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Old South Church celebrates its 350th anniversary

A 1904 photo of Copley Square, with the Old South Church tower on the right.
A 1904 photo of Copley Square, with the Old South Church tower on the right. (The Boston Globe Archive)

The Old South Church hit a major milestone this week that not many organizations can say they’ve reached: 350 years of existence.

“Our church has lived through slavery, wars, epidemics, financial crisis, natural catastrophes,” said senior minister and CEO Nancy Taylor. “I think the leaders, over 350 years, have been adaptable and have focused on the mission of the church.”

The Old South Church started back on May 12, 1669, when those who formed it wanted to break away from the First Church in Boston due to disagreements over church membership, according to Globe archives from 1922. It was named the Third Church in Boston, and later became known as the Old South Church.

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The church, located on Boylston Street near Copley Square, celebrated the church’s “Year of Jubilee,” with about 700 people on Sunday morning Taylor said. This is a Judeo-Christian tradition that focuses on transformation and happens every 50 years, she said.

“It’s an accounting, a taking stock, a looking back, and a resolution to be about a world in the future that is fairer and finer and a more just world than of the present,” Taylor said.

The celebration started off with herald trumpets, which showed that they are “turning the page and the chapter is closing and the new chapter is opening,” she said.

Old South Church is known for its importance in holding the meeting for the Boston Tea Party at the Old South Meeting House near Faneuil Hall, one of its early locations, and for being the first Christian church in Boston to hold a same-sex marriage ceremony when it became legal in 2004. It moved to its current location in 1875.

The church has always had a “progressive” bent, Taylor said. Notable members of the church include Samuel Adams, poet and freed slave Phillis Wheatley, and Benjamin Franklin, she said.

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Taylor said while the church recognizes that some of its forebears “have done some things, some of which we’re not proud of,” the church believes the past is something to learn from. That attitude, she said, is one reason for the church’s long life.

“One of the keys to longevity is looking to the future and using the past as springboard and not as something to idealize,” Taylor said.

The celebrations continued on Sunday with an interfaith ceremony, including representatives of the Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i, faiths — and a party with “Boston’s best busker,” Keytar Bear, Taylor said.

Those who went were given stickers that said, “Old Souther Ready for the next 350!”

With 350 years of history, the church has plenty of history to guide it, Taylor said. “There’s a tradition of justice and peace and public good that we inherit from the past and hopefully carry on to the future.”

“We’re a church that is constantly changing and ready for the future.”

 Governor Deval Patrick, Episcipal Bishop M. Thomas Shaw and Frank Schaefer, former Methodist minister, were recipients of the Open Door Awards during Pride Morning Worship at Old South Church in Boston in 2014.
Governor Deval Patrick, Episcipal Bishop M. Thomas Shaw and Frank Schaefer, former Methodist minister, were recipients of the Open Door Awards during Pride Morning Worship at Old South Church in Boston in 2014.(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/file)

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @breannekovatch.