When you visit the Dixwell Avenue Congregational United Church of Christ, whether for a service or an event, there’s an unassuming amount of history surrounding you at every turn.
“A lot of institutions don’t survive 200 and I think it’s a resilience and dedication of the members,” said Margo Johnson Taylor.
Taylor was born into the church and has the task as historian to document the 200 years of the church. It’s a heavy load for the oldest African American Congregational United Church of Christ in the world.
Looking at portraits of the mostly black church leaders hanging in the hall, she talks proudly about how the church was founded by a white man named Simeon Jocelyn in 1820.
“People of color would worship in a predominantly white church, but they weren’t always welcome,” said Taylor. “He and 24 former slaves established our church.”
She shows off a photo of the first building at Temple Street in 1824. She says she remembers walking to church Sunday morning with neighborhood friends. That’s when the church was at the second building at 100 Dixwell Avenue.
Charles Warner Jr. also grew up in the church, in its third and current building on Dixwell Avenue.
“There’s always been a familial feeling here,” said Warner
He says the move from The Green to Dixwell Avenue in the late 1800s was a big one for the black community.
“It was the hub for speeches and socials and musicals,” said Warner.
The church’s community involvement continued over the years, and the impacts of its members are all around the building hanging in portraits, photos and news clippings, from elected officials to local leaders to trailblazers. There’s George Crawford, the first black Yale Law School graduate and Dr. Cortlandt Creed, the first black Yale Medical School graduate.
Members also worked to create cooperative housing.
“It still exists in this area and it's named after her: Florence Virtue,” said Taylor.
Warner said the history of the church made him want to learn more about the people who once sat in the pews.
“It gave me some very strong steel shoulders to stand on,” said Warner. “So for one institution to provide so many leaders speaks to the spirit and influence here in the church.”