Part 1 of Rev. Stephen Furrer’s History of ESUC will focus on the state of Unitarianism in the years immediately following World War II and how Rev. Lon Ray Call (ESUC’s first Minister) launched this congregation—and over a hundred others across the USA.
“The Fellowship Movement”
Between 1946 and mid-1967 the Unitarian Universalist Association designed and ran the most effective outreach/missionary program in its long history, the Fellowship Movement. (On July 1, 1967 the “Fellowship Office” was folded into the Growth & Extension Office). ESUC was organized (“gathered,”) and certified in the midst of the Fellowship Movement. The way (the process by which) ESUC became a congregation, though unique, was similar in many ways to hundreds of other UU groups that came to birth in that era… and it’s worth knowing about.
One of the principal tasks that interim and developmental ministers are encouraged to undertake—i.e., key focus points—is Heritage; i.e., helping the congregation become familiar with and appreciate its history—both the high points and the low. But to understand ESUC’s history it’s also important to understand its pre-history: the context out of which it arose. Ergo, today’s sermon.
1946: ½ Unitarian Congregations were East of the Hudson River
AUA was short of money and short of ministers
President Frederick May Eliot and Minister-at-Large
Lon Ray Call proposed a radical new extension
policy: lay led groups (WA connection – his 2nd
wife was from Spokane. AUA Minister at large
Origins: “house churches” – Early Church
Non-established churches during the Reformation
Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses: no professional clergy
1793 – the Unitarian Joseph Priestley
19th century – the Universalist Quillen Shinn –
started churches throughout the South
- George Rogers (Pennsylvania)
Lon Ray Call remembered how several small KY churches “had been kept going for years on end by laypeople without benefit of clergy.”
1945 – Newly created Fellowship Office at AUA
Monroe Husbands (born in Spokane)
Gathered CLF clusters
Ran ads: Unitarianism anyone? (Ulbrich p. 12)
1946: Boulder, CO (Stillwater, Beaumont, San Gabriel Vy, Ames)
Focused on college towns and out West
Spin-offs (DC, Vancouver, Asheville, LA, Denver, Dallas)
Monroe Husbands’ travels (Johnny Appleseed of Unitarianism)
600-800 fellowships started between ’46 & ’67
Early in this period—1948-1950—this congregation was born. Many of the fellowships established in the late ‘40s and ‘50s were, from the get-go was caught up in political concerns.
In1950 an amendment to the California state constitution was proposed that would require all religious institutions to sign a loyalty oath or lose their tax-exempt status. The demand for a loyalty oath already applied to all California public employees, but this was the first time in the history of the United States that a government imposed such an oath on a religious group. It was passed by referendum in 1952. Most churches signed the oath, but the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley and a few other Unitarians, Methodist, and Quaker congregations refused to sign. Their tax-exempt status was revoked, until 1958 when the California Supreme Court declared the oath unconstitutional. Many western Unitarians worked for major defense contractors and were signatories of the same oath at their workplaces, so the issue was pretty much by-passed wherever possible. Like among Boeing employees here in Washington.
As it happened, here in Bellevue many of our early members were doctors, teachers, and other professionals—not engineers. The Lake Washington Floating Bridge was dedicated in the summer of 1940. This opened up Mercer to residential development and soon, several members of the University Unitarian Church in Seattle were living there. Wrangling their many baby boom children into their Sunday clothes and across the water was a serious ordeal; soon the idea of starting a Sunday school on the island took hold. A local schoolhouse was rented and on the first Sunday of October 1948 classes began with twenty-five children enrolled. Simultaneous Adult Discussions were held. As interest grew arrangements were made for Unitarian ministers from Tacoma (Harold Shelley) and Seattle (Josiah Bartlett) to come and lead fortnightly Sunday afternoon or evening worship services.
In August of 1949, Lon Ray Call (AUA Minister-at-Large) talked the founders into moving to Bellevue where a larger population could be reached. On October 2 (69 years & 2 days ago) Rev Call preached his first sermon at Green’s Chapel of the Flowers. Services tended to focus on social, ethical and moral issues and sought to integrate head and heart and hands, which appealing to both seekers and skeptics. The fellowship grew rapidly and within a matter of months, it assumed the status of a church.
But I will go into all that in another sermon on ESUC history this coming winter. For now I want to focus on the Fellowship Movement that spawned this church—the movement’s strengths and it’s particular legacy today.
Many people attracted to UUism in the ‘50s were looking for institutions where they could practice public virtues (expressed in social justice work—these are almost impossible to practice alone.)
The FELLOWSHIP Movement, as noted earlier, spawned its own particular CULTURE.
Worship Style (even the word “worship” was problematic)
- Highly intellectual
- The politics of “Passing the collection plate”
- Why did so many fellowships adopt a “fundamentalism of the left?”
- Come outers rejected even the idea of religion. (Unitarian Universalism is an alternative religion, not an alternative to)
- ‘50s & ‘60s: clash between authority & autonomy
- By the ‘70s UUism recovered its respect for the sacred, the transcendent and for expressing dimensions of being other than the intellectual.
Newcomers & Growth – deep ambivalence
UUSNFC (W. Redding, CT) – no sign on Rt. 7
Attachment to small size, ownership, & intimacy
Resistance to changes & financial responsibilities that come with growth
But smallness has disadvantages, too
Precarious (burn out, loss, no critical mass)
UUism does not proselytize
BUT we have an obligation to welcome the stranger
religious faith is not a private matter—if we’re serious
Attitudes toward Clergy – UUism has a strong libertarian streak
Come outers reacting against authoritarian clergy
“Back door” ministers – often turned out badly
1st Ministers expected to do everything Which was the case with
ESUC’s first minister: Chadbourne Spring
East Shore Unitarian Church did not avoid becoming a church, but many did. More on how it was that ESUC quickly and successfully made that transition from fellowship to church next time…
But generically, the issue typically was:
Building or Minister first?
52 years after the end of the Fellowship Movement:
40% survive (323; half with at least part-time ministry)
Over 2/3 in Washington State (Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Bremerton, Edmonds, Kirkland, Marysville, Olympia, Pasco, Port Angeles, Westside Seattle, Shoreline, Vancouver, Vashon Island, and Yakima) versus 4 pre-1946: (University Unitarian, Spokane, Blaine, and Tacoma) Another eight have been organized sine ’66. And Des Moines is a special “resurrection case.”
It’s worth keeping in mind that many of the issues congregations born of this era struggle with are systemic.
In conclusion: You have a radical, inspiring legacy here. This congregation came to birth amazingly! And it didn’t just happen; it was the result of thousands of hours and many gifts of members’ physical and financial resources. In a couple of weeks I will pick up the ESUC Story by sharing a particular aspect of our history: the Story of Holly House. How did it enter the picture? And when?
Then this winter I’ll do a follow-up on today’s address by sharing some of the harrowing (and not-so-harrowing) adventures of the congregation’s early years. My efforts will be made all that simpler with all of your help: After the Congregation for the Homeless vacates the space a month from now, I hope to put up a TIMELINE in the along one of the walls in the Education Building the upon which you all invited to add your own two cents. This is all designed to help you all get in touch with and truly appreciate what makes East Shore Unitarian Church special and unique… so that you can keep on keepin’ on with the same clarity of vision and the same commitment to high ideals that brought the congregation to birth seventy years ago. So may it be. And May Blessings Abide. Namaste.