History of UUCB
We are a community with a long-standing tradition of freedom of thought, speech and religion. The First Unitarian Church of Berkeley was founded on July 12, 1891. In 1997, the congregation voted to change the name to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley.
In 1898, we moved into our first building, a beautiful redwood structure that still stands at the corner of Dana and Bancroft in Berkeley. The early years were a period of growth and enthusiasm, characterized by a close relationship with UC Berkeley and the Starr King School for Religious Leadership. During the McCarthy era in the 1950s, we were one of several UU congregations that refused to sign the California Loyalty Oath, an action successfully upheld by the Supreme Court.
In 1961, we moved to our present eight-acre site in Kensington looking out to the San Francisco Bay. Today, there are approximately 400 UUCB Members and numerous additional Friends.
Below is a history of the church written in 1981, during the 22-year ministry of Rev. Richard Boeke. He was succeeded by Revs. Barbara and Bill Hamiltion-Holway, co-ministers from 1996 to 2014. After their retirement, Rev. Greg Ward came in for a two-year period as Interim Minister. Revs. Christian and Kristin Schmidt were called as senior co-ministers in 2016.
The “Anecdotal History” link at the left will take you to reminiscences compiled in 2011, our “triple anniversary year”—120 years since founding, 50 years since the move to Lawson Road, and 50 years since the merger of American Unitarians and Universalists.
Rev. Thomas Starr King
It is quite possible that Thomas Starr King, second minister of the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco, 1860 – 1864, and Western Unitarians’ great hero, looked across the Bay and envisioned a large and influential Unitarian church standing there beside a magnificent institution of higher learning. After all, in addition to being the state’s outstanding spiritual force in the early 1860’s, Starr King was an apostle of education. He had been the principal speaker at the dedication of San Francisco’s first high school, and was a director of the College of California, forerunner of the University of California.
He is most revered, of course, as the great speaker-citizen who, addressing many, many audiences throughout the state, did more than anyone else to keep California in the Union and free of slavery. His statue, one of two representing California in the National Capitol, commemorates this achievement. At the same time, he spearheaded, here in California, the raising of funds for the Unitarian-conceived U.S. Sanitary Commission, which became today’s Red Cross, and more money was raised for it in this new state than in all the other states combined.
The Wide Horizon’s Grander View – A Design for the Next 90 Years [as of 1981]
Our church, as it moves into the future, will begin to play a larger part in the denomination. It will work to be a growing source of strength to Unitarian Universalism, as once it was nurtured.
A continuing relationship with Starr King School will be important to the school as well as to the church as it assists in the education of ministerial interns. The list of the church’s “graduates” will continue to grow.
The rich musical program of the church will continue to be enhanced by choral music of high quality and by organ and harpsichord music for services and in concert, by our talented organists. The successful choir tour in Europe in 1981, led by Phyllis Wells, choir director, may have an encore somewhere else in the world.
The Religious Education staff will continue to develop new materials for the children in the program. Freestone dome and surroundings will be a further enrichment of our environment. The present UU-UC Luncheoneers [currently called UUs at UC] and the student group will strengthen our connections with the University. And no matter how many projects are in progress or planning, others now undreamed of will come into being, continuing and enlarging the significance of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley.
Principal sources of the information on which this history is based are: Charles William Wendte’s two-volume “The Wider Fellowship.” A rough draft history written in the 1960’s by Maizie Newman, my own research for and write-up of “Unitarians and the University of California,” plus perusal of hundreds of pages of the church’s Board minutes, scrapbooks, and the photograph archive. Finally, some information was obtained in interviews with long-time members, especially Lester Frank and Newell Nelson.
1969 to Present
After Dr. Cope’s resignation at 62, the socio-political developments of the 1960’s continued, particularly in the city of Berkeley, where they seem to have led the rest of the country in timing and in degree. These events and developments resulted in considerable turmoil within the church family, particularly between the younger activists and the middle-aged and elderly. It is possible that Cope foresaw such effects and, despite his experience and momentum, thought that a younger minister could surmount or channel them more effectively than he.
1969-1973 – Dr. Howard W. Oliver
Cope was “a difficult act to follow” and the evidence suggests that the many programs, the momentum and the pressures were more than his successor, Dr. Howard Oliver, could effectively handle. A spinal condition became severe and eventually resulted in his resignation.
Oliver was in his early 40’s, a very kind, likable, intelligent person whose sermons were excellently conceived and delivered. He was well-educated. Two of his three degrees were from the University of Southern California, including his ministerial degree. He had been a chaplain with the military and director of the Actor’s Labor Union in Los Angeles.
The church was continuing its programs on a plateau level. In 1971, for example, 930 people (or couples) were personally canvassed for pledges and an additional 122 by mail. The proposed 1971-72 budget was in the 80,000’s, as before, and the minister’s salary continued at $9,890 with a housing allowance of $5,700. The church plant remained the same, with private schools renting the Sunday School facilities on weekdays; the Inverness cabin was replaced by the Freestone Retreat Center property in Sonoma county, which, a result of inflation and other difficulties, is still to be completed. [The Freestone Retreat Center is now fully operational-8/3/99]
In these years, the falling off of interest in all religions and church life were being felt in this congregation, too. So many other things to do and to afford, on Sundays, particularly. Women were being “liberated;” more and more had careers, contributed to family income and, like the men, had less time to volunteer to the church.
1973 to  – Rev. Richard F. Boeke
When the congregation read his qualifications and after he demonstrated his pulpit stance on two occasions, everyone knew that Richard Boeke was the man for the times at this church. Many, using the best minister-measuring ruler they had, must have said that he “measured up very favorably with Dr. Cope.”
When Boeke arrived, he was 42, married, with two small daughters, athletic, educated at Iowa State, Yale and Columbia Teachers College plus selected post-graduate courses at Harvard and Starr King. He was widely read, traveled, well-informed in the arts, with a great deal of experience in community and denominational affairs plus a flair for organization (ministerial groups, civil rights groups, church groups). He was even a delegate to the 1958 National Democratic Convention. With all this, he had sound convictions of the future of the liberal church. “One of the warmest, friendliest, most personable men you are ever likely to meet,” the selection committee said.
After Maizie Newman retired and moved from the Bay Area, Dee Haynes held the position of Executive Secretary briefly. Then in 1973, Grace Ulp was chosen for this very necessary function. Born in China to a medical missionary family, she was educated in California, she became active in this church during Cope’s early years as a minister. She is a weaver, has broad interests in the arts and in people. When hired, she took up the reins with “grace” and verve, and today’s beehive of church activities are under her skilled and joyful guidance.
Current Projects [as of 1981]
Most church programs continued during Boeke’s eight years as minister of this church, and new ones were added as circumstances required or opportunities were presented. An effort to become more visible in this community led the church to establish its right-of-way to Arlington Avenue and to construct a path where a sign more visible to passers-by was placed. Successful programs continued and new ones were organized to bless our presence in Kensington/El Cerrito and the East Bay.
Perhaps the congregation was becoming more comfortable in its relation to church finances. It is astonishing that in spite of predictions of disaster almost every week of our 90 years, we still functioned, had paid off our mortgage and were attempting to organize our endowment so that it would help us grow and be a protection for the future.
From the beginning, the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley has had an interest in Starr King School for the Ministry – the seminary. Starr King students who have held positions in the church as part of their training have gone on to their own ministries, after their periods of intense exposure to “big church” problems and pleasures.
In 1981, our minister’s growing awareness of and active role in interfaith media outreach planning gave the church another connection with the larger community. Boeke’s international activity in the area of religious freedom is ongoing, and in 1981 he received the annual award for Service to International Liberal Religion from the American chapter of the IARF. In 1981, our assistant minister was Stephen Furrer, our minister-in-training was Stan Aronson, and our sexton was Brian Jessup.
Big Problems, Big Solutions, Big Progress
In 1946, the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley entered upon a 22-year period of opportunity transformed into achievement, big difficulties faced but surmounted. The area served by the church, beginning with the exodus from San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake and culminating in World War II, became big-city, with much industry and commerce.
The nation began a period of great economic prosperity combined with unprecedented government borrowing from future generations – plenty of money to defend free enterprise and democracy in war and to share-the-wealth on a massive scale. This concern for the less fortunate has continued to this day. In all churches, particularly Unitarian Universalist, religious faiths, as such, in my opinion, became less important as socio-political advocacy became more important.
The First Unitarian Church of Berkeley family swelled to over 1,000. Its influence in the community rose. The University expanded into a huge, nine-branch institution and this church’s influence on it and on the student body, once high, faded steadily to almost nothing. However, in outgrowing the church, UC became, unwittingly, its benefactor.
1946-1968 – Dr. J. Raymond Cope
The more one knows about this period in the church history – Dr. J. Raymond Cope’s 22-year ministry – the better one understands why so many who knew him esteem him so highly. He came from a Salt Lake City pastorate, at age 40, with a philosophy-teaching and social service, as well as ministerial, background. He served here until his retirement, the big church on the hill his crowning glory.
Cope had character, charisma, modest friendliness and intellectual ability combined with open-mindedness, inventiveness and willingness to progress. He was sincere about himself but could always take a humorous approach to himself. He was not above doing a church maintenance or carpentry chore. To him, religion was a great and enduring human need. His concepts of God, morality, forgiveness and conscience were taken over intact by many.
His sermons were interesting and challenging. Neither Humanist, Theist nor Deist, he minimized differences between members’ philosophies and maximized what they had in common. He could inspire and lead the young as well as adults and the elderly. As with all strong personalities, he had some dissenters to his leadership, but, forgive the pun, Dr. Cope could cope better than most, and much of any minister’s life is coping.
New Horizons, New Heights
One of the first activities under Dr. Cope’s inspiration was a series of lectures on philosophy. They were well-attended, covered a wide range of subjects, and utilized the abilities of the many people who characterized the growing congregation. A permanent Philosophers Club resulted.
Dr. Cope once remarked that he almost did not come to this pastorate “because there were so many famous names on the church rolls. They frightened me. Most churches today are confused as to why they are in existence and a minister fears to say what he wants to say, because it might alienate. But a congregation should not be afraid to hear what the minister has to say.” Were the scientific thinkers, who had turned to Unitarianism fifty years before, now feeling they had outgrown it?
After only three years here and at 43 years of age, Cope was invited to give the 1949 May Meeting (the national Unitarian convention) sermon, a once-in-a-lifetime honor. His title: “Modern Man in Search of a Soul.”
In 1950, the Liberal Jewish community, which had been using the church’s facilities for years, expressed its gratitude by sending Dr. and Mrs. Cope to Israel with a tour sponsored by the American Christian Palestine Committee. He shared the experience by giving lectures on Israel and Near East difficulties as far away as Utah and wrote a feature article for the Christian Register. A year later, he received B’Nai B’rith’s “Most Distinguished Citizen” award.
In 1950, Cope became chair of a local non-profit radio station. That same year, the church cooperated in a group therapy experiment with UC’s Psychology Department experts. Cope filled the sample of referrals and participated throughout this first and largest experiment of its kind. The study was reported in the Journal of Social Issues and the church continued with a group therapy program of its own.
The formative months of the United Nations were big moments in the life of the church and some of its members (e.g. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt). That support continues today.
One of the outstanding workers in the church in the memory of members of this period was Maizie Newman, the Executive Secretary, and Dr. Cope’s right hand person. She was asked to take the job, and as she has told the legend, “didn’t want to fill it herself as she felt he should have only the best, but nobody turned up who was good enough, and eventually she found herself doing it.” With a background of organization of musical events and social causes, she was instrumental in developing the high quality of the music program and the many social action projects carried on by the church. It has been said with some admiration that she seemed to “run the church out of her apron pocket.”
Cope continued his activities vigorously until his retirement, became prominent in civil rights, marched at Selma, was an opponent of the war in Vietnam and an organizer of Minister’s Mobilization. Pacific Coast Unitarianism had not seen such industry since Wendte. Our second and third resolutions were drafted, passed by the congregation, and sent to Washington: a protest against the Marshall Plan and against Truman’s sending an ambassador to the Vatican.
We Defeat the Levering Act
Early in the 1950’s, the State of California extended the control over the religious activity of citizens that had begun in 1930 with the Constitutional Amendment and taxation of “outside” church income. First, having the Bible read fifteen minutes a day in all classrooms was legislated. In 1952, Dr. Cope advised the congregation that this law should be protested. In 1953, the Levering Act required that all teachers and college faculties sign a loyalty oath, with the choice of do or be discharged. In 1954, churches were notified that ministers must sign the loyalty oath or their churches would be subjected to additional taxation.
The church stood firm, refusing to have the minister sign a loyalty oath, and paid the tax. Then, with the cooperation of three other California churches, two of them Unitarian Universalist, we took the matter to court – all the way to the Supreme Court – where all of the Levering Act was declared unconstitutional. The taxes that had been paid were refunded with interest. It was another case of Unitarian leadership for the good of all. Did California’s citizens here and elsewhere fully appreciate that effort, and do they now?
We Build Our Second Church
In the 1950’s, with new spirit, growth and activity, plus the baby boom, the church was bursting at the seams. Having paid off the mortgage on the first church and, following the settlement of financial and legal negotiations with the University, we went into action on new plans for a building in a new location. Knowing a large building fund would be necessary, the church employed a fund-counseling service and, with their recommendations and help, raised $195,000 in a three-year period. The generosity of fellow member Bernard Maybeck and his family enabled the purchase of our present site, originally a total of eleven acres, at 10¢ per square foot. Bill Ulp chaired the Building Committee.
In 1955, building and landscaping architects were engaged, surveying begun. At the same time, UC, as a state agency, condemned the church’s property at Dana and Bancroft, insisting the value that they gave it was correct. We disagreed and, engaging the best lawyer, appraisers, contractors and engineers we could find, took the matter to court. After a two-week, hair-graying trial, we won a settlement of $329,400, $130,000 higher than the best UC offer. With this and the fund drive money and “a half-ton of blueprints,” the church was built. Again an original design, spacious and minimizing maintenance (inside and outside walls do not need painting), it must be visited to be appreciated. High on the Berkeley hills, it offers a view of the whole bay and Golden Gate, a magnificent panorama.
Most unfortunately, in the midst of all of this supreme effort, 60 families left the church and formed the Berkeley Fellowship. Dissatisfactions – some are always present in any organization – came to a boil in the heat of the fund raising, church planning activity. Church building causes as much emotional strain as financial strain and this one was no exception.
A 22-Year Period of Great Vigor
During the 22 years of Cope’s pastorate, congregation participation rose to a crescendo. In 1952, so many helped that the church was redecorated on a weekend and the Parish Hall in a day. In the new building, by 1965 there were twenty volunteers helping the paid staff on a regular basis and seventeen active committees reporting to the Annual Meeting. “War babies” swelled the Sunday School and promptly a new building and an addition to the main building was erected. A custodian’s cottage was added, the fountain was added in the Atrium, the cottage at Inverness modernized…Rev. Frank Randall came as the Director of Religious Education; he stayed on as Assistant Minister and Custodian until 1981.
As a memorial gift to the memory of her parents and grandparents, who had been members of the church, Edith McGrew cancelled the $93,000 second mortgage she held on the church, bringing members’ equity in the church property to $900,000. Annual budgets were in the eighty thousands. Choir, musicals, plays, lectures prospered. A symphony orchestra was sponsored, the Women’s Alliance established the Stebbins Institute, an annual summer religious conference at Asilomar near Monterey. Honorary “Doctors of Durability” were conferred annually upon still active oldsters. Visual aids were adopted in the Sunday School.
1915-1945, Two World Wars and the Great Depression Test Our Mettle
At the church’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, September 1916, Rev. C.S. Dutton of the San Francisco church titled his sermon “A Transfigured Church.” He was probably speaking of all Unitarian churches, the Berkeley church included. Events and changes in people’s thinking generally seemed to make this a turning point in the church’s history. A leveling off of growth was reached, and it was difficult to maintain an average plateau of existence.
1915-1921 – Rev. Harrold Speight
Harrold Speight, selected from three well-qualified candidates, came to Berkeley from Vancouver, Canada in October 1915, an English citizen. He got busy immediately. In his first ten months, he included 435 calls on parishioners, finding 309 of them at home. The statement was abroad: “Maintenance of a strong liberal church in this university center is important,” and Speight concurred.
His salary was increased to $200 a month and an assistant, Harley Begin, seminary student, was hired at $100 a month. Especially when he accompanied the young men to outings at Inverness, Speight was called “Spaytie,” shocking many members. In 1916, the Unitarian Club of Berkeley voted itself out of existence, to be succeeded by the Laymen’s League, Hosmer Chapter. The League paid $1,000 a year toward the minister’s salary, for work done among the students on campus. Not advocating free speech as the church does today, it petitioned UC to “restrain or suppress” the student magazine, which was ridiculing the Law Dean, Chair of our Board of Trustees, with “Father William” cartoons and many editorials.
The church hired the first custodian to live on the premises, and added to the salaried staff a Religious Education Director, at $60 a year. New hymnals were purchased. Speight urged changing the name to “Unity Church” and adding some sacraments, but both of his proposals failed. The Board decided “henceforth memorials yes, memorial plaques no.”
Soon Speight became chairman of Berkeley’s Red Cross Chapter and organized other chapters. Next, he was sent to France to do some special work, taking a six-month leave, and was followed by Begin, who went into the Ambulance Corps. Church members rolled bandages, sewed, knitted, sent contributions to Belgian Relief. For several years, the church sent $100 a year to a sister church in Transylvania, in the village of Homovoijfalfa.
In the fall of 1918, the influenza epidemic raged and our church was closed. Hospitals were filled, and everyone who could helped out. Though rarely making political resolutions, the congregation, in 1920, vigorously protested the massacres of Armenian people, sending the protest to the President, California members of Congress, and the Near East Relief Agency.
Eventually, the war ended, most who had left for it returned, and the U.S. refused to join the League of Nations. Another East Coast church hired a good man away, and “to our sorrow,” Speight left for King’s Chapel in Boston.
1922-1925 – Dr. Robert French Leavens
Dr. Robert Leavens, with his wife and eight-year-old daughter, came promptly from Omaha on a six-month “minister-in-charge” trial basis and they stayed. Leavens had requirements, which were complied with. One was that couples to be married must have medical examinations – perhaps another Unitarian first. It made a splash in the newspapers. Another of Leavens’ requirements was that a lay assistant must be hired as secretary, custodian, gardener, publicity person and record keeper, at a salary of $100 a month. It proved an excellent investment. The Laymen’s League withdrew its $1,000 a year for on-campus work, but there was no crisis this time – members’ war prosperity continued in cities, though farm prosperity did not.
Reported in the 1922 Annual Meeting: 70 students, 4 to 20 years of age; 209 members; 340 in parish; 140 average Sunday attendance. Dignified Dr. Leavens spent some time with the young men at Inverness, where they called him “Skipper,” again annoying many members. Times were changing.
In the spring of 1925, the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley and other Unitarian churches in the East Bay cooperated with AUA in sponsoring a “Preaching Mission.” Rev. Horace Westwood, later our minister, managed the mission. A former Catholic priest spoke at eight meetings in seven days, first in the large Oakland church, then, because crowds were so large, in the Oakland Auditorium. However, no one ever noticed any results in the signed-the-book members.
More Evidence of Changing Times
In 1923, an old friend, Rev. R. Dodson, from Alameda’s First Church, gave a series of nine lectures on “The New Psychology.” At that early time, it was amazing and the newspapers scooped it up, printing all nine: “The diagnoses of the new medical psychology are far truer than Calvinism.” “Science explains the tendencies in human nature that have been called ‘original sin’.” “The Puritan therapeutics of mere repression are wrong, cause civil war in human nature, make life one long fight.” Titles of talks included: “Relation of Religion to the Sub-Conscious,” “New Astronomy and the Idea of God,” and “Biology and Kinship of Life.”
After an extended leave of absence in 1925, Speight did not return to the church. At this time, the Channing Club, unable to create club rooms in the church basement, borrowed tools and pooled resources and gifts of lumber, and built a cabin at Inverness on land owned by member Everett Dempster. He took the necessary legal steps to make the church “holders” of the property. Later, he and his family gave this property to the church.
Also, that fall, a new organization, young people past the age of Channing Club members and calling themselves the Inverness Club, asked permission to meet. They were the equivalent of the present Singles Group. For many years, it was a sizable and vigorous organization but a constant vexation to the church because its members demonstrated no particular interest in the church. In America, as in all post-war European societies, there was a certain rebelliousness among young people and it continued to some degree for twenty years. Finally, two ministers later, the group, then calling itself the Emerson Club, resigned in a body from the church.
1926-1932 – Dr. Eldred C. Vanderlaan
Dr. Eldred Vanderlaan was a good speaker, a well-known Humanist and a Socialist who was sometimes called a Communist. (But so were other liberal, progressive ministers, including the notable Dr. Ernest Fremont Tittle of the large First Methodist Church of conservative Evanston, Illinois.)
Before Vanderlaan began, Dean Wilbur of the seminary announced that Vanderlaan had been elected to the Chair of Church History and the seminary would pay $2,000 of his salary. Because he would be serving two masters, the church commitment dropped from $3,000 to $2,000 and his total salary was $4,000. The following year, as the stock market boomed, the church had $1,000 left over and agreed to split it with him.
But as Vanderlaan focused on his Humanist sermons (“too intellectual, not inspiring enough” except perhaps to the Humanists in the congregation), church programs died and too many members stayed away. As the Great Depression deepened, his seminary salary stopped and church income was strained. A strong voice, Constance Daggett, advocated and sternly led every-member canvasses. She also inaugurated a memorial fund program that brought in $750 a year.
In a desperate effort to help minister and church, the Board authorized a large Church Council…there were tumultuous all-congregation meetings…at one point, the whole Board resigned…Eventually, in December 1932, Vanderlaan resigned.
In the midst of these hungry times, a check for $10 came “to take care of the wisteria vine,” a church trademark known throughout Berkeley. Vines, shrubs, flowers and redwoods, which always enhanced the church, became one continuing note of cheer.
Dr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, who grew up in the church, became the first woman president of a major college (Mills in Oakland). She held “dual membership” in the Berkeley and Oakland churches and preached frequently in both. Our church especially needed a close-by and integral Sunday School facility and the University needed more land…relocation of the church was mentioned for the first time.
The church was without a minister for a whole year in 1933. Highlight of that year was a series of twelve forums. Notables such as John Hayes Holmes, Richard and Ella Cabot and Dr. Henry Newmann spoke to audiences of 500 and 600, with net proceeds of $50.58. Did it help the church of the church’s prestige in the community? Members hoped so, but wondered.
1934-1945 – Dr. Horace Westwood
Dr. Horace Westwood had impressed the membership when he managed the Preaching Mission in 1925. He arrived with a long list of requirements and, as one member observed, “ideas to burn.” He wanted “an atmosphere of worship…definite objectives…young people attending services…make ours the Cathedral Church of the area…courses on Unitarianism and its history…regular pamphleteering and advertising…attendance because of convictions and church’s worthiness…” Most of these, he explained, would be accomplished by volunteers while he focused on sermons.
At the end of his first year, Westwood, discouraged, scolded the congregation: “Lack of a sense of churchmanship…audience psychology rather than congregation psychology…subject matter as implied in sermon topics rather than attendance based upon the desire for fellowship and a feeling of abiding loyalty…” etc., etc. How many more scoldings were given is not recorded, except that a particularly severe blast was mailed to the members in January of 1940.
To these, Board member Frank Lawrence responded: “All that he has said, we find familiar in our own questionings…scolding doesn’t make a member worshipful…perhaps we don’t understand what is happening inside our members when they come to church…allowing our members to be honestly what they are is the only way we can get anywhere…”
In the fall of 1936, members learned that the orthodox churches were following their lead, becoming more liberal, thus more competitive. The church records for the eleven years are dull, focusing on financing. AUA’s Building Loan Fund sent another $6,000 to add to this $1,500 debt already owed, again the “hope this is the last.” The whole Unitarian denomination, the church was told in 1941, was at its lowest ebb in this century.
World War II came and went and at this time, the church helped with canteens and with the Red Cross. All were very difficult years. Westwood tried hard but was not in tune with the times. He especially did not understand young people, nor they him. Early in 1945, Westwood left for the Charleston, South Carolina church where he promptly had a wish fulfilled: a new letterhead said it was “The Cathedral Church of the South.”
That our church persisted and survived is a special tribute to the members and leaders. The different groups continued to be active: the Elliot Club for highschoolers; the Channing Club for college and recent graduates; a chapter of AUA’s Young Peoples Religious Union. The Laymen’s League continued, reaching its peak of 95 members (men) later. The Women’s Alliance (formerly the Women’s Auxiliary) was as solid, industrious and dependable as ever.
1897 – 1915, We Build a Church, Enjoy Some “Prosperity”
“From the pits to a peak” might characterize this period of church history. The financial condition could be described as “desperate” for all of 1897 and well into 1898, and there was no minister from January to October. Board member Prof. Haskell was again “supply” minister with some help from guest ministers.
1897-1899 – Rev. William B. Geohegan
In 1897, Rev. William Geohegan came from the East and the Board said he was a “gentleman of broad culture and highly recommended as a preacher of more than ordinary force and eloquence.” He was properly convinced, then became enthusiastic about the congregation’s plans for a church building. He was very likable and must have served his role well for, though he stayed only two years, the church was dedicated to him.
To a banker, the Berkeley congregation’s plans for a church building early in 1898 were almost incredible. That very year, the bank required the co-signatures of ten prominent members on a church loan. Yet the members proceeded doggedly along, met Sunday, January 30th to discuss how their church would be financed – what combination of loans, mortgages plus gifts – and completed the building plans.
First six years
The First Unitarian Church of Berkeley was founded on Sunday, July 12, 1891, in space rented from the Berkeley Odd Fellows Temple, then on Shattuck Street, a couple of blocks south of its present location. Some have said that this first meeting was held in a saloon on the first floor, but if so, suitable quarters were found for subsequent meetings.
Details of what happened before that July 12 meeting have gone with the founders to their graves, but it has been said that, as early as Easter of the year, some were, in the idiom of those horse-drawn carriage days, “champing at the bit to get going.”
On that great Founders Day, 32 charter members signed the book. A few more signed the following week, and by the end of the year, membership was 50. Then, as now, there were as many who didn’t sign the book as did, so that the total church family was approximately 100.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley: A History
By Merv Hasselmann, copyright © 1981
Background to the Founding
Stated in simplest terms, it might be said that histories are written to inspire and inform. It is hoped that readers of this history—present and potential members and friends of this church, particularly—will be rewarded with good measures of both.
It might also be said that the evolvement of the large and influential Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley was inevitable; that conditions in the university town of Berkeley in 1891 and following—decades of great scientific discovery and enlightenment—made a temple of “the religion of reason” a surety.
Yet others might argue that nothing is inevitable, that all institutions are the shadow of one person; a few, then substantial numbers of inspired and determined people, some to start, some to continue through periods of adversity and to utilize new opportunities. In the case of this church, the preponderance of evidence is that the latter is true.