UU Minute #75

The A.U.A. Begins, 1825

After William Ellery Channing had delivered his1819 Baltimore Sermon and after Massachusetts courts had delivered their ruling the 1820 Dedham case, the liberals faced the question whether they ought to organize a new denomination. Our younger ministers sensed an opportunity and were keen to organize so as to better spread their faith. Our older ministers were reluctant. They feared the consequences of sectarianism. Their focus was less on seeking converts and more on moral character, civic virtue, public welfare and philanthropy.

Still, in 1820 a group of ministers met in the vestry of Channing’s Federal Street Church. They organized the Berry Street Conference for the purpose of mutual support and for publishing their ideas.

Within a few years, they began discussion of advancing Unitarianism through an organization devoted to the publication of tracts. At the 1825 May meeting of the Berry Street Conference, it was unanimously decided to organize the American Unitarian Association. A committee drafted a constitution and on 1825 May 26 the American Unitarian Association was born.

As fate would have it, on that very day, the British Unitarian Association was founded in England – though neither side had any awareness that the same thing was happening across the pond.

The American Unitarian Association was not what we think of as a denominational structure. It was an association of individuals who signed up to be members – whereas our current Unitarian Universalist Association is an association of congregations, not of individuals. The original American Unitarian Association was a clearinghouse for publications. Its purpose was to spread the word through print -- rather than to serve and support congregations and co-ordinate their activities.

Nevertheless, it was a start, and its publications were a part of Unitarianism’s growth.

NEXT: Most Favorable to Piety

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