First U.U. History
A Rocky Start
First U.U. Church of Richmond traces its roots back to 1830 when a small group started the Unitarian Universalist Society of Richmond. Richmond society, especially the clergy, was not hospitable to this liberal religious group, and within a year the name was changed to the First Independent Christian Church.
The church purchased property, built their own building and ordained their first minister by 1833. But after that progress, the church struggled with a series of short-term ministers until 1862 when the minister at that time was arrested as a Union sympathizer, and possibly a spy, and sent back across the Potomac River under a flag of truce. With a reputation for abolitionist beliefs and no minister, the church then disbanded and no further U.U. activity occurred in Richmond until 1893.
In 1893 a group of 18 people joined together to form the First Unitarian Church of Richmond and signed the Bond of Union. One of them was Mary F. Hill, who had been one of the last members of First Independent Christian Church. First services were held on on Dec. 31, 1893, and the new church struggled to become established.
A New Hope
After a motion to disband the church and dispose of its property was passed in 1898, the fortunes of the church improved and a minister was called in 1904. A church was built at the corner of Harrison and Floyd Avenues in the city – the building still stands as a part of the Virginia Commonwealth University academic campus.
The church continued to grow and became a strong focus of liberal religion in Richmond during the 1950’s and 1960’s. In 1951 the congregation voted overwhelmingly to integrate and in 1963, elected an African American president, Joseph Jenkins. In 1961, when the Unitarian and the Universalist faiths voted to combine, First U.U. Richmond voted against the merger because there were still a handful of Universalist churches in the deep South that had never integrated. When the merger was approved, the congregation did join in association with the Unitarian Universalist Association. In June of 2004, the church officially changed its name to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond.
A Tenacious Legacy
In 1972, the church moved from Harrison and Floyd to 1000 Blanton Avenue. The church wanted to build in a racially mixed neighborhood, but the first two parcels they sought to buy were taken off of the market when it was learned that our church was the buyer. The block where the church is now located was assembled from several lots when three members of the church used their own money to buy the properties. They sold the properties to the church, and a capital campaign raised the money to pay them back. In 2014, the church was renovated.
In recent years, our church:
- Actively participated in the Civil Rights movement
- Revived the Richmond Forum
- Started the Fan Free Clinic
- Established a sister church, UU Community Church, in Glen Allen
- Was recognized as a “Welcoming Congregation” by the UUA, officially declaring our church’s openness and inclusiveness to LGBT individuals
One continuous thread runs through the history and activities of this church – the First Principle of Unitarian Universalism: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. We do our best to honor this, and the other U.U. principles, in everything that we do as a church community.