By Henry Morlock
In 1961 the American Unitarian Association (UAU) merged with the Universalist Church of America (UCA) to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). They merged after decades of talking about it because both needed members and money.
The merger was relatively easy due to major similarities in goals and practices. Both stressed the importance of individual conscience, and neither required that members adopt and recite defining creeds. They differed chiefly in regard to what people should aim for in their lives with the Unitarians stressing development of personal moral character, and Universalists stressing solving major social and political problems, e.g. slavery, woman’s suffrage and prison reform.
Unitarianism became an organized denomination with the formation of the American Unitarian Association in 1825. After that it attracted major writers and philosophers, Ralph Waldo Emerson for one, who would sometimes produce major upheavals and new directions in their congregations, such as Emerson’s passion and avowal of Transcendentalism.
Universalism in the United States had its beginning in the late 18th century through the preaching of circuit-riding missionaries and such articulate, passionate individuals as John Murray who preached “not hell, but hope and comfort” and Hosea Ballou who argued that everyone will be saved and go to heaven immediately after death no matter how bad they may have been on earth.
Comparing the two denominations shows there were differences as well as similarities; however, the two groups had, perhaps, the most important practice in common: that people should read the bible; and considering their own interpretations and experiences, make up their own minds about what they should believe in.
While individuality of belief is a laudable ideal, it makes it difficult to state what Unitarian Universalists believe in. This was settled to some extent by the adoption of the brief list of values and practices known as the Principals and Sources that were agreed upon by the UUA in 1985.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Plattsburgh came into being in 1956 as the result of an initiative by the AUA, which, in 1948, decided to expand its membership by establishing many small independent “fellowship” groups. To establish a fellowship, one needed a minimum of 10 religious liberals who lived in a community with no Unitarian church, who supported the purposes of the AUA and who made a monetary contribution to it. Monroe Husbands, the AUA director of the initiative, met with the Plattsburgh group and apparently gave it his blessing. The group grew quickly and soon expanded its meeting quarters to a relocated and converted Army mule shed. Then, in 1973, the group bought and moved into a previously orthodox Jewish temple in Plattsburgh.
Over the past 55 years, the UU’s of Plattsburgh have established themselves, as a viable, vigorous religious presence with a mission to prosper and be a valuable asset to their community. The fellowship is presently looking forward to erecting its own building on a building lot on Kansas Avenue.