The history provided here is based on previous histories compiled by many people over the years. In 1967, L.H. Jobe, a charter member, wrote a history of the early decades. On the occasion of our 40th anniversary in 1989, Betty Brown and Virgil Hinds continued the story, based on Mr. Jobe's original work and supplemented by information from charter members Helen Brown and Eula Williamson, with special contributions about the beginnings of the Youth Religious Education program from Betsy Cox. In 1999, Bill Finger, with the invaluable assistance of Barbara Michos, Gayle Fitzgerald, Ellen MacMillan, Margaret Link and Michele Macintosh (designer), created a 50th Anniversary booklet, which brought the story up to 1999. The history of the last decade remains to be recorded...but the story continues.
The history of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh started in 1949, and the story continues to unfold. May the chalice continue to be lit in our places of worship for years to come. Our story is made up of the stories of many people, people who dreamed, planned and worked to establish and expand a liberal religious community in a largely restrictive environment. Not everyone who gave their talents, time and devotion can be named in this short history—although some who served as officers or in special ways will be made known—but all will be commemorated.
In the summer of 1949, two women attending a sewing meeting at Raleigh’s Wiley School in Cameron Park became acquainted and their conversation turned to church affiliation.
“I am an Episcopalian,” said the first woman. “What is your denomination?”
“I am a Unitarian,” answered Mrs. Harriet Doar, the society editor of the News and Observer
“Then you must meet my sister,” the first said. “She is also a Unitarian.”
The Episcopalian’s sister was Iola Moore, and she soon met Harriet Doar. Having heard of the new fellowship program of the American Unitarian Association (AUA), they decided to try to organize a fellowship in Raleigh.
The fifties were exciting times for the new religious entity in town. The Fellowship’s first building fund began in 1955, with a penny tossed in an ashtray. By 1959, the fund had grown to $4,000, enough for a down payment on a house at 119 Hawthorne Street near N.C. State. Five men signed the note for the purchase, but four of them moved out of town, leaving Joe Cox as the only signatory still a member. The Fellowship lived up to its financial obligation and paid off the note.
"If twenty-two people could buy the [Hawthorne Rd] house, sixty-five people ought to be able to swing this [deal]." A double lot on Wade Avenue was bought for $21,000.
With other churches, we formed Raleigh Inter-Church Housing (RICH Park), borrowing a million dollars to build 100 apartments in West Raleigh for low-income families. UUFR’s investment was $2,000. Method Day Care, aspin-off, still operates at Pullen Baptist Church.
The 70s were truly the decade of lay leadership. New developments covered all aspects of the Fellowship’s life: expanded adult and children’s ministry, support systems for members such as extended families and youth programs, expanded social activities, deepening ties with denominational activities, and continued social action projects. Hymns were sung for the first time at UUFR services.
One concept of the 1969 by-laws was reaffirmed. "Any person may become a member of this Fellowship who is in sympathy with its purpose and program, as signified by his (sic) signature on the membership roll." During the seventies, an attempt to degenderize our by-laws was voted down.
A major accomplishment of the 80s was the February 1981 move to 3313 Wade Avenue. “Moving” Sunday found the congregation parading from the house on Hawthorne Street to the new building. We carried our banner proudly in front of the procession. Important items such as the wooden replica of Raleigh Raccoon, given by Betsy Cox, and the mummy, left over from some Youth Religious Education project, were carried through the streets. We planted a hawthorn tree near the new building to remind us of our Hawthorne Street heritage.
How well were our 154 members coping iin 1980's? Rev. David Scheyer, interim minister, in his 1987 evaluation of the Fellowship wrote that it is: "a basically very 'healthy' congregation, one with the resources and commitment capable of making it a prime example of the best we have to offer."
In the 90s, we hired our first professional music director, Bill Yocum. Before the decade’s end, Bill was leading choirs during both services and providing thoughtful musical additions and accompaniment to Sunday services.
in 1999 UUFR celebrated its 50 anniversary. Two of our founding members – Eula Williamson and Helen Brown— were with us to celebrate. “Unitarians find the good in any religion and make it a part of themselves,” 96-year-old Helen said in 1999 during a spunky conversation from her apartment at the Springmoor retirement community. In this Fellowship, “it’s how much you learn. That interests me a lot: learning and growing.”
Now we turn the page to a new decade to be followed by a new century. New people will come, old ones depart, building plans progress, the history makers proceed. "What's past is prologue."