Happy 250th Birthday!

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian.

The year 2020 will mark a special anniversary in the history of our church. In September of 1770, John Murray found his way to the shores of New England and preached his first Universalist sermon in America. That was 250 years ago and we will be celebrating that event in the coming year.

For those of you who are new to our church, we at Heritage trace our roots back to Universalism. Our church was founded in the early 1800’s in downtown Cincinnati as a Universalist Church. We maintained that religious base throughout our history even to the point of insisting that our church be designated a Universalist Unitarian Church when the merger with that other liberal faith took place in 1961. Nearly all of our fellow churches are designated as Unitarian Universalist churches.

In 1970, the national Unitarian Universalist leadership honored the 200th anniversary in a number of ways. Perhaps the most important was commissioning the writing of a history of Universalism. Dr. Russell Miller, a professor at Tufts University, was selected to research and produce the book. When completed, it was a work of two volumes entitled “The Larger Hope”. Both volumes are available in our Heritage Room library. Also, the national organization set aside time at the 1971 general assembly to celebrate the founding of Universalism in America. The assembly was scheduled to be held in Philadelphia, a city rich in Universalist tradition. Also, local congregations, especially those with strong Universalist roots, were encouraged to conduct programs to celebrate the bicentennial of Murray’s sermon.

Efforts to that end for our church were perhaps thwarted by the resignation of our minister, Karl Bach, on June 30, 1970. At that point in time, the church had relocated to Salem Acres and it became obvious that the church could no longer support a full-time minister. Bach offered his resignation. Guest speakers filled the pulpit for the remainder of the year with the Reverend L. H. Mayfield conducting many of the services.

However, Reverend Bach posted a letter thanking the trustees for easing his separation. Filed with the October 1970 Board of Trustees minutes, his letter makes reference to a sermon delivered at Salem Acres on June 7, 1970, by Dave Johnson entitled “200th Anniversary Sermon on Universalism”. Bach offered to provide a copy of the sermon to the church but no copy of it has been found in our archives. Johnson was the author of the book, To Preach and Fight, a history of Universalism in Cincinnati, which was published in 1973.

1970: Left to right: William Lewis, President, Board of Trustees; Reverend L. H. Mayfield; Trustee Stanley Klein.

Top image: Rev. John Murray.