Exterior of the church, built in 1829.

photo by: Caryn Davis

Saving America's Historic Sites

First Baptist Church

  • Constructed: 1829
  • Location: New Bedford, Massachusetts

Since 1829, the First Baptist Church has been a visual and historic landmark in downtown New Bedford; the intact Greek Revival Meeting House anchors one of the four corners of City Hall Square. Its towering steeple was a landfall for whaling ships returning to port and remains an icon today. The Church is known nationally for one of its former members, Lt. Henry Martyn Robert of “Robert’s Rules of Order” fame, as it was at a raucous meeting at the church where the need for such rules became clear. With support from the Waterfront Historic Area League and the City of New Bedford, the current congregation is exploring a partnership with a prominent local theatre company in which each would call the church home and share in the building’s stewardship. This creative partnership is a model for the challenge faced by thousands of congregations across the country who are caring for significant buildings in need of extensive work.

Originally constructed in 1829, and modified in the 1840s and 1850s, the First Baptist Church remains a fine example of Greek Revival architecture. Of the four steeples illustrated on the City’s seal, the First Baptist steeple is the only one that survives. The Church is nationally and even internationally known as the place where “Robert’s Rules of Order” was established. After moderating a particularly chaotic meeting at the church about defending the City’s port, church member Lt. Henry Martyn Robert forever changed how meetings are run around the world through his Rules of Order. Early pastors, including Reverend John Girdwood, are linked to the abolitionist movement, although additional research is required in this area.

Campaign Goals

  • Foster a long-term partnership between the congregation and Your Theatre, Inc., allowing for the rehabilitation, ongoing stewardship, and shared use of First Baptist Church
  • Use the work here to highlight the crisis facing thousands of historic religious buildings across the country and demonstrate the power and success of a shared-use model


Facilitate a shared-use partnership of this historic church in the heart of New Bedford’s downtown as joint worship space for the congregation and performance and support space for a community theatre organization seeking a permanent home.

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