UUFP—Past/Present/Future: “Fellowship”

“UUFP—Past/Present/Future”
is a collection of stories
about UUFP’s formative years and
its ensuing perseverance in purpose, mission and ministry.
Grow in Wonder – Connect in Love – Engage in Service – Inspire Generosity

One morning in 1947, Lenore Stewart of Boulder, Colorado, discovered that her four-year-old son was going door-to-door asking the neighbors if they would take him to church.  Mrs. Stewart had herself grown up a Mormon, but in rejecting that faith had told her son that if he wanted to go to Sunday school, he would have to find someone else to take him.  Well, there he was: looking for someone else to take him to church.

Now Mrs. Stewart had heard enough about Unitarianism from a friend to think that it might offer the sort of religious education she’d like for her son, but the closest Unitarian church was in downtown Denver.  That was too far to go on Sunday mornings, but she did ask the advice of First Unitarian’s minister, who suggested that the American Unitarian Association might be able to provide materials to help organize a new congregation closer to her in Boulder.

Mrs. Stewart’s request made its way to the desk of AUA President Frederick May Eliot, where there would have been one of those “light bulb” moments.  After all, in the late 1930s, Eliot had chaired an AUA commission charged with figuring out what could be done to revitalize a lackluster Unitarianism, and one of the recommendations had been to create lay-led congregations just about anywhere that ten liberally religious people could be brought together.

In the late 1940s, two factors allowed the American Unitarian Association to begin an intentional program of planting such congregations throughout the United States.

First, the post-war baby boom was creating a demand for liberal religious education for children.  Church attendance generally was on the rise, too, thanks to messages from civic leaders about the moral importance of religious observance as a society.

And second, for the Unitarians specifically, there was the Church of the Larger Fellowship.  Not a physical church as such, it had been founded as a “post office mission” to serve those Unitarians who were otherwise isolated from regular congregations, and it had something quite precious: a big mailing list.  Monroe Husbands, who was secretary of the Church of the Larger Fellowship at the time, was given a budget to travel around the country, meet with prospective lay leaders and charter new congregations, which were called fellowships to distinguish them from churches that had ministers.  Thanks to Mrs. Stewart, the first such lay-led congregation to be officially recognized was the Unitarian Fellowship of Boulder in 1948, and over the next twenty years, more than three hundred more were chartered, very nearly doubling the number of Unitarian congregations in all.  And the Fellowship Movement, as it was called, did particularly well here in the Southeast, creating almost four times as many congregations as had previously existed.

The banner year of the Fellowship Movement was 1958, when a total of fifty-five new fellowships were chartered.  More of those congregations still exist than from any other year.  One of them was called the Unitarian Fellowship of the Peninsula, what has now become the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula.

Post a comment

Print your tickets