by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
Just a bit over 30 years ago, the Eastern edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer did a feature article on Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church. Writer Beth Menge emphasized the growth of the church since the opening of its new sanctuary on Newtown Road. She began her article in the March 24, 1992 Enquirer by stating “They’re running out of chairs and parking at Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church and the membership couldn’t be happier. It’s a refreshing sign that the membership decline that nearly wiped out the 165-year-old congregation is over.”
Ms. Menge relates how the congregation sold the house in Salem Acres where they had been worshiping and, after conducting services in several community locations, decided that if the congregation were to grow and prosper they had to build a new church. That decision was described by member Les Nomeland. “It was a rocky time for us. Actual membership was down to about 40 but we would only get 8 or 12 people attending a service. We would get guest speakers in and our own membership would take the pulpit occasionally.”
After the construction of the new church, membership slowly grew but Nomeland related that the membership picked up steam when Elinor Artman was hired as their new part-time minister. He noticed an important increase in the number of young families joining the church. In January 1992, 19 new people signed the membership book, bringing the total number of members to 82. As many as 63 children were regularly in attendance. Reverend Artman noted that her goal was to double the membership in another five years. She stated that a church needs a membership of from 100 to 150 to support a full-time minister. (The 1989-90 Ohio Valley UU Yearbook reports the Heritage membership as 47. First Unitarian is reported as 280 members, Northern Hills as 85 and St. John’s as 230.)
Artman stated that a sermon is offered every Sunday and also a sermon is offered to the children before they depart the sanctuary for Sunday School. She said she really did not want that added responsibility “but sitting there with 40 children staring up at me is quite a trip.”
Menge went on to mention that the church offered a Sunday School program as well as adult education and that the youth of the church were involved in district UU activities. Also, groups were offered for men, women and newcomers to the church.
When asked to describe her attachment to the new church, Connie Booth stated “To use a cliche, it was really a leap of faith—quite a big project and it’s beautiful. It’s really a lovely building.”
Writer Menge went on to explore what Unitarian Universalism is all about. “According to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, Unitarian Universalism is a liberal, creedless religion with Judeo-Christian roots. It also draws from Eastern, humanist, and other religious traditions, and encourages its members to seek religious truth out of their own reflection and experience, tolerate and respect other religious viewpoints, and affirm the worth and dignity of every person.” Reverend Artman went further in saying that “It really is a religion you must think through yourself. We draw upon all the other religions of the world in order to shape our own religion. Some people say it’s an easy religion because you can believe anything you want to. Being on the cutting edge is demanding because you’re out there saying very liberal things that are not well accepted by society.”
When asked what made the Heritage congregation special, Reverend Artman replied “I think it’s the religious community we are forming right now. It’s a birth to death kind of community. It’s the stretch of the generations to search together for the meaning of life.” Connie Booth added, “Sometimes our religion is called a religion of the head and the heart. It has to make sense to the person. I guess that for me would be being able to pursue the religious bent I need without feeling guilty about what I’m doing. I look for kernels of truth in readings and scriptures from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds, whether its Native American, Buddhist or the Bible.”
So here we are thirty years later. If an Enquirer reporter came to do an article in 2022, how would it be similar to 1992 and how would it be different?