Unitarian Church of All Souls

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For the congregation in Washington, D.C., see All Souls Church, Unitarian (Washington, D.C.). For other congregations named "All Souls", see All Souls Church (disambiguation).
Unitarian Church of All Souls
A brick church steeple with pointed wooden upper stage seen from below.
Partial south elevation and steeple, 2008
Basic information
Location Upper East Side, New York, NY, USA
Geographic coordinates Coordinates: 40°46′32″N 73°57′30″W / 40.7755°N 73.9584°W / 40.7755; -73.9584
Affiliation Unitarian Universalism
Year consecrated 1819
Architectural description
Direction of façade west
Materials Brick, wood, stone

The Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City was the first Unitarian Universalist church in New York City.[1] It is one of the largest and most influential congregations in the United States. It has provided a pulpit for some of the movement's leading theologians and has also recorded many eminent persons in its membership.


All Souls was the first Unitarian congregation to be organized in New York and originated in 1819 when Lucy Channing Russell invited forty friends and neighbors into her Lower Manhattan home, to listen to an address by her brother, William Ellery Channing, the minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston. Channing was making a stop in New York while traveling to Baltimore to preach the famous sermon in which he would articulate the distinctive tenets of Unitarian Christianity, the most salient of which were the rejection of the Trinity in favor of absolute Monotheism, and the imperative to interpret the Bible through reason. In New York, the enthusiasm aroused by Channing culminated in the formation of the First Congregational Church (Unitarian), which proceeded to erect its first building, on Chambers Street between Broadway and Church Street, before it had even found a minister. The task of recruitment was difficult since few ministers could be persuaded to venture away from the stability of the Unitarian heartland in New England and risk their careers in new congregations beyond. Finally, on December 18, 1821, William Ware was installed as the first minister.

In 1844, the congregation moved to a new building at 548 Broadway and renamed itself the Church of the Divine Unity the following year. In 1855, the present name, All Souls, was taken by an American church for the first time when the congregation dedicated its third building at 249 Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South) at 20th Street. The address was conversely listed as 249 4th Avenue. In partnership with minister Henry Whitney Bellows, who served for over four decades from 1839 to 1882, All Souls grew to include some of the leading social reformers and cultural figures of the city, such as Peter Cooper, Herman Melville, and others listed at the end of this article.

One side of a city street, viewed from an intersection. There is a large brick building on the right. To its left is a tall brick church with a white steeple.
Church seen from Lexington and 79th Street

One famous member was the novelist Catharine Sedgwick, who remarked upon the diverse backgrounds of the people who were attracted to the freedom of ethical inquiry which All Souls offered: "strangers from inland and outland, English radicals and daughters of Erin, Germans and Hollanders, philosophic gentiles and unbelieving Jews . . . In this, our ass'n, there is at least one of every sort." In evolving from its roots in Unitarian Christianity, All Souls has embraced an enlarging religious pluralism that continues to this day.

All Souls relocated to its current building on the Upper East Side at 1157 Lexington Avenue at 80th Street in 1932. The prolific author and theologian, the late Forrest Church served as Senior Minister for almost thirty years until the beginning of 2007, when, due to terminal cancer, he was succeeded by Galen Guengerich and assumed the less strenuous duties of Minister of Public Theology.

Notable members[edit]


  1. ^ "All Souls' Church Animates One With the Spirit of the Boston 'Liberals.'". New York Times. September 14, 1924. Retrieved 2011-05-01. First Unitarian Church Here. All Souls' was the first Unitarian Church foundation in New York. The Unitarian Society was incorporated in 1818 ... 

Further reading[edit]

  • "Unitarian Church of All Souls," The New York City Organ Project, The New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists
  • Kring, Walter Donald. History of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City in 3 vols.
    1. Liberals Among the Orthodox: Unitarian Beginnings in New York City, 1819-1839 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974)
    2. Henry Whitney Bellows (Boston: Skinner House, 1979)
    3. Safely Onward (New York: Unitarian Church of All Souls, 1991)

External links[edit]