Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York

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Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York
Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York is located in Manhattan
Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York
Location within Manhattan
General information
Location160 Central Park West (at W. 76th St.)
Coordinates40°46′43.2″N 73°58′27.7″W / 40.778667°N 73.974361°W / 40.778667; -73.974361
AffiliationUnitarian Universalist Association
View from 76th Street

The Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York is a congregation within the Unitarian Universalist Association located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It is the last surviving of seven Universalist congregations in the city, founded on the belief of universal salvation that emphasized the love of God for all people. Today, the congregation is non-creedal, welcoming a diverse range of religious beliefs and practices.

The congregation began in 1838 as New York City's fourth society devoted to the Universalist faith (the previous three were founded in 1796, 1830 and 1832, respectively). The congregation's original name was Friends of the Final Restitution and in 1848, it changed its name to the Church of the Divine Paternity. It officially took the name of Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York in 1967. Over the years it has attracted notable personalities such as P. T. Barnum, Horace Greeley, Oscar Hammerstein II, Louise Whitfield Carnegie, Lou Gehrig, and Barbara Gittings to its pews.[1]

Interior of Sanctuary, Front
View from Central Park West

In 1898, the congregation built its current home, dubbed "the Cathedral of Universalism," at West 76th Street and Central Park West on New York City's Upper West Side. The architect, William Appleton Potter, based the design closely upon Magdalen Tower, Oxford, and buildings at Magdalen College. In 1993 Robert A. M. Stern and his co-authors described the church as "one of the few buildings to break from Central Park West's prevailing Classicism."[2][3] A rare design in English Perpendicular Gothic, it received praise from notable architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, whose daughter was married at the church. The church houses several significant artistic works, including an altar by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a bronze relief sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a mosaic by R. H. Robertson, and stained glass windows by Clayton and Bell of London. The organ was donated by Andrew Carnegie and his wife, Louise Carnegie, the latter who was a member of the church.[4] Originally designed and constructed by the Hutchings-Votey Organ Company of Boston, the organ was rebuilt and revised by the Ernest M. Skinner Company.

In the 1980s, the congregation received inquiries from developers eager to obtain the church's choice property location. Instead, the congregation joined with community activists, preservationists, and neighbors to form Save Our Universalist Landmark (SOUL) and successfully raised funds for maintenance and capital improvements. In return for these funds, the church promised not to exercise its development rights for a certain number of years, one of the first such agreements of its kind.[5]

The congregation is known for its commitment to social justice, notably through its support of environmentalism, the LGBT community, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The church tower, dedicated by the congregation to peace and named "The Peace Tower of New York City," is used by NBC each November as its "high-tech command center" for live coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.[6]

On May 1, 2016 the congregation called the Rev. Schuyler Vogel to become its next Senior Minister. In February 2017, the membership voted unanimously to become a sanctuary congregation to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. Several weeks later, the building was vandalized by swastikas and hate speech, an incident that garnered national media attention.[7] In March 2018, the congregation accepted Aura Hernandez into sanctuary, an undocumented mother who had fled an abusive relationship and gang violence in Guatemala. Her case received coverage by the New York Times, Democracy Now!, and The Nation Magazine.[8][9][10][11]

List of Ministers of the Fourth Universalist Society:[12][edit]

Interior of Sanctuary, Back
View From Central Park
  • 1838–1840: William Whittaker
  • 1840–1843: Isaac D. Williamson
  • 1843–1845: Moses Ballou
  • 1846–1847: Thomas Lake Harris
  • 1848–1880: Edwin Hubbell Chapin
  • 1881–1902: Charles Henry Eaton
  • 1902–1919: Frank Oliver Hall
  • 1919–1925: Joseph Fort Newton
  • 1927–1929: Charles Francis Potter
  • 1929–1938: Frank Oliver Hall
  • 1938–1941: S.E. Gerard Priestley
  • 1941–1943: Eleanor G. Collie
  • 1943–1954: Benjamin B. Hersie
  • 1955–1956: Albert F. Ciarcia
  • 1957–1958: Raymond J. Baughan
  • 1959–1967: Leonard Helie
  • 1968–1973: Richard A. Kellaway
  • 1973–1974: Arlin Roy
  • 1974–1984: Joel Schoelfield
  • 1984–1985: Charles A. Howe
  • 1985–1987: Joyce H. Smith
  • 1987–1989: Robert A. Kaufmann
  • 1989–1999: Darrell Berger
  • 1999–2001: Richard Nugent
  • 2001–2014: Rosemary Bray McNatt
  • 2014–2016: Susan Milnor
  • 2016–0000: Schuyler Vogel


  1. ^ "Fourth Universalist Society of New York. Records, 1839-2001". Andover-Harvard Theological Library. Harvard Divinity School. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  2. ^ "The Fourth Universalist Society of New York" The City Review
  3. ^ Robert A. M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and John Massengale, New York 1900, Metropolitan Architecture and Urbanism, 1890-1915 (Rizzoli International Publications) 1993.
  4. ^ Fourth Universalist Society: Organ specifications
  5. ^ "A Town Without Churches?" Archived 2008-05-09 at the Wayback Machine The Manhattan Institute
  6. ^ "She's Tuned in to Her New Flock" New York Daily News
  7. ^ Unity, Instead of Fear, After Swastikas Are Carved Into a Church Door, New York Times, 26 March 2017
  8. ^ Otterman, Sharon. "Manhattan Church Shields Guatemalan Woman From Deportation". Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  9. ^ ""I Am Raising My Voice": Guatemalan Mother in Sanctuary in NYC Accuses Border Patrol of Sexual Abuse". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  10. ^ "NYC Minister: I'm Willing to Be Arrested If ICE Comes for Immigrant Mother in Sanctuary in My Church". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  11. ^ Gottesdiener, Laura; Kanuga, Malav; Briones, Cinthya Santos. "'A Border Control Official Sexually Abused Me' | The Nation". ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  12. ^

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