces its roots to 1606 when a group of Separatists secretly joined together in Scrooby, England. Some members journeyed on the Mayflower in 1620 as pilgrims seeking religious freedom. The church became Unitarian in 1800.

 

 

NY - Marble Collegiate
Image courtesy of Yale University.

New York

Name: Marble Collegiate Church
Date founded: 1628
Location: New York (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 11 a.m.
Denomination: Dutch Reformed (now the Reformed Church of America)
Fun fact: Marble Collegiate is the oldest Protestant church in the U.S. that has held continuous services, the first of which was performed in a gristmill on South William Street in New York City, which had a population at the time of less than 300 people.

 

 

CT - First Church in Windsor
Image courtesy of John Phelan.

Connecticut

Name: First Church in Windsor
Date founded: 1630
Location: Windsor (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 9:30 a.m.
Denomination: United Church of Christ
Fun fact: The group of Puritans from Plymouth, England that formed First Church originally settled in Massachusetts, but ventured to Connecticut in 1635. The Rev. John Warham, the church’s first leader, preached 24 sermons on Psalm 94:4-6.

 

 

MD - Christ Church
Image courtesy of Acroterion.

Maryland

Name: Christ Church Parish, Kent Island
Date founded: 1631
Location: Stevensville (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Denomination: Anglican/Episcopal
Fun fact: Christ Church Parish moved from Broad Creek to Stevensville in 1880, where it worshipped until 1995 when the congregation outgrew its building. Now, Queen Anne’s County owns the 1880 building, which houses a Lutheran church.

 

 

NH - First Parish
Image courtesy of Jillian C. York.

New Hampshire

Name: First Parish Church Congregational
Date founded: 1633
Location: Dover (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 10 a.m.
Denomination: United Church of Christ
Fun fact: For years after its founding, First Parish was the only church in Dover, and it was supported by general taxation as it served as the meeting place for town, public, and religious gatherings until 1762 when it was incorporated as a parish.

 

 

DE - Old Swedes
Image courtesy of University of Delaware Library.

Delaware

Name: Old Swedes Church
Date founded: 1638
Location: Wilmington (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 9:30 a.m.
Denomination: Episcopal
Fun fact: Also called Holy Trinity, Old Swedes still uses the building erected in 1698, making it the oldest house of worship still in use in the U.S. The church’s pulpit, made of black walnut and donated by church members, is also the country’s oldest.

 

 

First Baptist Church Providence 2012
Image courtesy of Ken Zirkel.

Rhode Island

Name: First Baptist Church in America
Date founded: 1638
Location: Providence (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 10 a.m.
Denomination: Baptist
Fun fact: This congregation, founded by Puritan Roger Williams, is in fact the first Baptist church established in America. Rogers and his flock were all baptized again in 1638 when he concluded that the believers’ baptism was the only valid form.

 

 

NJ - Old Bergen
Image courtesy of Arun De Joe.

New Jersey

Name: Old Bergen Church
Date founded: 1660
Location: Jersey City (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 11 a.m.
Denomination: Dutch Reformed (now the Reformed Church of America)
Fun fact: Prior to the erection of the church building in 1680, the congregation of Old Bergen met in a schoolhouse and was led by a schoolmaster, rather than a pastor, who would read a sermon prepared by prominent Dutch theologians.

 

 

SC - St. Philip's
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

South Carolina

Name: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
Date founded: 1680
Location: Charleston (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 8:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Denomination: Anglican
Fun fact: The current St. Philip’s building was erected in 1838, its steeple designed by E.B. White and targeted during Union attacks on the city. Its bells were melted to make Confederate cannons, but were replaced in 1976 — take a listen here.

 

 

PA - Christ Church
Image courtesy of Scribner’s Magazine.

Pennsylvania

Name: Christ Church in Philadelphia
Date founded: 1695
Location: Philadelphia (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Denomination: Episcopal
Fun fact: Because of the well-known Revolutionary leaders who worshipped here, Christ Church is known as “The Nation’s Church.” Its burial ground is the resting place of Benjamin Franklin and four signers of the Declaration of Independence.

 

 

GA - Jerusalem Lutheran
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Georgia

Name: Jerusalem Lutheran Church
Date founded: 1734
Location: Rincon (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 11:30 a.m.
Denomination: Lutheran
Fun fact: Located along the Savannah River, Jerusalem is the oldest Lutheran church in America, though it traces its origins to Augsburg, Germany. Its red brick building is the only structure left of the colonial town home to the first Salzburger transports.

 

 

NC - St. Thomas
Image courtesy of Zach Frailey.

North Carolina

Name: St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Date founded: 1734
Location: Bath (Map it)
Meeting time: Sundays at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Denomination: Episcopal
Fun fact: St. Thomas is home to the first public library in the colony, thanks to the Rev. Thomas Bray, founder of the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, who shipped some 1,050 books to St. Thomas for use by the isolated clergy in America.

 

 

Think your congregation is older? Let us know and we’ll update the list.

Lead image via Shutterstock.

Corrie Mitchell
Written by

  • Anne Marie Richards

    I see that you chose just one per colony, but there are many houses of worship the survive as active congregations to this day in all of the 13 original colonies. Trinity Church, Newport, RI, where I serve, was founded in 1698 and we still worship in the 1726 building. Also in Newport is the oldest synagogue in the country – Touro, which was founded in 1658.

  • Dondura Paulette Kane Miller

    you did not add any of the Episcopal Churches in Virginia Beach or the one in Portsmouth that was built by and for the black community..ALL of ours are from teh 1600’s!!

  • RevCarleton Borden

    Jerusalem Lutheran Church may be the oldest in Georgia but New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Hanover PA was established in 1717. Their historical marker is 1/4 mile from my house.

  • Bryan Mitnaul

    Eastern Shore Chapel, Virginia Beach (Episcopal)
    was founded as a chapel of ease on the eastern shore of the Lynnhaven River in 1689.

  • Eric Osborne

    First Church in Albany NY was established in 1642. St. Peter’s Episcopal in Albany, NY was established in 1715.

  • Kurt Hill

    St. Like’s Episcopal Church (“Old Brick”) in Smithfield, VA, is the oldest existing church of English foundation in
    America, and is our country’s only surviving Gothic building. The main body of the church was built of brick in 1632, and the tower was built in two stages beginning in c. 1685. It forms a unique
    bridge between the early civilization of our country and the rich culture of
    Medieval England.

  • Kazimierz Bem

    Yes, First Church in Marlborough (Congregational) United Church of Christ, MA – we were established in 1660 and we still worship – 10 AM on Sundays and 9 AM during the summer on Sundays

  • Wylie

    Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Setauket, NY, is an Episcopal church on Long Island built in 1729. It also has a very old silver chalice and patten.