The history of our church, and Unitarianism and Universalism in Melrose, stretches back to the 1800’s.
Universalist worship in Melrose began in the early 1800s when a number of ministers, including Hosea Ballou, gave sermons in a small schoolhouse on Lebanon Street. In 1849, sixteen individuals joined together to organize the first Universalist Parish in Melrose.
Around 1852, the Universalist Parish constructed a church at the corner of Essex and Willow streets in Melrose, on land bought for the congregation by its first minister, J.W. Talbot. The Universalist Parish continued to use this parcel until 1975, when they merged with the Unitarian Congregation of Melrose.
The last building which served the independent Universalist Parish still stands on the same parcel, and now houses several businesses.
During the construction of this last building, one minister of a more conservative denomination remarked to his congregation that though he had observed the spire of the new church rising not far away, he doubted that it was pointed towards heaven. The building still has its spire, and it is still pointing in the same direction as it always did. (photo from Zillow)
In 1848, Unitarianism made its first appearance in Melrose, as the result of a mission sponsored by the American Unitarian Association. Unfortunately, the mission apparently was unsuccessful and was given up after several months. It was almost twenty years later before further attempts were made to establish Unitarianism in Melrose. In July 1867, the Unitarian Congregation of Melrose was organized.
The Unitarian Congregation built its first church was built in 1872. The church served the congregation well until 1928. In that year, the congregation decided that the facility needed either substantial refurbishment or replacement. With the impetus gained from a generous donation by member Frederick Bowden, the decision was made by the Unitarian Congregation to erect a new church, which is our present facility.
The old Unitarian building was demolished and the present structure was built in 1936 and dedicated in 1937.
Our building’s steeple is topped with a beautiful lyre-and-plume design weather vane. In 1935 a longtime Melrose Unitarian Congregation member, Union B. Twitchell, donated “an old-fashioned weather vane”, which for many years stood on a community church in Bethel, Maine built by Mr. Twitchell’s grandfather. The occasion of this legacy was the construction of our present sanctuary, including the steeple and parish hall, constructed on the foundation of the previous meetinghouse.
During the ministry of the Reverend Harold Shelley, (1954-1957) the minister’s study, the church office, and a large classroom on the basement level were added to the structure. In 1966, another addition was created, which houses expanded office space, classrooms and a library in the upper level, multiple classrooms in the lower level, and a large attic storage area.
Both churches grew through the 1800’s – 1900’s. The affinity between the Unitarian and Universalist denominations was recognized early on by both of the Melrose congregations, and they considered merging in 1918 and again in 1935. Following the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist national associations in 1961, it was apparent that there were no longer any doctrinal differences to keep the churches apart. In the fall of 1973, the president of one board sent a letter to the other recommending that a joint study committee be formed to explore the possibility of a merger. Meeting weekly, the committee reported favorably to each congregation that a merger should be initiated. In May of 1974 the formal merger took place.
On the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the original Universalist Parish, which was celebrated just before the merger, the Reverend David B. Loomis reflected on the history of that church and expressed a sentiment which is still true in our congregation today: “We are a church, not of wood and brick, a church not built by hands, but with a loyal, sacrificing spirit of love and friendship and memories of staunch supporters.”
Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church (1974 – Present)
Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson, 2016-present; Interim Minister
Rev. Barbara R. Threet, 2007 – 2016 (retired)
Rev. Paul L’Herrou, 2006-2007; Interim Minister
Rev. Deborah Pope-Lance, 2005-2006; Interim Minister
Rev. Jennifer Justice, 2003- 2005
Rev. Doris L. Hunter, 2001-2003; Interim Minister
Rev. Phyllis B. O’Connell, 1991-2001; Called to UU Society Wellesley Hills, Wellesley, MA
Rev. Rosemarie Smurzynski, 9/89-9/91;Interim Minister; Called to UU Area Church First Parish, Sherborn, MA
Rev. Patricia Bowen, 9/89-12/89; Part-Time Minister, short-term relief for Rev. Robert E. Jones
Rev Robert E. Jones, 4/87-9/89 (Died 9/13/1989)
Rev. Philip R. Giles, 9/86-4/87; Part-Time Interim
Rev. Lawrence McGinty, 2/86-6/86; Interim Minister
Rev. James M. Bank, 1981-12/85; Called to First Unitarian Church, Baltimore, MD
Rev. Howard E. Hunter, 9/80-8/81; Co-Interim Minister
Rev. Doris L. Hunter, 9/80-8/81; Co-Interim Minister
Rev. Addison E. Steeves, 1974-1980; Called to First Universalist Church, Auburn, ME
Unitarian Church of Melrose (1950 – 1974)
Rev. Addison E. Steeves, 1967-1974; Called to Melrose UU Church (merger)
Rev. Peter Lee Scott, 1962-1967; Called to Lexington Church, KY
Rev. J. Arnold Meardon, 1958-1962; Proceeded to Graduate Studies, Brown U.
Rev. Harold K. Shelley, 1954-1957; Became Exec Sec, South NE Council Unitarian Churches
Rev. Kendrick R. Lee, 1951-1954; Called to Chaplain State Hospital, Trenton, NJ
Rev. Chadbourne A. Springs, 1942-1950; Called to East Shore Church, Bellevue, WA
Universalist Church of Melrose (1950 – 1974)
Rev. David B. Loomis, 1966-1974; Called to Chaplain State Hospital, Tewksbury, MA
Rev. Albert F. Ziegler, 1959-1965
Rev. Dr. L.H. Miller, 1954-1959
Rev. Leslie C. Nichols, 1936-1954