Heritage Site of the Founding of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church
The former Tremont Street MEC was the site of the founding of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS) of the Methodist Episcopal Church by eight women who braved a stormy day, March 23, 1869 to meet together at the urgent call of the Mrs. William (Clementina) Butler and the Mrs. Edwin W. (Lois) Parker. Though small in number these courageous women voted to move ahead with the formation of a Society of women to minister to women in foreign countries. They called a second meeting, one week later, to solidify the organization and elect officers. Thus, the (WFMS) of the ME Church was organized despite opposition from the parent Missionary Society of the MEC, based in New York City.
On the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Society, stained glass windows, honoring the eight women who first came together to organize the Society, were placed in the back of the sanctuary above the gallery. In the 1940s at the instigation of Clementina Butler’s daughter, Clementina (a missionary herself), and with the support of the pastor, Azariah Reimer, a number of other windows, honoring the founders of the Society and the first two missionaries to be sent out – Isabella Thoburn and Dr. Clara Swain – were also placed in the church. In addition each of the existing eleven units of the WFMS across the country also paid for a window to be placed in the sanctuary. Finally, there are two windows dedicated to the New England Deaconess Association which was founded just around the corner from the church.
In the 1970s due to unusual circumstances, this extremely historic building, of significance not only to the New England Conference, but also to the denomination as a whole, was sold to the New Hope Baptist Church – an African American congregation. This congregation recognized and respected the historic significance of the building to The United Methodist Church and had carefully maintained the windows dedicated to these early courageous women.
Unfortunately, due to the high cost of maintaining this large, historic building coupled with the lack of parking available, a few years ago the New Hope Baptist church made the difficult decision to sell the building and relocate elsewhere. After the sale to a housing developer, all the windows were removed and placed in storage. In the spring of 2015 the church determined that they would donate whatever stained glass windows were desired back to the New England Conference and The United Methodist Church. To date, ten windows have been reclaimed.
The New England Conference Commission on Archives and History and the New England United Methodist Historical Society have claimed the two original windows, placed in 1889, listing the names of the original eight women who met and made the decision to move ahead with founding the WFMS. Boston University School of Theology has claimed the two windows honoring Isabella Thoburn and Dr. Clara Swain, along with windows honoring Mrs. Bishop Osman C. [Mehitable] Baker, the first President of the WFMS; Dr. William and Clementina Butler [one of the first eight women involved in the founding of the WFMS]; their daughter, Miss Clementina Butler [who assisted in raising funds for the windows in 1940]; and Harriet Fairfield Warren, the first editor of the publication of the WFMS. In addition, they have claimed the window honoring Miss Mary Lunn, and the Deaconess Hospital, founded in Boston.
Finally, the Deaconess Abundant Life Communities in Concord, MA, have claimed the second deaconess window, dedicated to the earliest leaders of the Deaconess Association in Boston, which will shortly be placed in their chapel. Plans are still in progress for displaying the windows at Boston University and the two now owned by NECCAH/NEUMHS.
In addition, the windows from the sanctuary paid for by the eleven units of the WFMS along with a number of windows dedicated to the early pastors of the former Tremont Street MEC are being made available to any interested parties across the denomination. When all of the windows in which anyone is interested in have been claimed and all are finally on display, a brochure will be developed and made available for anyone interested in viewing these historic windows.
In the meantime, the church building itself is in the process of being reconstructed into high-end condominiums, but since the building is located in the historic South End of Boston, no changes can be made to outer façade. The original historic site marker still remains next to the front door on the Worcester Street side of the building. Since the building now houses private residences, it is no longer possible to visit inside.
Taken with permission from Heritage Landmarks: A Traveler’s Guide to the Most Sacred Places in The United Methodist Church, by the General Commission on Archives and History. For more information, see http://www.gcah.org/research/travelers-guide/site-of-the-founding-of-the-womans-foreign-missionary-society-of-the-method