While I was noodling through the 1939 records of the Universalist General Convention, I saw a description in the Directory (under New York) to the Prescott Neighborhood House, sponsored by the Church of the Divine Paternity, Manhattan, New York, now known by its parish name, Fourth Universalist.
I didn’t know there was Universalist settlement work that late — and indeed, it wouldn’t last much longer. But remarkably for Manhattan, the building is still there and this article gives the highlights of the mission, the building and the controversy over its closure.
A friend asked if the church in the header was Universalist. Indeed it is, or was. That is Universalist Meeting House, Hingham, Massachusetts. The image, now in the public domain, was extracted and hosted a Flickr.
This is the original source, The History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts.
Counter to the prevailing opinion, I’m not a fan of church banners that highlight social or political issues — they seem to soak up the energy and capital that might be applied directly to the need — but if you do put one up, make it big and out of reach.
In my neighborhood, at the Church of the Pilgrims (Presbyterian), Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. It just went up.
This is a first thought, because it will make my next blog post — about communion ware — make more sense.
When we think about what it means to be “churchy” we’re often — but not exclusively — talking about tastes and norms set by “the Ecclesiologists,” meaning that medieval-focused, Romantic movement that overwhelmed the Church of England in the nineteenth century. For them, there was one correct style appropriate for Christian churches — in a word, Gothic — whether that meant fully expressed in stonework, or vernacularized into the carpenter style. Think of pointed stained-glass windows. Why did this style cross the Atlantic and denominational lines? The prevailing taste, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and the perhaps nothing so pedestrian as who the church architects and suppiers were. (This isn’t an original thought, and I’ve seen it in a few places, most recently in chapter two, “Capital Ideas: Building American Churches, 1750-1860.” of James Hudnut-Beumler’s In the Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar.)
There are noteworthy examples of Gothic Unitarian and Universalist church buildings, but so as not to lose the point: the creation of a common vocabularly of taste that’s hard to buck, save with variations, like the engrossed domestic style the Universalists seemed to favor, or the (later favored) colonial revival the Unitarians of Boston imposed on the Western churches who wanted financial support. And the less said about the post-war community centers hiding in their own private parksor forests — the newer UU norm — the better.
Of course, those days may be declining: not a particular style or fashion, but the ability of churches to chose the shape of their buildings at all. I can all to easily imagine borrowed, rented or shared spaces being a part of the survival strategies of Unitarian Universalist (and other) churches in the all-too-soon future. Consider how many newer congregations meet in office parks or retail space.
Is short, design will have to be expressed in ways other than the building, and without the influence of an eccumenical community of tastemakers. It will be interesting what we come up with, and if we appeal to older and more humble models.
Several years ago I sent you a link informing you of the sad demise of the Gardiner, Maine Congregational Church (UCC), formerly the First Universalist Church — one of the handful of congregations that elected to affiliate elsewhere rather than be part of the UUA merger. This article, from [the May 2] Augusta Kennebec Journal, tells of what is about to become of the lovely old meetinghouse.
I appreciate the news. I hate to see churches die, but since the conversion by a cider maker will preserve the attractive building, I can’t complain.
I saw something clever when Husband and I vacationed in Toronto this summer. We passed by a United Church of Canada parish church — a huge edifice, with what I guess is historically small congregation. But they did something smart to make it seem welcoming and lively. Something other urban churches could do.
On the church sign, which many pedestrians would pass, you would see a panoramic photograph of the church interior, taken during a Sunday service. So while I dimly recall the grey stone — or was it dark brick? — of the church, I recall the warm interior view well enough to write about it now…