Our History

ASBC roots go back to 1845 giving it a rich historical origin. Take a journey and discover all the elements that make our church so all inclusive and life affirming.

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Our History


Our Congregation

First there were three, now there is one. . . All Souls Bethlehem Church is the coming together of three historic Brooklyn congregations, representing three historic liberal denominations. There are (you guessed it!) three old church buildings in Flatbush which we have left behind, and we are now worshipping together in a house church, which we are quickly outgrowing.

The First Universalist Church of Williamsburg (in Brooklyn) was founded in 1845. It eventually took the name All Souls Church, and moved to suburban Flatbush in 1905. The first Disciples church in NYC was organized in 1810, and a Park Slope congregation moved to Flatbush early in this century, creating the Flatbush Christian Church. In the 1890's, the Evangelical Synod started a mission to Germans in Flatbush, which in 1906 became Bethlehem Evangelical Church. A generation ago (after the Synod became part of the United Church of Christ), Bethlehem UCC merged with the Flatbush Christian Church to form Bethlehem United Church. This church merged with All Souls Universalist Church in 1998 to form All Souls Bethlehem Church. We maintain affiliation with each of those denominations. For a more detailed history of how we came to be, read on!

John Robinson

John Robinson was the minister of a band of Separatists (English Protestants) who settled in Holland to escape religious persecution. They offended the English government because of their radical idea that religious commitment and belief should be voluntary, a personal decision, rather than being enforced by law. Many of them later migrated to New England, and the first group to sail, landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, are known to us as the Pilgrims. Robinson was not able to sail with them, and died shortly thereafter. At his sermon bidding the Pilgrims farewell, he spoke these bywords of a faith which is open to ongoing revelation: "God has yet more truth and light to reveal."

The Pilgrims are the spiritual ancestors of two of our related denominations. The church they founded at Plymouth in 1620 became Unitarian in 1820. But most of the churches that grew out of the Separatist migration were Congregational and are now part of the United Church of Christ. [Return to top]

The Unitarian Universalist Association

In the last quarter of the 18th century, a revival in New England was led by John Murray, who preached that all humanity was saved through the event of Jesus' life and death. Salvation was universal. Thus the name "Universalists." By 1850, there were a thousand Universalist churches, mostly in small towns and cities in the Northeast. Clara Barton was a Universalist, and in 1862, the Universalists were the first denomination on the national level to approve the ordination of a woman. (Founded by Universalists: Tufts and St. Lawrence Universities.)

In the early 19th century, the established churches of Massachusetts split over the question of original sin. The "liberal" churches took the name Unitarian, while the "orthodox" churches retained the name Congregational. Unitarians emphasized independent thought and religion without creeds. (Established Harvard and Washington Universities.)

In 1962, these two denominations merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Association's home page is at www.uua.org. [Return to top]

The United Church of Christ

The UCC is a liberal Protestant denomination formed in 1957 by the merger of most Congregational Christian Churches with the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The denominational home page is at www.ucc.org.

Congregationalists trace their American roots to the Pilgrims at Plymouth (1620) and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay (1630). They constituted much of the Abolitionist Movement, ordained the first woman minister (1853), and the first openly gay minister (1972). Colleges founded: Yale, Dartmouth, Williams, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, Wellesley, Middlebury, Bowdoin, Oberlin, Grinnell, Pomona, University of California, Howard, Fisk, Atlanta, etc. The Congregational churches merged with a small group of Christian churches (described below) in 1931. (Colleges: Antioch, Elon.)

The Evangelical and Reformed Church was formed by the 1934 merger of the German Reformed Church and the Evangelical Synod. The 20th century theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich were ministers of this (merged) denomination. The German Reformed Church was brought to Pennsylvania in the 1730's, and the Evangelical Synod was founded by immigrants from the Palatine region of Germany who settled largely in the Missouri Valley in the 1840's. (Colleges founded: Franklin and Marshall, Ursinus, Hood, Elmhurst.) [Return to top]

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

In three different locations (Western PA, NC, New England) revivals broke out around 1800 emphasizing the Bible as the sole basis for faith and conduct, the right of each individual to interpret the Bible for him or herself, the rejection of human-made creeds, and the simple unity of all Christians. At first they called themselves simply "Disciples," but later took the name "The Christian Church." The denominational home page is at www.disciples.org. (Colleges founded: Transylvania, Texas Christian. . .) [Return to top]


All Souls Bethelehem Church, Brooklyn, NY 11218-5902

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