First Baltimore Celebrates Bicentennial of its Founding in February
The First Unitarian Church of Baltimore is observing the bicentennial of its founding on February 10, 1817, in a weekend-long celebration on February 10-12, 2017. First Unitarian is the oldest building in North America built to be and continuously used as a Unitarian church. This Maximilian Godefroy masterpiece of French Neo-Classical design was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972.
The kickoff of the Bicentennial Weekend will begin with a ceremony honoring church founder Henry Payson at Payson's final resting place in Westminster Burying Grounds (519 W. Fayette Street) at 2 p.m. on Friday, February 10 (2-4 pm), including a graveside reading and brief tour of the burying grounds. The gathering will then proceed to the church (12 W. Franklin Street), located at the corner of Charles and Franklin Streets, where a banner proclaiming the bicentennial will be unfurled. Refreshments will be offered afterward in the Enoch Pratt Parish Hall, 514 N. Charles Street. The event is open to the public.
On Saturday, February 11 (9 am- 3 pm), the church's Peace and Justice Ministry will lead a Bicentennial Weekend community service and learning event at Dayspring (1125 N. Patterson Park Avenue), our partner organization in East Baltimore. Dayspring provides housing, substance abuse treatment, and support services to women and their children who have experienced homelessness. Volunteers will carry out routine maintenance projects to refurbish the facility. City and state elected officials have been invited to attend, both to learn about Dayspring and to witness the difference a small group of people can make.
On Sunday, February 12 (2 pm-5 pm), a special Bicentennial Service and Reception will be held. The service will take place in the Church sanctuary and it will be led by the Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Afterwards, a festive reception will take place a few blocks away at the Engineers Club (11 W. Mount Vernon Place), including live music by the New Wave Singers, light refreshments, and commemorative gifts. The service is open to the public. Tickets ($50) to the reception, a fundraiser to help preserve the church's history and heritage for future generations, can be purchased at firstunitarian.net.
First Unitarian will mark two additional bicentennials in 2018 and 2019: the dedication of the Church on October 29, 1818, and the landmark sermon delivered on May 5, 1819, by the Rev. William Ellery Channing at the ordination of First Unitarian’s first minister, Jared Sparks. The sermon, which defined the essence of Unitarianism in the United States and led to the formation of the denomination in 1825, has come to be known as the Baltimore Sermon. Channing emphasized freedom, reason and tolerance and taught that the way we live is more important than the words and symbols we use to describe our faith, a truth that has inspired a commitment to social justice along with theological diversity.
Members of The First Unitarian Church of Baltimore embrace social action, including racial and economic justice, bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender equality, and environmental issues. Historically, its members have provided civic leadership in Baltimore and have led cultural and progressive causes. Past and present members include George Peabody, founder of the Peabody Conservatory, Enoch Pratt, founder of Baltimore’s free library system, George Washington Burnap, a founder of the Maryland Historical Society, Mary Ellen Richmond, a pioneer in the field of professional social work and philanthropy, Judge Thomas J. Morris and Theodore Marburg, peace advocates in the early twentieth century, and Charles Blackburn, one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit for marriage equality in Maryland.