Early Universalists in Washington (Timeline from 1827)

This timeline is based on the work of A. S. Knox in 1980, and is based principally on histories of the Universalist Church in Washington, D.C. by James Watson Webb 1882, and Marcus Winfield Lewis, c.1940

Early Universalists in Washington

  • 1827-1860: Theophilus Fiske and Otis Skinner were among the Universalist preachers visiting Washington during this time. Attempts of local Universalists to form a Society in the District of Columbia failed.
  • 1861-1865: Washington churches were largely used as hospitals during the war. Universalist ministers preached occasionally.
  • 1866-1867: Universalists attended Unitarian Church at Indiana Ave. and D St., N.W. where the pulpit was occasionally occupied by Universalist ministers.
  • September 1867: Universalist General Convention (UGC) meeting in Baltimore, Md. passed resolution to establish National Memorial Church in Washington, D.C.

Murray Universalist Society/First Universalist Church of Washington, D.C.

  • January 19, 1868: First recorded religious service of Washington Universalists was conducted by Rev. Elbridge Gerry Brooks in Union League Hall, 9th near F St., N. W., 150 attending.
  • January 25, 1868: Temporary organization established.
  • March 1, 1869: Appeal was made to Centenary Committee of the Universalist General Convention (UGC) to build a Centenary church in Washington, memorializing John Murray’s landing in America in 1770, which led to the establishment of Universalist Church. The appeal was rejected by the Committee.
  • May 17, 1869: A permanent Washington Universalist organization was formed — The Murray Universalist Society — 59 members.
  • 1869-1873: There were many visiting Universalist ministers, and meetings were held in private homes and in halls, including the Lincoln Hall, at 9th and S Streets, Metzerott Hall on Pennsylvania Ave. between 9th & 10th Sts. N.W., and Masonic Hall, 9th & F Sts. N.W. During this time Walt Whitman attended services.
  • 1870: (John Murray’s landing in America) Centenary Year. Universalist General Convention (UGC) meeting was held in first American Universalist Church, founded in 1780 in Gloucester, Mass. One purpose of the convention was to establish a $100,000 fund for erection of a memorial church in the Nation’s Capital.
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Universalist Church of Our Father

Until 1961, when the Universalists and the Unitarian denominations consolidated, the Universalist General Convention (UGA; which became known as the Universalist Church of America, or UCA) held biennial meetings that served as the highest denominational decision making body. For those few churches, including this church, the churches in Baltimore, and the scant couple of churches in Virginia, that fell outside the state covention system, the Universalist General Convention was the immediate denominational body. Our special relationship, as “the national church” was codified in 1927 and included a power-sharing arrangement with the UGC that lasted into the 1950s. Not until 1991 did the church actually own its own building. The meetings of the UGC were held several times in Washington. First, in September 1873, it met in Masonic Hall, and in the Unitarian and Metropolitan churches. Funds intended formate proposed Memorial Church in Washington, D.C. were converted to the rebuilding of the church destroyed by the Chicago fire in 1871. On October 30, 1883, the dedication of the Church of Our Father was held during a session of the Universalist General Convention held in Washington. The UCG met in Washington in 1893, 1903 (when the delegates were received by President Theodore Roosevelt) 1929 (at All Souls Church, Unitarian and the Mayflower Hotel) 1935 (at the church and the Mayflower Hotel; this was the session when the “Washington Avowal” was adopted) and in 1939.

Nationwide financial panic during this month further postponed building of Universalist National Memorial Church in D.C. Money was raised, however, by local Murray Society for purchase of lot for a church building.

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John Van Schaik, Image courtesy of the UUA

On February 15 and 22, 1874, Church body was first organized, and was publicly recognized March 24 as First Universalist Church of Washington. On June 1, 1875, the Murray Universalist Society of Washington was legally incorporated.

  • 1879: Search was made to purchase an existing church building. Considered were the Shiloh Baptist Church and the New York Avenue Presbyterian.
  • November 1881: Purchase was made of SE corner lot, 13th & L Sts. N.W. On this the Church of Our Father was built later to house the First Universalist Church of Washington, D.C.
  • May 9, 1882: Cornerstone of the Church was laid.
  • May 13, 1883: First service was held in Church of Our Father, Rev. Alexander Kent officiating.
  • 1892: The first National Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution was held in this church.
  • October 25, 1908: Twenty-fifth anniversary of Church of our Father. Dr. van Schaick preached in the morning, and historical lectures were given in the church in the evening.

Universalist National Memorial Church

  • 1921: Question of the National Memorial Church in Washington again brought up by Universalist General Convention. Money for construction of Universalist National Memorial Church was authorized.
  • 1921-1925: Several sites were considered in vicinity of present UNMC. Present site approved February 1, 1925. Money was raised through the U.S., in part by purchases of memorials.
  • 1925-1930: Services of First Universalist Church were held in the Metropolitan Theater on F Street, and the Ambassador Theater on Columbia Road (at 18th Street), during building of Universalist National Memorial Church.
  • c. 1973: The old church building was razed. An office building sits on the site today.
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Historic post card featuring an early image of the Universalist National Memorial Church