Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation 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

Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit
Summit NJ Unitarian Church.jpg
Location Summit, New Jersey
Country United States
Denomination Unitarian Universalism
Membership 500 adults, 250 children[1]
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) Robin Tanner Minister of Worship and Outreach
Emilie Boggis, Minister of Congregational Life[1]

Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit is a Unitarian Universalist ("UU") congregation in Summit, New Jersey, formally organized in 1908 as The Unitarian Church in Summit. It is active in social justice initiatives and received the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee Social Justice Award in 2010.[2] It has also been recognized as an outstanding UU congregation by various UU groups[3][4][5] and has one of the largest UU Youth Groups in the country. It features a "top–notch music program and has had a string of renowned preachers."[6] In 2016, Reverend Robin Tanner was chosen as the Minister of Worship and Outreach and member of the Leadership Team which includes 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.

Beacon UU was founded by 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.[7] Parker D. King, a successful local businessman, was one of these. In the summer of 1906, he encountered a childhood friend, Unitarian minister Curtis Brown, on the Long Island Railroad. They discussed how to start a liberal church in Summit.

Starting in January, 1907, King and a small committee planned a series of “Unitarian Meetings” in Summit, which took place on Sundays throughout that year. On January 14, 1908, a small group met in Summit to consider establishing a Unitarian congregation. The group was indecisive and hesitant, so Russell Hinman, a strong supporter of liberal religion, made a motion that they not found a Unitarian church in Summit. Having rejected this option, seventeen charter members proceeded to organize a Unitarian Church in Summit and called Reverend Brown to be its first minister.[8][9][10]

The group met in rented locations until funds were allocated to construct a building. Financial assistance from the American Unitarian Association and the New Jersey Universalist Convention made it possible to purchase the land at the current location on Springfield and Waldron Avenues. An existiing house (later called "Community House") was moved up Waldron to make room for a new building facing Springfield Avenue. 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. Construction began in 1912 and the sanctuary was formally dedicated on October 21, 1913. Also in 1912, the church adopted the name All Souls' Church, Unitarian-Universalist, having members from both denominations. This prefigures the later merger of the Unitarian and Universalist churches in 1961.[8][11][12]

In 1914, the church called Rev. Frank C. Doan to the pulpit. Doan was a pacifist who voiced his opposition to war in April, 1917, when the United States joined in the "Great War." This was extremely unpopular in New Jersey, and given strong criticism from the state's newspapers, he offered his resignation to the Board of Trustees. They refused it, setting a high standard for freedom of the pulpit in Summit.

The trustees of All Soul’s Church of Summit, New Jersey, in view of newspaper comment and various current rumors, and in justice both to their minister, Dr. Frank Carleton Doan, and to themselves, wish to put on record their admiration for his sincerity, tolerance, courage, idealism, and loyalty to the best as he sees it. While by far the larger part of his congregation is not in agreement with his views regarding peace and war, they believe in a broad tolerance of opinion and in freedom of pulpit utterance. Nothing that Dr. Doan has said is capable of interpretation as treason or disloyalty to his country. The Trustees believe that there is more danger to-day in attempts to suppress honest opinion than there is in a frank and free expression of sincere pacifism. Let us not see the ghost of Benedict Arnold in every phrase which is not sufficiently war-like to satisfy our emotions. Let us rather respect an honest man, whether he agrees with us or not. In short, while fighting one form of tyranny, let us beware lest we build up another. The Trustees have no thought of accepting Dr. Doan’s offer to resign.[8][13]

From 1933 to 1944, A. Powell Davies was the minister. A former Methodist, he had a profound influence on this church of "intellectuals, scientists, professionals, independent thinkers, and those not satisfied with traditional Protestantism"[13] and also on the Unitarian movement. His preaching emphasized not just political action, but the importance of a 'world religion', a religion that underlies all existing religions. He said of religions that "what is deeply true in one of them is just as true in all of them."[13] Davies life work was to seek to express this basic religion and to advance Unitarian thought. In 1942, a convocation of Unitarian ministers was held in Summit to develop a Unitarian statement of faith.[8][13]

More prosaically, Davies convinced the church, then unaffiliated and named the "Summit Community Church," that since it was accepting support from the American Unitarian Association, it should rejoin the Unitarian Association. He also devoted himself to developing the Religious Education program and a vital Youth Group.[13]

In 1945, the church called Jacob Trapp, a theist and a poet. He was the minister until 1970. An important theme in both his poetry and his ministry was our lost "earth of yesterdays" and the use of myths, especially from the Southwestern United States, to recapture our relationship to nature.[14] He also took inspiration from St. Francis and wrote his own translation of the Tao Te Ching.[15] His theology was built from diverse sources, including poets Walt Whitman and Robert Frost, fellow Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson, and philosophers from other traditions such as Martin Buber and Teilhard du Chardin.[7]

During Trapp's quarter-century tenure, the church grew considerably, drawing many members from Bell Labs. Among these were Harold Black, inventor of the negative feedback amplifier, and James William Welsh.[16] To accommodate the many new members and the need for religious education classes, the church instituted two services on Sunday mornings and bought an additional property to house the religious education program. Trapp was a voice of conscience in a conservative time, working with local civil rights leaders to integrate Summit's movie theater and YMCA.[7]

The years from 1970 to 1988 were stressful for the church, with half a dozen ministers and interims, and reduction in the church membership. This period of instability ended with the arrival of David Bumbaugh. Bumbaugh served from 1988 to 1999, after which he became professor of ministry at Meadville/Lombard Theological School. Bumbaugh's spiritual inspiration was drawn from a "blend of paganism and earth worship." His sermons were "small masterpieces of fine detail and subtlety, crafted with an ear for the rhythm and power of language."[7] For example, “We have manned the ramparts of reason and are prepared to defend the citadel of the mind…But in the process of defending, we have lost the vocabulary of reverence, the ability to speak of that which is sacred, holy, or of ultimate importance to us.”.[17] During Bumbaugh's tenure, membership revived to its earlier levels and the church returned to holding two Sunday morning services. In 1995, the church called its first woman minister, Beverley Bumbaugh, David's wife, fulfilling their lifelong dream of co-ministry.[7]

In the 1990s, the steeple became structurally unsound, and was removed. Toward the end of the Bumbaugh's tenure, in 1998, the congregation took the major step of deciding to unite the religious education program with the church sanctuary, on a single property with a renovated building to include office and classroom space. At the same time, a new steeple was built and attached to the top using a crane.

During the interim between the Bumbaughs and the new minister, Vanessa Southern, church membership dropped from a maximum of 477 in 1995 to 407 in 2001. Under the leadership of minister Vanessa Southern (2001–2014), Summit membership grew to 529 members in 2012, children's education numbers grew to 200, and charitable and social action efforts increased.[18] 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.


Beacon UU has an unusual leadership model, combining two ordained ministers with a lay executive director. One minister, the Minister of Worship and Outreach is in charge of worship, music, social action, and interactions with the wider community. The second minister, the Minister of Congregational Life, is in charge of religious education, pastoral care, small group worship, and membership. The executive director is in charge of administration, including stewardship, finance, facilities, and communications. The leadership model was developed to allow the ministers to play to their unique strengths and to improve their work-life balance.[19]

In addition to the ministers and executive director, the staff includes a Music Director, a Director of Religious Education, a Religious Education Coordinator, a Stewardship Director, a Membership and Youth Coordinator, and a sexton.[20]


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.


Beacon UU offers two traditional Sunday morning services along with religious education classes for children during each service. On Sunday nights, the Youth Group holds a Worship Service and activities to promote “bonding, helping the community, and having fun.”[21]

One Saturday night each month, there is a Green Vespers service in which participants “seek right relationship with Earth.” Attendees also share dishes at a pot-luck dineer.[22]

Spirit in Practice Circles provide small-group worship. Facilitators lead groups of 8-10 people, discussing the theme of the current month. The groups meet twice a month at various times.[23]

Social Action[edit]

In 2007, in response from a call from Rev. Vanessa Southern to "live boldly," the congregation began its involvement with The Irvington Initiative, a partnership between the congregation and the Chancellor Avenue School in Irvington, NJ. Beacon's Social Justice Committee provides tutoring, educational workshops, holiday gifts, and fund-raising events for the children in the largely African-American school.[18][24] Also in 2007, members of the congregation responded to Rev. Southern's call by starting the "Moving Toward Peace" initiative. The congregation voted to call for an end to the war in Iraq, began a weekly tradition of striking a gong for each service member killed that week in Iraq or Afghanistan, and prepared a wall of ribbons, one ribbon for each service member killed, to display in front of the building on Springfield Avenue.[18]

In 2008, the congregation raised a $100,000 Centennial Fund, out of which they made four gifts: to the Irvington Initiative, described above; to the Central Asia Institute to build a school for girls in rural Pakistan or Afghanistan; to the Sienna Project, which builds schools for the indigenous Mayan children of underserved, isolated villages in the mountains of Guatemala; and to provide musical instruments for schools in New Orleans that lost their instruments during Katrina.[18][25]

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.[26] 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."[26] 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."[26]

In 2010, UCS was named a "Breakthrough Congregation" at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly and received the first Social Justice Congregation Award from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee "for its efforts to advance human rights work in collaboration with UUSC."[27]

In January and February 2016, UCS raised $18,000 from plate collections for a shelter and rape crisis center in Iraq. The shelter is in Dohuk, Kurdistan, and houses Yazidi women who had escaped after being abducted by members of the ISIS militant group. The funds were given to MADRE, which partners with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). OWFI actually runs the shelter.[28]

On September 25, 2016, UCS and Fountain Baptist Church held a march through downtown Summit and raised "Black Lives Matter" banners, in response to recent shootings of African Americans by police officers. The event was organized by a Black Lives Matter team, led by Claudia Cohen of UCS and the Rev. Vernon Williams of Fountain Baptist. About 500 members of local congregations and of the Summit community marched.[29]

Beacon UU is an active member of the Summit Interfaith Council, a coalition of 19 local religious groups that “seek the welfare of the city.” Rev. Emilie Boggis was president in 2014-2015 and the previous minister, Rev. Vanessa Southern, has also been president.[30]

Beacon UU has had a partner Unitarian church in Barot, Transylvania (Romania), since 1992. The partnership includes visits from Barot to Summit, and vice versa, and Beacon provides some financial support for the Barot church and scholarships for university students.[31]

Additional efforts include:[25]

  • Half the funding for a secure girls’ school to house and educate students after the devastation and social upheaval of the Haiti earthquake.
  • Funded an initiative to provide oxen to combat starvation in Ugandan villages.
  • Funded a women’s shelter for microenterprise and children’s healthcare in the Darfur refugee camps.
  • Supported Ugandan Rubaare Institute’s Clean Cookstove construction and Solar Lighting projects.
  • Provided Ebola relief to Doctors without Borders.
  • Funded UUSC relief aid for Syrian Refugee Humanitarian Crisis.
  • Wrote a Statement of Conscience concerning ISIS genocide.
  • Funded numerous food pantries and homeless shelters in Union County (HomeFirst, Community Foodbank of NJ, SHIP, Bridges, the RAIN Foundation for LGBT youth, and First Unitarian Church of Plainfield Food Pantry).

Members of Beacon UU have been active in the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey, which works for “socially just public policy” on issues including economic justice, the environment, reproductive justice, immigration reform, gun violence, and criminal justice reform. The building has housed the Executive Director of the organization for several years.[32]

The congregation has sponsored numerous talks on such subjects as racial justice, experiences of civil rights protesters in the 1960s,[33] readings of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr.,[34] "intentional integration,"[35] Darfur refugees,[36] healthier eating and diet,[37] shamanism,[38] meditation,[39] and other topics. Beacon UU cooperated with other churches on a project entitled Raise the Roof to build affordable housing for persons in Summit,[40] working alongside Habitat for Humanity.[41] It held an annual garage sale from 1977 to 2010.[42]


The music program is headed by Mitchell Vines, Director. It is varied, and features an Afternoon music series, including performances by jazz pianist Bill Charlap[43] and harpist Elaine Christy.[44] The church has hosted numerous concerts by musicians, including Vibraphonist Makoto Nakura,[45] violist Kenji Bunch,[45] Violinist Deborah Buck,[46] and numerous other artists and performers.[47][48]


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
1979-1985 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
2005-2014 Emilie Boggis Assistant Minister
2011-2014 Kimberly Wildszewski Assistant Minister of Congregational Life
2014–2016 Terry Sweetser Interim Minister of Worship and Outreach
2015–present Emilie Boggis Minister of Congregational Life
2017–present Robin Noelle Tanner Minister of Worship and Outreach



  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Our Church and Staff". Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit. 2011-11-07. Retrieved 2011-11-07. The Unitarian Church in Summit was founded in 1908 by area residents... 
  2. ^ "Social Justice Award Winners". Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. 2010. Retrieved November 26, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Metro NY District Award Winners -- Mendon W. Smith Award". Unitarian Universalist District of Metropolitan New York. 2009. Retrieved November 26, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Breakthrough Congregations". Unitarian Universalist Association. 2010. Retrieved November 26, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Metro NY District Award Winners -- O. Eugene Pickett Award". Unitarian Universalist District of Metropolitan New York. 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2015. 
  6. ^ Gibson, David (November 10, 2002). "Unitarians grow and prosper with renewed focus on faith: Church's leader says new congregants are searching for religious commitment". 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.... 
  7. ^ a b c d e From Where We Come: A Short History of the Unitarian Church in Summit. 2000. 
  8. ^ a b c d The History Project (2000). From Where We Come: A Short History of the Unitarian Church in Summit. The Unitarian Church in Summit. 
  9. ^ "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... 
  10. ^ Parker D. King. History of the Community Church of Summit, New Jersey. 
  11. ^ David E. Bumbaugh (2000). Unitarian Universalism: a narrative history. Chicago: Meadville Lombard Press. 
  12. ^ D. Robinson (1985). The Unitarians and the Universalists. Denominations in America. Greenwood Publishing Group. 
  13. ^ a b c d e G. N. Marshall (1990). A. Powell Davies and His Times. Skinner House Books. 
  14. ^ Nausica Zaballos (2010). "Encompassing the Southwest Spirit in Jacob Trapp's Poems". In C. Sarmento. From Here to Diversity: Globalization and Intercultural Dialogues. Cambridge Scholars Publisher. 
  15. ^ Jacob Trapp (1959). Lao Tzu, the Hidden Wise Man: An Essay on the Tao Te Ching Together with a New Version of the Text. 
  16. ^ "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... 
  17. ^ David Bumbaugh (2013). "Toward a Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence". Religious Humanism. 43. 
  18. ^ a b c d Staff writer (December 26, 2011). "Summit Unitarian pastor celebrates 10th anniversary". Independent Press. Retrieved 2012-01-04. 
  19. ^ "Our Leadership Model". Retrieved Feb 27, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Our Staff". Retrieved Feb 27, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Spirit in Practice Circles". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  22. ^ "Green Vespers". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  23. ^ "Spirit in Practice Circles". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  24. ^ "Chancellor Avenue School". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  25. ^ a b "Social Justice". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  26. ^ 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... 
  27. ^ "Social Justice Award Winners". Retrieved Feb 29, 2016. 
  28. ^ "MADRE, assisting Yazidi woman and their families". Retrieved Mar 6, 2017. 
  29. ^ webmaster (October 1, 2016). "Summit churches raise banner for Black Lives Matter". Union News Daily. 
  30. ^ "The Summit Interfaith Council". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  31. ^ "Partner Church". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  32. ^ "Social Justice". Retrieved Feb 28, 2016. 
  33. ^ 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 
  34. ^ 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 Racial Justice Task Force ... Unitarian Church in Summit... 
  35. ^ "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 
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ "'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... 
  38. ^ "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. 
  39. ^ 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... 
  40. ^ 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, 
  41. ^ 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. ... 
  42. ^ 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... 
  43. ^ "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 ... 
  44. ^ "Afternoon Music concert at Unitarian Church in Summit, Jan. 29". Independent Press. January 6, 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  45. ^ 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 ... 
  46. ^ "Violinist Deborah Buck ...". Independent Press. January 13, 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  47. ^ "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;... 
  48. ^ "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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