Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

A. Powell Davies

Arthur Powell Davies did not start out as a Unitarian minister. He came to the United States in 1928 from England, as a minister in search of a "freer" strain of Methodism. Once he found his home in the Unitarian movement, he became one of the leading figures in the American Unitarian Association (AUA) and was an advocate for institutional growth and change throughout his career. He advocated for a move away from the view of Unitarianism as just another sect of Christianity, proclaiming, "If we are 'just another Protestant denomination,'then we have no distinction and no justification for larger scale advance. If we are what Channing called 'the universal church' . . . then we must begin to be that church."

Davies was a popular and talented preacher who was greatly involved in the social and political issues of his day. He wrote extensively in favor of the American pursuit of freedom, and when McCarthyism ran rampant through the country, his well-known anti-Communist credibility allowed him to speak out against questionable governmental tactics without calling his own patriotism into question. By the 1950s, he was well established in Washington, D.C. as the minister of All Soul's Church, Unitarian, with influence that extended to several Supreme Court justices and even to the office of the President. Once he had been accepted as a powerful presence in Washington, Davies applied a "change from within" strategy to matters of racial desegregation. He worked to establish an integrated youth club and led a city-wide campaign to patronize restaurants that were racially integrated, while at the same time he maintained his membership in a prestigious whites-only gentleman's club, hoping to influence the power elite through institutional channels.

Meanwhile, under the leadership of Davies, the All Souls Church, Unitarian began spinning off "daughter" churches, planting new congregations throughout the greater D.C. area. He and his wife, Muriel Davies, nurtured these new institutions. His passion for his work kept him from slowing down even after major surgery in 1953. He died several years later, at fifty-five, from a blood clot that resulted in hemorrhaging.