Unitarian Church in Summit

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Coordinates: 40°43′7″N 74°21′15″W / 40.71861°N 74.35417°W / 40.71861; -74.35417

The Unitarian Church in Summit
Location Summit, New Jersey
Country United States
Denomination Unitarian Universalism
Membership 500 adults, 250 children[1]
Website www.ucsummit.org
Founded 1908 (1908)[1]
Founder(s) Area residents[1]
Status Church
Functional status Active
Architect(s) Joy Wheeler Dow
Architectural type Colonial "meeting house"[1]
Completed 1913[1]
Minister(s) Terry Sweetser, Interim Minister[1]
Emilie Boggis, Minister of Congregational Life[1]

The Unitarian Church in Summit is a Unitarian Universalist ("UU") church in Summit, New Jersey notable for being "one of the country's premier Unitarian churches" which features a "top–notch music program and a string of renowned preachers."[2] The church was founded in 1908 by a group of area residents, who felt that Summit needed a liberal church, emphasizing ethics and love as the core of religion, and encouraging all members to search for their own religious truths.[3] Unitarian Universalists do not have a common creed and include people with a wide variety of personal beliefs, and include atheists, agnostics, deists, monotheists, pantheists, polytheists, pagans, as well as other belief systems.[4] Today, the church is led by Interim Minister Terry Sweetser, Executive Director Tuli Patel, and Minister of Congregational Life Emilie Boggis.[1]


A rally outside the church in 2012 advocating marriage equality in the state of New Jersey.

Summit businessman Parker D. King was riding on the Long Island Railroad in 1906 and met childhood friend and Unitarian minister Frederic Curtis Brown.[5] Regular meetings happened in 1907 and 1908 which culminated in the formation of a formal congregation with seventeen charter members, and with King chairing the Board of Trustees and Brown acting as the first minister.[5] The group met in a rented location until funds were allocated to construct a building.[5] Architect and member Joy Wheeler Brown designed the building to reflect the style of Colonial New England meeting houses, and incorporated elements of St. Paul's Chapel in New York City and King's Chapel in Boston.[5] Construction began in 1912 and finished in 1913.[5]

In the 1940s, the church continued to grow, assisted by administrators such as Marjorie Mettee.[6] In the congregation were inventors such as James William Welsh.[7] In 1961, Unitarianism merged with Universalism, to become known as the Unitarian Universalism Association or UUA, and had a position once described in a newspaper report as "One God, no one left behind."[2] In the late 1970s, the steeple became structurally unsound, and was removed and remained gone for about two decades. In the late 1990s, the building underwent a major renovation, with the building lifted off the ground to permit excavation and installation of a basement, among other projects; a new steeple was built and attached to the top using a crane. William Sinkford, a Unitarian minister and head of the Boston UUA, suggested that national membership had increased from 1982 to 2002, growing from 172,000 members to 221,000 members during those two decades, while many Protestant churches lost members during those years.[2] In 2002, Sinkford was present at the dedication of the newly renovated church building in Summit.[2] Under the leadership of minister Vanessa Southern (2001–present), Summit membership grew from 100 to 500 members, children's education numbers grew to 200, and charitable and social action efforts increased.[8] In late 2011, the congregation voted to pursue the purchase of an adjacent property.

View from the entranceway of the Unitarian church following an early snowstorm in October 2011. Photo: looking across Waldron Avenue towards Springfield Avenue.

Membership and staff[edit]

The church has a program of classes to help new members grasp its "user-friendly approach to faith".[2] After completion of the class, there is a brief ceremony to welcome new members.[9] It is a venue for weddings.[10] Monica Bottone is the office manager. The church has many prominent members, including computer scientists Wim Sweldens and Erna Schneider Hoover.

Congregation and beliefs[edit]

Members dressed in 1960s "peace movement" attire to promote a charity fund-raiser called the Services Auction.

In 2009 selected members flew to Salt Lake City to attend an annual conference of Unitarian Universalists.[11] The 2009 national meeting discussed issues including "peacemaking, workshops on ethical eating, U.S. ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and a call for a commission of inquiry regarding U.S.-sponsored torture."[11] A statement suggested that the Summit Unitarian congregation "encourages people to seek their own spiritual path" and "draws on many religious traditions," and is a spiritual home for "bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people and promotes marriage equality."[11] The church has sponsored numerous talks on such subjects as racial justice, experiences of civil rights protesters in the 1960s,[12] readings of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.,[13] "intentional integration,"[14] Darfur refugees,[15] healthier eating and diet,[16] shamanism,[17] meditation,[18] and other topics. The church cooperated with other churches on a project entitled Raise the Roof to build affordable housing for persons in Summit,[19] working alongside Habitat for Humanity.[20] It held an annual garage sale from 1977 to 2010.[21]


Woman cutting ribbons on a board.
Church volunteers wrote the names of fallen soldiers in recent foreign wars -- each name on a separate ribbon -- and the 4000+ ribbons hung outside the church for several years as a memorial and tribute to their sacrifice as well as a symbol of a hope for the wars to end. In May 2012, the ribbons were retired, and will later be buried as part of a memorial to honor the fallen soldiers. Photo: Vanessa Southern removing a ribbon in May 2012.

Social action[edit]

The church has undertaken programs to preserve rainforests in Kenya, and assist small farmers in Myanmar with loans to help them feed the indigenous population.


The music program is varied, and features an Afternoon music series, including performances by jazz pianist Bill Charlap[22] and harpist Elaine Christy.[23] The church has hosted numerous concerts by musicians, including Vibraphonist Makoto Nakura,[24] violist Kenji Bunch,[24] Violinist Deborah Buck,[25] and numerous other artists and performers.[26][27]


Years Name Notes
1908-1911 Frederic Curtis Brown
1911-1913 Howard Colby Ives
1914-1917 Frank Carleton Doan
1918-1919 Arthur G. Singsen
1919-1920 Frank Carleton Doan
1921-1927 Oscar B. Hawes
1927-1932 Stuart L. Tyson
1929-1931 Dayton T. Yoder Assistant
1933–1944 Arthur Powell Davies
1945–1970 Jacob Trapp
1970-1974 Deane Starr
1975-1977 Peter W. Denny
1977-1978 Horace F. Westwood
1979-1983 Jan Vickery Knost
1985-1987 Richard M. Woodman Interim
1987-1988 Alfred J.N. Henriksen Interim
1988–1999 David E. Bumbaugh, Jr.
1995–1998 Beverly A. Bumbaugh
1996-2003 Carol S. Haag M.R.E.
1999-2000 George Kimmich Beach Interim
2000-2001 Oren A. Peterson Interim
2001–2014 Vanessa Southern
2014-present Terry Sweetser Interim
2015-present Emilie Boggis Minister of Congregational Life



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Our Church and Staff". The Unitarian Church in Summit. 2011-11-07. Retrieved 2011-11-07. The Unitarian Church in Summit was founded in 1908 by area residents... 
  2. ^ a b c d e Gibson, David (November 10, 2002). "Unitarians grow and prosper with renewed focus on faith: Church's leader says new congregants are searching for religious committment [sic]". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-11-07. ... a liberal denomination that embraces no creed and rejects any hint of sectarianism in a country with an unslaked thirst for theological certainty.... 
  3. ^ From Where We Come: A Short History of the Unitarian Church in Summit. 2000. 
  4. ^ Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?. Wisdom Publications. p. 187. ISBN 0-86171-509-8. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Our Church and Staff". The Unitarian Church in Summit. 2011-11-07. Retrieved 2011-11-07. The Unitarian Church in Summit was founded in 1908 by area residents... 
  6. ^ Landergan, Katherine (May 24, 2011). "Marjorie Mettee, Unitarian church administrator". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Mrs. Mettee, began serving as a church administrator in the mid-1940s at a Unitarian Universalist church in Summit, N.J.,... 
  7. ^ "Obituaries: James W. Welsh dies, Summit inventor held several patents". Independent Press. April 11, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-07. A memorial service ... at the Unitarian Church of Summit... 
  8. ^ Staff writer (December 26, 2011). "Summit Unitarian pastor celebrates 10th anniversary". Independent Press. Retrieved 2012-01-04. 
  9. ^ "Summit Unitarian Church welcomes new members". Independent Press. January 6, 2001. Retrieved 2011-11-07. ... the Unitarian Church in Summit welcomed 13 new members to the congregation. 
  10. ^ "WEDDINGS; Ms. Cranley, Mr. Feldkamp". The New York Times. December 20, 1998. Retrieved 2011-11-07. ...officiated at the Unitarian Church in Summit. 
  11. ^ a b c "Summit Unitarians travel to annual meeting in Salt Lake City". Independent Press. July 16, 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Members of The Unitarian Church in Summit attended their denomination's annual meeting at the end of June in Salt Lake City... 
  12. ^ Star-Ledger Staff (November 6, 2011). "Two Freedom Riders to discuss experiences". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-11-07. On Saturday, the Unitarian Church will welcome Francis and Laura Randall of New York City, who will speak about their experiences as Freedom Riders 
  13. ^ Staff (January 17, 2011). "N.J. plans Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-11-07. ... readings by local youth and adults of excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, sponsored by the church’s Racial Justice Task Force ... Unitarian Church in Summit... 
  14. ^ "Barbara Heisler Williams to speak on 'Toward Intentional Integration,' March 15". Independent Press. March 11, 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Barbara Heisler Williams, who is known nationally for promoting racially and ethnically integrated communities, ... The Unitarian Church in Summit 
  15. ^ Rybolt, Barbara (April 1, 2009). "Chatham High School Darfur Club readies for a big event". Independent Press. Retrieved 2011-11-07. The student-created Darfur Club ... The club has also arranged an evening presentation at the Unitarian Church in Summit. 
  16. ^ "'Diet for a Better World' explored at May church event". Independent Press. May 5, 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Registered dietitian and author George Eisman will speak ... at The Unitarian Church in Summit... 
  17. ^ "Unitarian Church in Summit hosts shamanism workshop Feb. 21". Independent Press. February 1, 2009. Retrieved 2011-11-07. John Foord, a shamanic practitioner and a member of the church in Summit, will lead the workshop. 
  18. ^ Cerdeira, Marian (February 22, 2009). "Church in Summit will host five-week meditation series". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-11-07. The Dharmachakra Buddhist Center will begin a new five-week series of meditation classes at The Unitarian Church in Summit... 
  19. ^ Duffy, Jamie (October 5, 2009). "'Raise the Roof' event in Summit supports affordable housing". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-11-07. The Summit Interfaith Build Congregation includes ... The Unitarian Church in Summit, 
  20. ^ Keill, Liz (November 19, 2008). "Summit explores Habitat option for affordable housing". Independent Press. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Vanessa Rush Southern of The Unitarian Church in Summit echoed his views. ... 
  21. ^ Continuous news desk (April 4, 2008). "31st Annual Unitarian Garage Sale in Summit". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-11-07. ... annual garage sale at The Unitarian Church in Summit... 
  22. ^ "Bill Charlap, jazz pianist, performs in Summit Unitarian's Afternoon Music". Independent Press. January 28, 2010. Retrieved 2011-11-07. RARE SOLO PERFORMANCE — Jazz pianist Bill Charlap gives a rare solo performance at The Unitarian Church in Summit ... 
  23. ^ "Afternoon Music concert at Unitarian Church in Summit, Jan. 29". Independent Press. January 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  24. ^ a b "Viola player, vibraphonist perform as duo in Afternoon Music concert at Summit Unitarian Church". Independent Press. October 31, 2010. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Percussion virtuoso Makoto Nakura joins violist Kenji Bunch for an unusual vibraphone-string recital at the first Afternoon Music program ... 
  25. ^ "Violinist Deborah Buck ...". Independent Press. January 13, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  26. ^ "Events in New Jersey". The New York Times. April 8, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Unitarian Church in Summit Afternoon Music presents Sun Young Chang, soprano; Tia Roper-Penn, flutist; Carlo Pellettieri, cellist;... 
  27. ^ "CALENDAR". The New York Times. November 5, 2006. Retrieved 2011-11-07. Summit Afternoon Music, Nova Chamber Artists and two New Jersey Youth Symphony string ensembles. ... Summit Unitarian Church 

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