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Our History and Heritage in Honor of the UUA's 50th Anniversary

Our Heritage and History

Our roots reach back long before Unitarians and Universalists (UU) co-created the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Our faith has been shaped by the likes of third century heretics Origen and Arius, sixteenth century non-Trinitarians Francis David, Faustus Socinus and Sebastian Castellio.

More recently Channing, Parker and Emerson, de Benneville, Murray and Ballou, Clara Barton and Thomas Starr King excited the religious imaginations of 19th Century Americans.

Some of us still active in the movement are fortunate enough to have known Frederick May Eliot and Dana McLean Greeley, Sophia Fahs and Angus MacLean, Clarence Skinner and James Luther Adams. We have been blessed by the rich and varied legacy left to us.

We are challenged to chart our course for the next 50 years by asking ourselves

  • What were the hopes and dreams for this union?
  • How realistic were they?
  • Where have we fallen short?
  • What can we take from our past to help create our future?

Before and After Consolidation

Though our similarities always outweighed our differences, Unitarians and Universalists failed several times to join ranks from as far back as the mid-19th century.

  • In 1947, a Joint Commission was formed that led to a vote in which nearly 75% of Unitarian and Universalist congregations approved the formulation of a plan for federal union
  • In 1953 the Council of Liberal Churches was formed, taking on the previous AUA-UCA functions of religious education, publications and public relations
  • By 1956 a Joint Merger Commission was appointed. Some were dead set against merger: Universalists fearful of being “swallowed up” and Unitarians suspicious that it would stunt their growth
  • In early 1960, merger was soundly approved by both Unitarian and Universalist societies.

With the UUA’s formal start in 1961, pre-merger fears and suspicions were set aside. Many local Universalist and Unitarian congregations had, on their own, merged years earlier. The old urban-rural, humanist-theist, large church-small church, issues receded, as more significant challenges emerged: the Vietnam War, racial justice and black empowerment, poverty and class, the status and rights of women, gay and lesbian rights, and a greater openness to diversity in its many forms.

There is lasting truth in the words of the hymn, Rank by Rank: “What they dreamed be ours to do,” as we draw strength from the witness of our forebears to advance in our own time the UU vision of a world of freedom, peace and justice.

Historical Documents

For a historical record of the events of the merger and its ramifications, please see the resources we've posted on the Historical Documents page.

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This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.

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