Unitarian Church of All Souls
|Unitarian Church of All Souls|
Partial south elevation and steeple, 2008
|Location||Upper East Side, New York, NY, USA|
|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. 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 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.
- George Fisher Baker, financier, philanthropist
- William Cullen Bryant, poet, journalist
- Peter Cooper industrialist, philanthropist (founder of Cooper Union)
- Nathaniel Currier, lithographer, co-founder of Currier and Ives
- Dorman Bridgeman Eaton, lawyer, civil service reformer
- Caroline Kirkland, writer
- Herman Melville, writer
- Louisa Lee Schuyler, Sanitary Commission organizer, founder of America's first nursing school at Bellevue Hospital
- Catharine Sedgwick, writer
- "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 ..."
- "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.
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