Honoring our UU Identity
(excerpt from Soul Matters; Sharing Circle)
by Leann Pomaville, DLRE
Early History – Who were we?
The two greatest leaders in the early 19th century, Universalist Hosea Ballou and Unitarian William Ellery Channing, lived within easy walking distance of each other and had prominent Boston ministries that overlapped for 24 years, yet they apparently never met professionally or socially, even though they certainly knew of each other.
Thus it was that the two religions were separated, too. Early Universalist preachers were often self-educated and generally preferred to roam the countryside, speaking to small groups about their loving God.
Unitarian ministers of that era all came through the gates of Harvard and became the intellectual and social aristocracy of Boston.
Thomas Starr King, the self-educated son of a Universalist minister, crossed these lines in mid-century by leaving his Universalist post and serving two Unitarian churches, the second of which was in San Francisco during the Civil War. His personal experiences with each denomination qualified him to make a classic observation that noted the difference in attitude between Universalists and Unitarians of his day: “The one thinks God is too good to damn them forever; the other thinks they are too good to be damned forever.”
The Humanist Movement Brought Us Together
Meanwhile, religious humanism had taken steadily stronger root out west, and 1933 was a significant year in its development. Unitarian ministers Curtis Reese and John Dietrich led that movement toward ever greater visibility and understanding, with eventual publication in 1933 of the influential document “A Humanist Manifesto.”
From that point on, the Unitarian context sponsored a very active humanist perspective affirming that our human experience and reason in this world can be the locus of truth and morality. There were also Universalist ministers signing on to the Humanist Manifesto, signaling a growing coherence between them and the Unitarians.
Honoring the Creative Youth Whom Merged First!
In 1954, after several years of joint conferences, the separate Unitarian and Universalist youth organizations disbanded to form Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), with a college-age program called the Channing Murray Foundation (named after the acknowledged founder of each denomination). The LRY Hymn #318, “We Would Be One” (written by Sam Wright, one of the first leaders of LRY), remains in our hymnal as a testimony to the sentiment for merger. It took another 7 years for the rest of our denomination to merge.
“There were Unitarians and Universalists who didn’t like the idea of merging. Perhaps they were worried about losing the distinctiveness of their denomination.”
So they managed to add a provision that not only would a 75% majority be required for passage, but that 75% of the congregations had to participate. Such response and participation for a general vote was so unheard of that the opponents of merger left this assembly peacefully, convinced that they had actually won the day. Well, they didn’t count on the determination—and telephone skills!—of the Merger Commission chair, Universalist minister Raymond Hopkins, who managed to engage more than 90% of the churches and fellowships in the vote, which went for merger by 9:1 among Unitarians and 8:1 among Universalists.”
Who Are We Now?
We are Unitarian Universalists https://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/video