Brief History of the Church

The foundation of the Boston Society of the New Jerusalem can be traced back to 1784 and the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston. It was in that year when original members of the church first meet to hear a lecture on Swedenborg by James Glen. In 1818, twelve admirers of Swedenborg organized a Swedenborgian church in the city. Chartered in 1823, the BSNJ is the first Swedenborgian church established in Massachusetts. Members of the church met at several locations before finally settling in 1845 at its present location atop Beacon Hill. The location inspired the name by which many today know the society: the Church on the Hill (Swedenborgian).

Through the years, members of the church included Timothy Harrington Carter, founder of the Old Corner Bookstore; Sampson Reed, mentor of Ralph Waldo Emerson; Lydia Maria Child, writer and abolitionist; Warren Felt Evans, healer; Theophilus Parsons, dean of Harvard Law School; Theophilus P. Chandler, architect; Clarence Barron, a financier who was editor of the Wall Street Journal and president of Dow Jones; George James Webb, hymnologist; and The Honorable Malcolm Nichols, Mayor of Boston.

Interior of the Boston Church of the New Jerusalem in the 1960s. This edifice was razed to make way for the Bostonview Apartments. The BSNJ facility is attached to the apartment complex. A beautiful Gothic Revival structure served the membership until the mid 1960s when it was replaced with a new church facility and an 18-story apartment building. Today, the main sanctuary of the church is accessible from Bowdoin Street.

The BSNJ is the birthplace of the Boston Clergy and Religious Leaders Group for Interfaith Dialogue that was founded by Rev. G. Steven Ellis and Rev. Carl Scovel, rector emeritus of King’s Chapel. The church has also served as a place of worship and meeting facility for other communities of faith in the Boston area. The church organizes and conducts senior luncheons and other social service events. Use of the church is offered to human service and outreach organizations. We welcome you to come and join in the life and spirit of this worthy community.

A devout home (the father was a Lutheran clergyman, and afterwards Bishop of Skara) stimulated in the boy the nature which was to become so active in his culminating life-work. A university education at Upsala, however, and studies for five years in England, France, Holland and Germany, brought other interests into play first.

The earliest of these were mathematics and astronomy, in the pursuit of which he met Flamsteed and Halley. His gift for the detection and practical employment of general laws soon carried him much farther afield in the sciences. Metallurgy, geology, a varied field of invention, chemistry, as well as his duties as an Assessor on the Board of Mines and of a legislator in the Diet, all engaged him, with an immediate outcome in his work, and often with results in contributions to human knowledge which are gaining recognition only now. The Principia and two companion volumes, dedicated to his patron, the Duke of Brunswick, crowned his versatile productions in the physical sciences.

Academies of science, at home and abroad, were electing him to membership.
Conspicuous in Swedenborg’s thought all along was the premise that there is a God and the presupposition of that whole element in life which we call the spiritual. As he pushed his studies into the fields of physiology and psychology, this premised realm of the spirit became the express goal of his researches. Some of his most valuable and most startling discoveries came in these fields.

Outstanding are a work on The Brain and two on the Animal Kingdom (kingdom of the anima, or soul). As his gaze sought the soul, however, in the light in which he had more and more successfully beheld all his subjects for fifty-five years, she eluded direct knowledge. He was increasingly baffled, until a new light broke in on him. Then he was borne along, in a profound humiliation of his intellectual ambitions, by another way. For when the new light steadied, he had undergone a personal religious experience, the rich journals of which he himself never published. But what was of public concern, his consciousness was opened into the world of the spirit, so that he could observe its facts and laws as, for so long, he had observed those of the material world, and in its own world could receive a revelation of the doctrines of man’s spiritual life.

It was now, for the first time, too, that he gave a deep consideration to the condition of the Christian Church, revealed in other-world judgment to be one of spiritual devastation and impotency. To serve in the revelation of “doctrine for a New Church” became his divinely appointed work. He forwent his reputation as a man of science, gave up his assessorship, and cleared his desk of everything but the Scriptures. He beheld in the Word of God a spiritual meaning, as he did a spiritual world in the world of phenomena. In revealing both of these the Lord, he said, made His Second Coming. For the rest of his long life Swedenborg gave himself with unremitting labor but with a saving calm to this commanding cause, publishing his great Latin volumes of Scripture interpretation and of theological teaching at Amsterdam or London, at first anonymously, and distributing them to clergy and universities. Upon his death-bed this herald of a new day for Christianity solemnly affirmed the reality of his experience and the reception by him of his teaching from the Lord.

Swedenborg died in London, March 29, 1772. In 1908 his remains were removed from the Swedish Church in that city to the cathedral at Upsala, where they lie in a monument erected to his memory by the Swedish Parliament. Taken from The Gist of Swedenborg, by William Fredric Wunsch (Swedenborgian Minister)