First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin’s History
The Unitarian Society of Austin was established by the Reverend Edwin Miller Wheelock, a Harvard educated Union Civil War chaplain who settled in Austin after the war. Between the war and the establishment of the Unitarian Society, Reverend Wheelock held several important positions’ State Commissioner of Education, Superintendent of the State School for the Blind, newspaper editor and Austin City Councilman. Wheelock served as minister until 1899. He died in 1901.
After the death of Reverend Wheelock, organized Unitarianism in Austin fell into decline. Some former members met in various locations and at different times over the years. This informal group became known as the Community Church of Austin. An attempt to formally reorganize a Unitarian congregation in Austin was briefly revived in 1916; however, this attempt was unsuccessful. During the 1920′s and 1930′s, records indicate that a small group of people in sympathy with liberal religion met in a rented upstairs room near the Capitol.
This was a landmark year for Unitarians in Austin. On April 1, 1951, eleven people from six families met in the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Kuhatschek to form the Unitarian Fellowship of Austin. Shortly thereafter, the fellowship outgrew members’ homes, and so it was moved to the YWCA administrative offices at 914 Brazos Street. Later, in 1953, the fellowship moved to the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs at 2312 San Gabriel Street.
In May of this year, the Unitarian fellowship took the next step and applied for church status with 66 member families. In the letter of application, Mrs. Cecil Bridges, the president of the fellowship, wrote that during “this past year 50 (UT) students signed ‘Unitarian’ on religious preference cards, a very high figure for this part of the country.”
Shortly thereafter, the fellowship was given full church status, and called its first full-time minister since Edwin M. Wheelock. The minister of the new church was Reverend George Marshfield of Ottawa, Canada.
Mrs. Emily Wheelock Howson, the daughter of the founder of Unitarianism in Austin, died in 1957 and bequeathed $100,000 to the Unitarian Church “without conditions.” The land representing our present site was purchased and the original church was built with Mrs. Howson’s generous donation. The first sanctuary is now called Howson Hall. This original church building was dedicated on January 24, 1961, the year that the American Unitarian Association merged with the Universalist Church of America. In 1967, the Religious Education wing was added.
By the 1980′s, the church facility had become overcrowded because of increased membership. Church members Everett and Margaret DuPuy gave the church a sizable donation, enabling it to start a capital fund drive that culminated in the addition of our present sanctuary, which was dedicated in 1988. The Alternate Space Gallery was also remodeled at this time, and it continues to serve as a venue for artistic displays, receptions, and meetings.
During these two years, the church engaged in an extensive searching of its soul, to better understand the role of the church and the UU faith in the lives of its members, the church community itself, and the greater Austin community of which it is a part. This process included leadership from its Board of Trustees, and extensive participation of the entire congregation in focus groups, workshops and training with consultants.
The process resulted in a new mission statement, a set of values, a statement of the ends these values and mission were expected to achieve, and a covenant of healthy relations of members with each other. The church adopted a new, policy-based form of governance to clarify roles of leaders and members and to turn the words in the new statements of values, mission, ends, and covenant into actions, for the church and in the lives of its members. The mission statement is … We gather in community to nourish souls, transform lives, and do justice.
In August 2011, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin welcomed Reverend Meg Barnhouse as settled minister.
Other UU congregations in the greater Austin area, 2010. The Austin metro area currently has three other Unitarian Universalist congregations.
- In 1991, the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church was formed in Cedar Park, Texas, northwest of Austin.
- In 2000, the Wildflower Church was established serving the area south of Austin.
- In 2007, the San Gabriel Unitarian Universalist Fellowship began in Georgetown, Texas, serving the area north of Austin.
Copied from old web site (1892 to 1988): PR 12/03/2010