The fifties were exciting times for the new religious entity in town. Especially alternate Wednesday evenings, which were designated Fellowship discussion times. Ah, discussion -- the great Unitarian forte… Other religions, Unitarianism, current topics of controversy..... In the beginning, meetings were in members' homes. Later, rooms in Riddick, Withers Hall, and the YMCA on North Carolina State College campus were sites for meetings. Minutes of early fifties meetings yield lengthy descriptions of speakers and their subject matter and sketchy information about fellowship business wanting attention.
Discussion, discussion, always discussion. Harriet Doar, secretary, commented after one such Wednesday discussion session: "The usual unity in diversity was apparent." The love of free play of individual thought and concern permeated every aspect of fellowship life and still provides common ground for diverse opinion and experience-sharing. Our present Wednesday Book Discussion Group descends directly from those first Wednesday evening meetings.
In 1956, once-per-month Sunday services began. Ritual, hymn-singing and worship (Iola Moore's pet projects) added to the style of these services. Later, Betsy Cox commented; "Iola Moore was adamant in her quest for meaningful ritual, a continuity encompassing the true sense of tradition."
Sermons were from the AUA (American Unitarian Association). Members read these sermons (and other materials) to the audiences on a rotating basis. Brass candlesticks with her name inscribed were Miss Moore's gift to enhance the worship services.
Officers were elected in spring meetings. An important and influential new chair was added. The program chair! Money was collected as needed for such things as: contributions to AUA, The Southern Regional Conference, and a milk fund for a local black family.
The mid-fifties found members thinking seriously about a building of their own. Our first building fund started with a penny tossed into an ashtray. Dale Blosser tossed the penny and challenged the others to begin a building fund in 1955. By 1959, the penny had grown to more than $4,000.
The house at 119 Hawthorne Road was purchased that year. The prior owner of Hawthorne Road house was suspected of running a numbers racket. Naturally, Hawthorne Road neighbors were suspicious of Unitarian members Clinton and Reba Clevenger as they toured the property. "How many in your family?" one asked. Dr. Clevenger replied, "Oh, 'bout forty, I reckon." (Actual membership was twenty-two.) This brown-shingled house on Hawthorne Road was our home for twenty years. The house had five rooms upstairs while downstairs there was space for meetings, kitchen, and an office.
Five men signed the note for the final purchase of the house: Joe Cox, C.B. Clevenger, Dominic Tringali, Carter Fuller, and Robert Hentz. Personal circumstances caused four of the signatories to move out of town. Joe Cox was stuck holding the note. The fellowship lived up to its financial word and paid the loan off within a few years.
How many children does it take to start a Sunday school? How about five? A few members thought five was fine and volunteered to be teachers. "We started in 1957," said Betsy Cox, "in the YMCA on N.C. State campus, in one huge room with a sea of chairs that we pushed around to make islands of usable space." By 1959 there were enough children for three classes. We really needed our own building.
Teachers were emphasizing a style of learning relating to home, family, and other elements of the child's environment. Lots of art and craft activities. Stories, songs, puppets, games, etc.
Once, our children operated puppets of their own making to dramatize the story of Joseph. The play was shared with the adults. Steward Puppet searched the twelve brothers for Joseph's missing cup. "Y'all ain't got it," he announced as he searched each brother. "Y'all ain't got it." When he came to Benjamin's sack, he shouted, "Y'ALLS GOT IT."
Our small, fledgling group of predecessors mustered a number of special events: In 1951, Rev. John H. Morgan, minister of the Unitarian Church in Charlotte, N.C., presented the first Unitarian service in Raleigh. The following year, the combined fellowships in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, sponsored "The First Unitarian Institute," featuring two prominent Unitarian ministers, Dr. A. Powell Davies and Dr. Frederick May Eliot. "One of the big events of our young life," recorded Dr. Robert Hentz, "was the sponsorship of a talk by Ralph Blanchard at the United Church, which turned out to be a [nice] success." Blanchard was author, lawyer, editor, lecturer, and well-known Unitarian and Humanist. In 1959, the Raleigh Fellowship hosted the Carolina Unitarian Conference. It was held at State College YMCA. 48 delegates from Carolina Unitarian societies attended.
Organizational expansion and improvement was on our board's agenda in the late fifties. Additions to our board were Vice-chairman, Director of R.E, and various standing committees. Dale Blosser, chairman of the board in 1958-59, stated:
"I wish to emphasize and promote committee government and individual participation in all that the group undertakes." He went beyond his goal and had 33 people working on committees. Remarkable!! Our so-called active roster listed 22 members.
The library of 1958 contained 18 titles. Reba Clevenger was our first librarian. By 1989, gifts and purchases had increased our library collection to more than 300 titles.
By the end of the fifties decade the numbers had closed on or surpassed Clinton Clevenger's "'bout forty, I reckon" estimate for the size of his "family".