by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
From 1926 to 1933, Reverend Robert Cummins served as the minister of our church. Reverend Cummins was born in Sydney, Ohio in 1897 and attended Miami University. After graduation he joined the Presbyterian Church as an administrator for a mission program in Bangkok, Thailand. He served there for two years but decided to leave the Presbyterian faith to join the Universalist faith, which he said was “big enough to allow me the freedom of conscience and intellect I seemed by nature to demand.”
Cummins assumed the Universalist pastorate in Milford, Newtown and Montgomery while at the same time owning and operating his own insurance business. In 1926 Cummins came to Cincinnati to assume the pastorate at our church. He served in that capacity for over six years and while doing so earned a Master of Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati. He then moved to Pasadena, California where he was minister of Throop Memorial Universalist Church.
While serving in Pasadena he earned a second Master’s degree in Theology from the University of Southern California. His successes in Cincinnati and Pasadena led the national organization to offer him the position of General Superintendent of the Universalist Church of America.
His main charge was to put the church on a more stable financial footing and to halt the decline in membership, which had plagued Universalism for more than half a century. He was largely unsuccessful in these endeavors. He did, however, manage to alter the view of Universalism by expanding beyond its Christian roots.
At the end of his fifteen-year tenure, he supported the church’s entrance into the Council of Liberal Churches, which is recognized as a first step towards our eventual union with the Unitarian faith.
In 1943, Cummins stated:
Universalism can not be limited to Protestantism or Christianity, not without denying it’s very name. Ours is a world fellowship, not just a Christian sect. For so long as Universalism is universalism and not partialism, the fellowship bearing it’s name must succeed in making it unmistakably clear that all are welcome: theist and humanist, Unitarian and Trinitarian, colored and color-less. A circumscribed Universalism is unthinkable.
After fifteen years as superintendent, Cummins retired and accepted a position in the Eisenhower administration leading the State Department’s International Cooperation Administration. Cummins was married to Alice Grimes and together they had three children, one of whom, John, is a prominent UU minister in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Robert Cummins died in 1982.
As an addendum to his life, Robert’s father, Robert K. Cummins, was superintendent of Sunday Schools at a Universalist Church in Baltimore. In 1892, the mother of the church’s pastor, Mrs. Emily Pullman, died on May 22. Each year following, Robert K. Cummins offered a celebration of her life. Soon this was used as a tribute to all mothers and was the seed that eventually led to the establishment of Mother’s Day nationally. Mrs. Pullman was also the mother of George Pullman, the inventor of the Pullman sleeping car.