New York Society of the New Church records
Language of Materials
The New York Society of the New Church Records document the organizational structure and activities of the Swedenborgian congregation primarily located on 35th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The documents include minutes, reports, correspondence, and printed matter regarding the functions and administration of the Society. These records reveal the ongoing evolution and struggle of the Society and the 35th Street building to endure economic and societal challenges.
Biographical / Historical
The New York Society of the New Church was a Swedenborgian denomination, based on the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). Swedenborg was a scientist who experienced a spiritual awakening that moved him to develop theological and philosophical texts on the nature of the afterlife, the trinity, and the Second Coming of Christ. Ultimately, his ideas inspired other Christians who sought to reform and reinterpret Christianity, and he is credited with the ensuing theological developments as his texts were revelatory turning points, though Swedenborg himself never attempted to establish a church. Swedenborgism, or the New Church, was founded in 1787, after Swedenborg's death. Swedenborg is said to have influenced other writers, philosophers, and cultural figures such as Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and King Carl XIII of Sweden.
According to the New York Society of the New Church's Historical Sketch (1860; in Box 1, Folder 8), the Society was founded in 1816 by Edward Riley, with the help of James Chesterman and Samuel Woodworth. This group of religious organizers was informally active as early as 1812. Earlier locations of the Society include buildings on Pearl Street and 11th Street, but the archival records were created from and document the Society's primary location on 35th Street. The 35th Street location was deeded to the Society in 1854 and construction of the present-day church building began in 1858. The Society, which also is known as the Society of the New Jerusalem and the New York Association of the New Church, occupied the 35th Street location until it ultimately stopped holding services in 2020 due to declining membership, financial struggles, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The church structure remains, though it is unclear whether, as of 2022, it is currently inhabited or maintained by the Society.
A series of construction and maintenance issues exacerbated the financial decline of the church in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Society is described to have been gifted three original lots by James Chesterman in 1854; however, two of these lots were sold by the Board of Trustees when the church was in financial crisis (circa 1990).
The New York Society of the New Church was part of a larger network of regional and national Swedenborgian sects. The archival material reflects ties to New Church societies in Brooklyn, northern New Jersey, and Boston.
Notable clergy who supported the New York New Church include Chauncey Giles (1813-1893), a prolific writer and editor of the New Jerusalem Messenger, also known as the New Church Messenger. For later editions of the New Church Messenger, see Box 3 Folder 12.
The Society was organized by the Board of Trustees and multiple permanent committees and was governed by a constitution and bylaws. The committees included the Church Committee, Ladies Aid Society, Sunday School Committee, Organ Committee, Advertising Committee, and the Flower Committee, amongst other temporary committees. Administrative positions included the Pastor, Treasurer, and Secretary. The overall structure of the Society, and subsequently its documentary record, remains highly consistent from the 19th to 20th century, though this collection does have gaps in that record.
The collection is arranged in rough chronological order, with 19th century records preceding 20th century and a few 21st century records. Within each of those broad time periods the material is presented in the finding aid arranged generally by subject. The physical arrangement does not follow that presentation. The disordered 19th and early 20th century documents were unfolded and foldered and the physical sequence follows the sequence of that work. The later 20th century documents remain in their original folders and sequence as delivered to N-YHS.
Scope and Contents
This collection contains printed materials relating to the Society's function and evolution. The records are in two main time periods and distinct formats: 19th century handwritten records that were folded and bundled according to topic (1852-1917) and 20th century records that were typewritten and stored in labeled folders (1954-2003). There are also several oversized ledgers and scrapbooks (1941-1999).
The day-to-day workings of the church administrators are documented in meeting minutes, periodic reports, and financial records such as invoices and receipts. Minutes include those of the Board of Trustees and the various church committees. There are also foundational documents such as the Society's constitution, bylaws, amendments, trustee election certifications, membership rolls, pledge cards, contracts and real estate documents, ledgers, and weekly "Manuals" that served as service materials for in-person worship. Correspondence around key issues such as the valuation and sale of church property, and resignation or appointment of a pastor, or the establishment of a new committee also appear. The collection also includes ephemera such as broadsides, bulletins, and mailers. Clippings, ephemera, and photographs are contained in scrapbooks.
Materials in this collection are stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit www.nyhistory.org/library/visit.
Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff. Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.
Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit: https://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions
The collection should be cited as: New York Society of the New Church Records, MS 3210, New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The materials in this collection were donated to the New-York Historical Society by Christopher Bonanos in 2022. Bonanos had retrieved the discarded records from outside the New York Society of the New Church's building on 35th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Bonanos described the circumstances on the website Curbed
About this Guide
The collection was processed by New York University archival intern Lia Warner in 2022.