UU Minute #109

Henry Bellows Organizes Unitarians

The American Unitarian Association – A.U.A. – established in 1825 – started out as not much more than a clearinghouse for a few Unitarian publications. It was not even an organization of congregations, but of individuals – mostly ministers – who joined.

Forty years later, it’s 1865. Rev. Henry Bellows, our minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan, had, during the Civil War, organized the US Sanitary Commission to provide medical care to the sick and wounded soldiers. With the war over, Bellows turned his organizational energies to whipping this slack bunch of religious liberals into shape.

Unitarianism was stagnating. There'd been no growth for decades. Bellows organized the first ever national Unitarian conference. Invitations went out to every congregation: send your minister and two delegates. Over 200 congregations were represented at the Conference held in New York City. The Conference approved raising $100,000 for denominational purposes – serious money in 1865 -- and those funds ended up founding new churches and supporting Unitarian seminaries.

Interestingly, that 1865 conference also proposed union with the Universalists. It would take 96 more years before that happened.

Bellows wanted us to more effectively get the word out about who we were. Believing that adopting a statement would help, he introduced one that said Unitarians are "disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ" devoted to “the service of God and the building-up of the kingdom of his son." Many of the delegates were not so sure about that. Unitarians had always been noncreedal, and they wanted to keep it that way.

Henry Bellows’ motion passed with a thin majority, but the dissenters did not give up. It was the first round of a battle Unitarians would have for the next thirty years.

NEXT: The Free Religious Association

No comments:

Post a Comment