Churches: merged, disaffiliated and dead

As I wrote yesterday, one of the UUA backends has — if you know how to look — references to churches that are “not constituent[s]” though I suppose they must have all been thus at one time.

Since the larger list includes Canadian congregations (not listed here) that departed around Canadian Unitarian Council autonomy in 2003, this list has to be at least that old.

Which is also to reinforce that not all of these are dead. I see at least one Universalist church (Rockwell, Windsor) that has come and gone over the years. So also I can image a couple of community or federated churches doing fine outside the UUA.

But the rural and small-town Universalist churches and the marginally placed Unitarian fellowships are surely gone. Two were intentionally African-American-focused starts. (T.H.E., Atlanta and Sojourner Truth, Washington, D.C., which was long gome before I moved to D.C. in 2000.) The hardest to see is Epiphany, Fenton: the hoped-for firstfruits of a new age of Christian church planting. Others surely feel the same way about Panthea Pagan, Hoffman Estates. I’ll miss Muttontown’s sheep banner at General Assembly.

But many more are simply mergers. I recall the two in Flushing, Queens continue as one. Two in Minnesota. Saugus recently merged with First Parish, Malden. Oregon City’s merger even has a note online. Perhaps, too, the references to Dayton, San Diego and San Antonio?

Comments (and clarifications) welcome.

“‘Not a Constituent Congregation'”,City,State
Guadalajara Unit. Univ. Fellowship,Guadalajara,Jalisco
Seward UUs,Seward,Alaska
Coronado UU Church,Coronado,California
UU Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast,Mendocino,California
U. U. Fellowship Southern Marin,Mill Valley,California
Aliso Creek Church,Mission Viejo,California
U U Fellowship of the Ojai Valley,Ojai,California
Channing Society of Orange County,Orange County,California
The Chalice Unit. Univ. Church,Poway,California
U. U. Inland North County Fellowship,San Diego,California
Unit. Univ. Fellowship of Friends,San Diego,California
All Souls Unitarian Church,San Juan Capo,California
UU Fellowship of Leisure World,Seal Beach,California
UU Fellowship of Aspen,Aspen,Colorado
Darien-New Canaan Unit. Society,New Canaan,Connecticut
UU Fellowship of the Farmington Valley,Simsbury,Connecticut
Sojourner Truth Congregation of UUs,Washington,D.C.
U. U. Fellowship of South Dade,Homestead,Florida
Eastside UU Church,Miami,Florida
Thurman Hamer Ellington UU Fellowship & Ministry,Atlanta,Georgia
Rockwell Universalist Church,Winder,Georgia
Glenview Unitarian Fellowship,Glenview,Illinois
“Panthea Pagan Fellowship, UUA”,Hoffman Estates,Illinois
Universalist Church,Waltonville,Illinois
Sauk Trail Unit. Univ. Fellowship,Crown Point,Indiana
UUs of Northern Kentucky,Lawrenceburg,Indiana
UU Fellowship Johnson County,Prairie Village,Kansas
UU Church of Hopkinsville,Hopkinsville,Kentucky
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship,Ruston,Louisiana
First Universalist Society,Brownfield,Maine
Seneca Valley U. U. Fellowship,Gaithersburg,Maryland
First Federated Church,Beverly,Massachusetts
First Parish Unitarian Church,East Bridgewater,Massachusetts
UUs of Lowell,Lowell,Massachusetts
First Parish UU Church in Saugus,Saugus,Massachusetts
U U Fellowship Northern Berkshire,N Adams,Massachusetts
Church of the United Community,Roxbury,Massachusetts
First Unitarian Church,Stoneham,Massachusetts
First Unitarian Church,Ware,Massachusetts
U. U. Fellowship of Saginaw,Bridgeport,Michigan
First Universalist Church,Concord,Michigan
Epiphany Community Church UU,Fenton,Michigan
First Unitarian Church,Virginia,Minnesota
Burruss Memorial Universalist Church,Ellisville,Mississippi
Universalist Church of Westbrook,Concord,New Hampshire
Community Church,Dublin,New Hampshire
Dorothea Dix U. U. Community,Groveville,New Jersey
U U Gloucester County Congregation,Turnersville,New Jersey
Unit. Univ. Fellowship of Burlington County,Willingboro,New Jersey
First Universalist Church,Dexter,New York
Hollis UU Congregation,Flushing,New York
Unitarian Universalist Church of Flushing,Flushing,New York
Universalist Church of the Messiah,Fort Plain,New York
First Universalist Church,Henderson,New York
Unitarian Universalist Church,Lockport,New York
Muttontown UU Fellowship,Muttontown,New York
First Univ. Church Schuyler Lake,Schuyler Lake,New York
U. U. Fellowship of Fayetteville,Fayetteville,North Carolina
First Unitarian Church,Dayton,Ohio
Miami Valley Unitarian Fellowship,Dayton,Ohio
U. U. Society Western Reserve,Kirtland,Ohio
Community UU Congregation,Tulsa,Oklahoma
Unit. Univ. Community of Cottage Grove,Cottage Grove,Oregon
Valley Community U. U. Fellowship,Newberg,Oregon
Atkinson Memorial Church (merged),Oregon City,Oregon
Boones Ferry U. U. Congregation,Oregon City,Oregon
Unitarian Fellowship of Bucks County,Fountainville,Pennsylvania
Venango Unit. Univ. Fellowship,Franklin,Pennsylvania
First Universalist Church,Woonsocket,Rhode Island
Brookings Unit. Univ. Fellowship,Brookings,South Dakota
First U U Fellowship Hunt County,Greenville,Texas
Community UU Church,San Antonio,Texas
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship,San Antonio,Texas
The Old Brick Church,East Montpelier,Vermont
Jenkins Unit. Univ. Fellowship,Chesterfield,Virginia
Lewis Clark Unitarian Fellowship,Clarkston,Washington
UU Congregation of Grays Harbor,Hoquiam,Washington
Fork Ridge Universalist Church,Moundsville,West Virginia
UU Fellowship,Buenos Aires,
Tokyo Unitarian Fellowship,Tokyo 106-0032,

25 Replies to “Churches: merged, disaffiliated and dead”

  1. As to San Diego’s Inland North County UU Fellowship: “Chalice UU Congregation is the result of a merger between two former UU churches—the Inland North County UU Fellowship and Chalice UU Church—and serves the communities of Poway, Rancho Bernardo, and Escondido.”

  2. Shocked and saddened to see the Hopkinsville, KY church on the list. It was the last Universalist church in KY (Consolation Universalist was the other one that survived merger). Sometimes it seemed Hopkinsville pulled themselves forward, and at other times it looked grim. Sad to know they finally folded.

    I thought Dexter, ME was still open.

    Miami Valley Fellowship in Dayton simply moved to another town. It still exists, but did merge with 1st Unitarian Dayton.

    The Universalist Church in Moundsville, West Virginia still exists as a kind of family chapel in a burial ground. More tied to kin, than to denomination/tradition. Seasonal worship services, plus the sporadic wedding or funeral.

    Universalist Church in Concord, MI closed in the mid-1990’s. Building was given to the local historical society. They’ve kept it in excellent condition, and largely unchanged with its lovely box pews. A “Universalist Christmas Service” is conducted there each December, often featuring as preacher somebody from the nearby East Liberty Universalist Unitarian Church. The service raises money to provide needy families with Christmas assistance.

    The Old Brick Church in Vermont continues but solely within the UCC.

    Epiphany Community Church in Fenton, MI is the one I personally mourn. I was a member there from 1998 till it closed in 2009. Its absence is a hole in my heart.

  3. PS – The Waltonville, Illinois church continues to exist; but left the UUA to become a right-of-center, Protestant, community church. Not a huge shock, since much of southern Illinois Universalism was grounded in a kind “No-Hell Baptist” theological culture. The merged UUA and its later theological evolution never made sense to that community, which might have been more along the lines of Jimmy Carter style evangelicalism.

  4. I served the Dexter (NY) and Henderson NY Universalist Churches as a student at St. Lawrence, as did my father-in-law, John Wells, and scores of SLUTS students. Both of them are now property of and occupied by Historical Societies. At graduation (1965), my colleague Adolph Weidanz (who did not last in Fellowship very long) took them on as a yoked charge. Attendance in Dexter averaged about 30, in Henderson it was 0-16. They survived as long as they did only because of the presence of the Theological School and its students.

  5. Interesting that Chesterfield, VA, used to have a UU congregation; that’s the county that’s trying to limit public meeting prayers to Christians. Probably not the most hospitable environment.

    Some years before this list probably was begun, there was a humanist oriented UU-afiliated fellowship in the northern suburbs of Chicago that closed down. Members began attending various UU congregations and some went to the Ethical Society. Sorry, the name of the fellowship just does not come to mind now.

  6. I have a keen and sad interest in the First Federated Church in Beverly, MA, because I serve the remaining UUA-affiliated congregation in that town (which is historically Unitarian). My understanding from conversations with folks here in town and at the successor church, and from peering through the UUA’s archives is that the First Universalist Church in Beverly suffered a catastrophic fire in the 50s. They sought to merge with another congregation, and may or may not have been interested in First Parish (the local Unitarians) – but a clause in First Parish’s bylaws essentially prevented merger with any other congregation for any reason (if such was accomplished, the endowment and all real property of First Parish were to revert to Harvard Divinity School). The Universalists merged with a local congregationalist church to form First Federated, which was affiliated with the UUA for 40 years or so. But they weren’t making new Universalists, and after the last one died, they ended their connection to the UUA and to Universalism as an identity, idea, or set of values. Today they are the Church in the Cove, and a member of the NACCC.

  7. Nowadays there is a vibrant emerging UU fellowship one hour from Guadalajara in Ajijic, it’s the Lake Chapala UU Fellowship, but UUA bylaws now state that no applications from congregations abroad will be considered. So they are a local node of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, and are associated to Mexico City’s Libre Congregación Unitaria de México to be part of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, ICUU. So they are active and growing, but won’t be counted in the UUA member congregations list.

  8. For UUA purposes, they are different congregations. (Perhaps a re-start, like I suggested about Fayetteville.)

    The one on the list is church #5931, and was founded in 1994. The current one is #6036, founded in 2002.

    Certainly dormant congregations (like Stafford, Vermont) can be revived and they reclaim their founding date. So this suggests a break and a new start.

  9. I think I may have deleted a thought: that the current Fayetteville group (emerging) is distinct from the one that closed.

  10. The UU Society of Western Reserve was the name of the now East Shore UU Church in Kirkland, OH. That church moved from Painesville, OH to Kirkland and changed the name back in the 80s or early 90s.

    The Moundsville church folded as a congregation years ago, we have pictures of the last reunion at my home church in Bellaire, OH. There are 5 board members left who contacted the OMD about possibly taking on the building a while back, but nothing ever came of that. From what they told me at that time, the building is not used for anything anymore.

  11. Lake Chapala UU, as Francisco Javier Lagunes Gaitán notes above, is a vibrant UU fellowship, about 45 minutes south of Guadalajara (which is a much larger city), and probably ought to have it’s own fellowship. I preached there twice in March, and they are a great group– primarily retired Canadian and American ex-pats.

    Also, Northwest Community UU Congregation (Houston) and HD Thoreau Congregation (Stafford, TX), dissolved their congregations last year, and became new campuses of the First UU Congregation of Houston– now one church in three locations: Copperfield, Museum District, and Thoreau / Stafford. Both smaller fellowships had been in decline. Thoreau lost half their members in 4 years; NWCUUC had lost half their members in a year– mostly due to logistical considerations they had no control over. Now, all 3 campuses are thriving and have the benefit of part or full time fairly compensated UU ministers.

    Just up the road from Waltonville, IL is the Mt. Vernon UU Fellowship, which is an “emerging fellowship” and has been going for a number of years. It was a ‘new start.’

  12. The Virginia MN church merged formally with the members of the former Alango MN church [whose building had burned down many years before] and together they chose a new name — Mesabi UU Church, Virginia MN. They are still meeting in the First Unitarian Church building in Virginia.

  13. Alarming as it is, this kind of coming-and-going is not unique to our own lifetimes. Boston itself is littered with the relics of U and U congregations that thrived for awhile. Less well known is its proud heritage of short-term community ministries, all over Boston itself, innovating in polity and ministry. Some were “chapels” maintained by established congregations, some were “Sunday Schools,” some were “institutional churches” (what we would now call “Missional Ministry,” most notably the lamented Channing House which served upper Dorchester in the early 1900s. Universalism had a similar diversity of polity, size, and lifespan, as ably recorded by David Johnson.

    Samuel Eliot had an antipathy to these innovations and devoted his life to homogenizing our polity and ministry precisely because it was not homogenized when he took the reins in 1900. As we examine his contributions to who we are, I would hope that we would examine ourselves for remnants of his insistence on “the one true type.” We can recognize its evil in his work on ethnic cleansing for Native Americans, but perhaps we need to look couple with that, the less dangerous but no less judgmental concept, “Polity Cleansing.”

  14. There are some patterns I see in the list. A loss of rural historically Universalist churches. A loss of congregations with distinctive Christian, Humanist, or Pagan identities. And a loss of multi-denominational congregations. Perhaps all represent a larger consolidation of UU culture: more urban, more interfaith with less room for distinct congregational pathways of faith (Humanist, Christian, or Pagan), and with less capacity for ecumenical partnerships with liberal mainline Protestants.

  15. Miami Valkey is still going strong in centerville, OH–a Dayton suburb. And First Dayton merged with it many years ago. Epiphany lost its way when they could not successfully bridge from the founders dreams to the next group of leaders, despite talented ministers. Yup, that was sad. Hopkinsville KY dreamed of new possibilities and made a major real estate purchase just as the recession hit, mortgaging their historic building as collateral. Another sadness.

  16. Aliso Creek and All Souls (San Juan Capistrano) have merged together as Tapestry. Many of the members from Leisure World have moved on to Tapestry and other neighboring congregations. This is also presumably true for the Channing Society. I am aware that the Coronado UU Fellowship is still hanging on.

    I wonder if this is withering (is that an apt word/) is due to demographic shifts in the UUA. If we look to where momentum is going, we see our urban churches growing–particularly with young people and people of color. While our fellowships are losing members faster than they are bringing them in.

    It could be that the Baby-Boomer model of fierce independence (which thrives better in a fellowship setting) is being replaced with a more Millenial model of collaboration and interdependence (which thrives better in a programmatic, mid to large size, parish model).

    I think we are going to continue to see small churches adapt to a multi-cultural, multi-modal worship tradition with a mission-based growth model (or face the continued contraction of myopic, independent fellowships).

  17. Dear Scott,
    Dorothea Dix is still vibrant and located in Bordentown, NJ.
    Unitarian Fellowship of Bucks County is most likely now the BuxMont UU Fellowship in Warrington, PA

  18. I just read your blog after searching for a Universalist church in Leisure World, Seal Beach, CA. I am so done with organized religion. Oh well, maybe one day…

  19. Scott, there’s no need to miss old Muttontown’s banner; here it is in all its sheepish glory – ! I still have it; it was created (double-sided) by the late Will Farrington, probably ca. 1990. Sam, III (fomer MUUF Pres.)

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