In 1928, soon after graduation from the Divinity School at Harvard, James Luther Adams, Leslie Pennington, Frank Holmes and several other men in the greater Boston area began meeting at Unity House for regular discussions. At first they prepared papers on topics of their own choosing and read them to the group. It proved too individualistic and fissiparous. To escape this genre they assigned common readings, a practice which remains a distinctive feature of the group. As the discussions deepened, the men moved from afternoon meetings to gatherings of two and three days duration. By the summer of 1930, a week's seminar was held at Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire.
In 1934, an expanded group prepared three papers on "The State of The Unitarian Fellowship," for presentation at the Ministers' Institute at Greenfield, Massachusetts, from which event the group takes its name. In the same year, the annual fall retreat at Senexet House in north east Connecticut was held. By the end of World War II a pattern of spring and fall retreats was established and continues to this day.
During these years, Jeffrey Campbell, the first African-American member, joined Greenfield Group and always enlivened discussions with his socialist viewpoint and renditions of "Trotyskite Mama" and other socialist songs in free time. Dorothy Tilden Spoerl was the first woman to be asked to join Greenfield Group. This began a slow but consistend change in the group from the "old boys network" to a much more open and fluid way of being. The number of women members has continued to grow as more women have entered the ministry. The road has not always been smooth as the nature of the group shifted with the growing numbers of women. Margot Campbell Gross has written eloquently about a bump in the road toward a healthier organization. By 2007 there were, as often as not, more women at meetings than men.
Since its inception, the group has served over 150 clergy, providing an opportunity to discuss common themes twice a year. An archive of all the papers and responses presented to Greenfield Group is maintained at Andover/Harvard Library at Harvard Divinity School.
The group met for many years at Senexet House in Woodstock, Connecticut, at The Commons in Peterborough, New Hampshire, then at Our Lady of Peace in Naragansett, Rhode Island. When that retreat location closed, the group moved to La Salette Retreat Center in Naragansett, Rhode Island. In
2009, the group moved to a fully accessible retreat site in Greenfield, New Hampshire, the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center. There were a number of other sites where Greenfield met as it was looking for a new-long term home. Only those places which Greenfield Group would call home for a period of time are featured in our history of retreat sites.