UU History Blog
The traditions and theologies which have come to be called Unitarian and Universalist have long been at the root and nexus of the diverse dissident movements of religious and ideological refugees from the more established and powerful religions within the western tradition for centuries, since and before the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. Unitarians traditionally affirmed the unity of God, and in modern terms, might affirm the unity of all that is, or the notion of the interconnectedness of every living being (UU seven principles, cf. #7). Universalists traditionally rejected the ingroup-outgroup moral dichotomy of the “saved” and the “damned” in traditional theology, affirming instead the redemption and redeemability of all. In modern terms, the ideal is often expressed as affirming “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” (UU seven principles, #1).
The adherents of these strands of the UU heritage have often led toward new ethical frontiers in western religious, theological, scientific, and philosophical thought and spirituality in modernity and postmodernity. Unitarian Universalist thought has come to encompass an eclectic and ecumenical appreciation of wisdom from the world’s great religions, from indigenous and kindred spiritualities, and from science and humanism. Modern UUs do not have a creedal set of beliefs or orthodoxy.
This UU history blog will celebrate this varied heritage with illustrations and symbols, using original sources when possible, covering topics, events, and the heroic women, men, and congregations, often considered heretics, facing persecution, suppression, and sometimes becoming martyrs for their dissident faith and spirituality. These brave people struggled for and contributed to these liberating and restorative trends. We will try to draw the veil back on these precursor UU heros, some of whom are scarcely known except through the bitter invective against their by their persecutors. We will discuss these Unitarian and Universalist precursor contributions, among the first in advocating religious toleration, freedom of conscience, libertas philosophandi (freedom to philosophize), free expression, human rights, and early steps toward modern democracy.1 2 UUs have and continue to participate in the ongoing struggle for liberation of religious, racial, sexual and gender minorities, against colonialism, for peace, and for the protection for our planetary environments. We will also celebrate the manifold Unitarian and Universalist contributions to art, architecture, liturgy, theology, biblical criticism, philosophy, education, and science over the centuries.
Our blog will not only post documented vignettes (i) from our tradition’s history over the last 6 centuries, but also from our ancestors, antecedents, and their contributary streams of theology and spirituality from centuries far before, seeking (ii) meditative and spiritual import in these. We will also make mention of (iii) events from time of time of particular dates in UU history. Within this broader span of history, we will also (iv) memorialize people and events in the 138 year life of our congregation and the 128 year history of our red sandstone Gothic revival church in Riverside, including noting obvious, special, unique, and less well-known features of our historic church building. Unitarians and Universalists unified into one organization, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), in 1961, symbolized by the double ring encircling the UU flaming chalice. (In future, we’ll discuss the history and meanings of the chalice).
The UU Church of Riverside has our names reversed instead, the Universalist Unitarian Church, because our founding congregation in 1881, and their congregational descendants for many decades since, were Universalist.
Today in UU history. It is a quiet day in our history to memorialize 130 years ago on May 29th, 1889, the passing at age 50 of Henry Wilder Foote, the minister of King’s Chapel (Unitarian) in Boston. He served at the Chapel from 1861 until 1889, wrote prolifically on Unitarian history, edited Hymns of the Church Universal (1890), and compiled the church biography, The Annals of King’s Chapel.3
1J. Israel (2001). Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; pp. 157-436.
3F. Schulman (2004). This Day in Unitarian Universalist History: A Treasury of Anniversaries and Milestones from 600 Years of Religious Tradition. Boston, MA: Skinner House Books; pp. 100, 103.