HISTORY OF THE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST CHURCH OF LAFAYETTE, INDIANA
The history of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Lafayette, Indiana, spans over half a century. This is a story of many people who struggled and worked together to build a congregation that would be a beacon of liberal religion in our community. Throughout the ups and downs that punctuated the congregation's early development, several themes come through clearly: the themes of dedication to the principles of Unitarian Universalism, commitment to each other as a congregation and a vision for the future. The intensely human stories of conflict, courage, steadfastness, dissent, inspired leadership, and joy and loss, which could leaven this account, must be heard or read elsewhere. We invite you to look at this review of our history both as a small part of your introduction to who we are, as well as considering it as an invitation to become an active partner in the life of our congregation.
Universalist antecedents, and early efforts to form a Unitarian Fellowship in the Lafayette area
City records show that Universalists had been active in the Lafayette area from 1838 until disbanding in the early 1900's. Our modern history started with the formation of a small Unitarian group. This happened on January 9, 1949, when, with 16 persons present, an organizational meeting was held in the home of Dorothea and Raymond Girton. Subsequent meetings took place at various members' homes, and also in the then Fowler Hotel. This early group disbanded October 18, 1950, and turned over its $15.24 treasury to All Souls UU Church in Indianapolis. On December 2, 1951, a group of 14 persons met, again at the Girton home, to reactivate this religious community. From these early times and until just recently, we named and listed ourselves as a Fellowship. The new Girton group met on alternate Sundays at the Hillel Foundation. A Sunday school program for children started in 1952. Up to 18 children attended in 1953, when meetings were moved to the Canterbury House. During 1954, the Reverend Jack Mendelsohn of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis visited and held a service in West Lafayette once a month. The Sunday school was discontinued in 1956 and but was re-activated in 1957.
Sojourn in West Lafayette: Ministers, Buildings, and Religious Education
In 1958, the Fellowship purchased a house for $15,000 at 439 Harrison Street in West Lafayette, after a fund drive raised $2,300 and annual pledges reached $2,800. The first meeting at Harrison Street was held October of that year. The Fellowship was incorporated in 1959. By then, the Sunday School attendance grew from 18 (in 1953) to 60 children and youth. Reverend Mendelsohn stopped coming to Lafayette but guest ministers frequently led services during these years. 1961 was the year that the Unitarian and Universalist religious organizations formally merged as a single national entity, the Unitarian Universalist Associate (UUA). In 1961, the year of the merger, the 50 members called the Reverend R. Hoagland to be the part-time minister. He led services on the first and third Sundays of the month. Average Sunday School attendance during this period was 50. The Fellowship outgrew its Harrison Street quarters very shortly and sold the property in 1963. Two adjacent properties at the corner of Wood and Chauncey Streets in West Lafayette were acquired by the group, at that time consisting of 45 pledging units (families and individuals), and the Fellowship took up occupancy shortly after. At this time the Reverend Edwin Wilson was called as a part-time minister. He came over from Yellow Springs, Ohio, for two consecutive Sundays a month, staying over in West Lafayette for the intervening week. Reverend Wilson was active in the American Religious Humanist movement, and the first editor of the Humanist , a publication of the American Humanist Association. By 1966, there were about 100 active congregants, and 75-80 children attending Sunday School. Reverend Wilson resigned in October of 1967, but corresponded with us from his home in Florida until his death in 1993 at age 94.
In 1968, Charles S. Slap was called as part-time minister, while completing his studies at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. He became the full-time minister in March of 1969. The Fellowship then had 56 pledging units, and supported an $18,000 operating budget. Reverend Slap resigned in the fall of 1971, accepting a call to the church in Davis, California. In May, 1972, the Reverend Kenneth G. Hurto was called as minister of our congregation. In 1973, we purchased the property adjacent to the Fellowship house at Wood and Chauncey Streets, in the hopes of building a church on the enlarged site some time in the future. Architectural plans for such a structure were generated, but were felt to be beyond the resources of the group at that time. In 1975, support dwindled, Sunday School enrollment had fallen off, and many of the original founders and stalwarts of the congregation had moved out of the Lafayette area or had become inactive. Reverend Hurto resigned in August, 1975, to become minister of the First Church, Des Moines, Iowa. At this low point, the West Lafayette Park Board made a generous offer of $88,000 to buy the Wood and Chauncey Street properties in toto. This offer was accepted. It should be noted that the area was later converted into a popular neighborhood park, now named the Tommy Johnston Neighborhood Park. The congregation, while still using the Wood and Chauncey Street facilities, considered that need for both a new minister as well as for a new church home. The decision was made to initiate a search for a new home, and to defer a ministerial search till a later, unspecified date.
The Fellowship finds a new home in Lafayette
After a Building Search covering many possibilities in both West Lafayette and Lafayette, the availability of the former Temple Israel building in downtown Lafayette was discovered. Protracted negotiations with the American Red Cross, the then owners of this building, led to its purchase in 1976 for a sum of $30,000. Originally constructed in 1867, the building had been sold to the Red Cross in 1969. Used by the Red Cross for storage and training purposes in subsequent years, it had suffered the effects of vandalism and neglect. The congregation moved immediately to the building, and a three-year renovation program was undertaken. A new roof and repair of the stained glass windows were among the first tasks. Extensive plastering, re-wiring, painting, siding work and carpeting were additional projects; much of the work done by Fellowship members. A special grant from the Loeb Foundation made it possible to sandblast the brick exterior, with final tuck-pointing and sealing completed by the spring of 1979. Preserving the character of the building's architecture was a primary goal of the restoration work. The building was listed on the Historical Registry. Building dedication ceremonies were held during the week of April 22-29, 1979.
Reverend Libbie Stoddard begins tenure as Minister
In 1980, the Reverend Will Saunders served the Fellowship for six weeks through the UUA Minister-On-Loan program. With his stimulus and encouragement, a Search for a full-time minister was undertaken. The Reverend Libbie Stoddard accepted the call as full-time minister, to begin in December. During 1981, the Fellowship had an operating budget of $30,000. Sunday attendance and the size of Religious Education program showed steady growth. In 1983, the Fellowship changed its name from Unitarian to Unitarian Universalist, consistent with the national merger of the two denominations in 1961.
The Fellowship voted to renovate the building in December of 1988, with the goals of adding wheel-chair accessibility and an additional staircase which would meet the fire code. A major fund-raising drive was successfully conducted. In 1989, the operating budget had reached $50,000. In the Spring of 1989, a decision was made to include plans to renovate the first floor of the building when the accessibility renovation took place. During a part of the renovation period, Sunday Services and Religious Education classes were held at Wabash Center on Greenbush Street. Renovations were completed and the Fellowship building reoccupied again in May, 1992. An Open House was held on June 7, 1992.
Growth of professional staff
The Fellowship Staff was enlarged in 1994 to include our first paid Religious Education Director: Kaye McSpadden, a longtime volunteer in this position, was hired.
Recent changes: Fellowship to Church, the Welcoming Congregation, Space Search, Double Services, New Property Purchase, New Minister
The congregation voted to a change in name from "Fellowship" to "Church" in December, 1996. In a congregational meeting on April 27, 1997, we voted to become a Welcoming Congregation , a designation publicly signifying that we are a religious community which is welcoming to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Growth in membership, attendance at Sunday Services, and rapid increases in Religious Education class enrollments forced the use of non-church spaces, and stimulated an active search for enlarged quarters for the congregation and its many activities. A partial response to space and facilities needs was the instituting of double services and double Religious Education classes in September, 1997, and lasting till June, 1999. On September 29, 1997, our Unitarian Universalist Church bought property at 2239 Union Street, with the intention of building a church at this location during the coming years. A Comprehensive Planning Committee was formed to plan for this new church home . On April 26, 1998, architect Dean Upshaw was hired to develop the plans for the church.
On May 31, 1998, Reverend Libbie Stoddard resigned because of the need to become a caregiver for a chronically ill daughter and her family. Reverend Robert Flanders was called as an interim minister. He served for two years, during which time the congregation undertook a search for a permanent minister. In the spring of 2000 the congregation voted overwhelmingly to call Hilary Landau Krivchenia as the new permanent minister. She began serving in August, 2000. An Installation and Ordination Service was held in October.
New Building In September 2007, the church purchased and moved into the building that was previously St. Andrew Methodist Church.
In 2008, Rev. Krivchenia was called to another UU Church, and, while the Ministerial search was proceeding, the Rev. Marlene Walker served as our interim minister. On May 2nd of 2010, our church called Rev. Charlie Davis to become our new minister. He held his first service on Sept. 5, 2010.