First Universalist celebrates sesquicentennial

First Universalist Church is celebrating 150 years of service this year.

The church, which today is located at 3400 Dupont Avenue, has a storied history dating back to when Dorilus Morrison, the first mayor of Minneapolis, became the institution’s first president in 1859.

“The values of the church — to care for the whole community — became a part of Minneapolis, part of building a progressive city,” said Karin Wille, a 32-year member of the church.

Values of the church have remained consistent over the 150 years, Wille said.

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal Christian faith that values the worth of each person. Members believe in one god known by many names, Wille said.

According to Wille, who took part in planning a commemorative event that took place last month, a steering committee made up of 11 congregation members began planning three years ago. In the fall of 2007, the committee solicited church members to raise $65,000 to celebrate the anniversary and the First Universalist board of trustees approved a $7,000 contribution from church funds.

Two special services on Oct. 25 were the crux of the celebration. More than 600 adults and 200 children attended an intergenerational service at 10 a.m. that featured Ann Reed’s commissioned work “We Will.” Members of the church enjoyed birthday cake before the second service began at 2 p.m. During this service, Rev. Justin Schroeder was ordained and installed at the church.

Between the October celebration and the time the committee first met, the
church used some of the $72,000 it raised for sesquicentennial celebrations to host a soiree at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center in April, a luncheon in May for those who have been members of the church for 25 years or more, and a service and picnic in August at Beard’s Plaisance on the west side of Lake Harriet.

“The sheer age is unique,” Kevin Watson, communications coordinator for First Universalist, said about the anniversary.

Wille said the anniversary is important because history plays a significant role in what the church can do today.

“The church community is grounded in the past, knows why we are the way we are, and can be more effective in the present and future,” she said.

The history of the congregation includes merging two congregations, the Unitarians and the Universalists, in 1961. The churches were small and shared a lot of common ground in terms of theology, which is why they chose to join, Watson said.

More than 40 years after the merge, the church’s membership outgrew its building at 50th Street and Gerard Avenue and sold it to Shir Tikvah, a Jewish congregation. First Universalist then bought a synagogue at 3400 Dupont in 1993, where they remain today.

These location changes are part of a history that is included in a 150th anniversary book and DVD available at the church. The sesquicentennial celebrations were videotaped so another DVD and an electronic book of the speeches could be created, Wille said.

A sesquicentennial art show is taking place in the church social hall until Nov. 29.