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[Chalice] 170 years of Unitarianism in Quincy [Chalice]

Presented January 24, 2010, by Sandy Morrison

History is defined as a narrative of events. A chronological record of events as a development of an institution. In reading the long and involved chronological record of the development of this institution known as the Quincy Unitarian Church it became obvious that often History Repeats Itself.

Tradition is defined as passing down a culture from generation to generation. It is a body of unwritten religious precepts. Through the years the religious precepts have been passed from generation to generation in this church. Though ideas change, events alter outlooks and people come and go the core value system and traditions continue to exist.

Longevity is defined as a long duration of life with a persistence of vision. Just the fact that we are here today, committed to liberal religion in Quincy, Illinois proves the longevity of this church and the persistence of the vision has been tested many times along the way. Those who came before us held fast and kept on the path to maintain presence in the community

Persistence is defined as being obstinately , repetitiously, insistent or tenacious in some activity. That means we could be annoying and stubborn which I am sure is how some people would describe our persistent attitude as we are firm and steadfast in our purpose. It is also a state of undertaking-- despite obstacles, warnings and set backs. This church community has experienced all of the above as they persistently carried on through the years.

Our beginnings:

William G. Eliot was the minister of the St. Louis Unitarian Church for 38 years beginning in 1834. In April of 1839 Mr. Eliot traveled to Quincy where he gave a talk at the court house which we can consider the first known Unitarian sermon in Quincy. Mr. Eliot spoke on Friday evening and again on Sunday morning and evening. It was noted that six young men who did not know each other before this event attended. It seems he inspired the group to continue meeting. In 1940 they formed the Second Congregational Society of Quincy. Direct quote from the annals of history "Their means were small but not so their faith." This church group was officially formed fifteen years after Unitarianism was taking hold in our country and fifteen years after Quincy was founded. Illinois was considered part of the frontier and the Quincy group was one of the pioneer churches of the west.

Think about the efforts it took to get us going. Mr. Eliot continued to travel from St. Louis during the early years of our development. It would be great fun to have a conversation with him and find out what is was that motivated him to do this. Why did he choose Quincy? He did not hop into an auto equipped with all the things of comfort and drive up a four-lane highway. He saddled his horse or hitched up his buggy and started through whatever trails or roads were there.. He did not text anyone about when he would arrive. The radio nor TV were around to announce that this event would take place at the courthouse which was not centrally heated.

Our fore bearers proved their persistence by continuing to meet and develop a presence in the community. The Rev. Wm. P. Huntington came from Hillsboro, Illinois and remained for five weeks to guide the six member group in their efforts. Mr. Eliot continued to return to Quincy on many occasions during these first years. He often gave lectures setting forth his views on Unitarian belief. Rev. Glen Moore of Concord, Mass. came to serve as the first official minister. He remained the leader until his death in March of 1847.

In March of 1840 land was leased on Maine Street between Third and Fourth for the first church building; a wooden structure. I venture to say this building did not have central heating either. Heating the buildings seems to be on my mind as I work on this talk and appreciate the warmth I take for granted during these cold winter days.

Ten years later the lease was running out for the lot where our first church was located. A second building was built on Jersey Street above 6th Street. This was dedicated in November by William G. Elliot and the Rev. William Fuller, the minister at this time. Mr. Elliot continued to make his trips to Quincy and it was recorded that he gave a generous donation of $500 to the new building.

The church and its many activities outgrew this building on Jersey and in 1857 a large brick church was built on Maine between Sixth and Seventh Streets. I am totally impressed; within 18 years the congregation needed a larger building for their activities.

While reading the 100th anniversary book you realize what activities were going on. In the 1800's the social life of people, young and old, took place in the churches. The Second Congregational Society was not exception.

Direct from the printed programs:

The Eclectic Club Programme announces Entertainment in the Unitarian Church Parlors.
Tuesday, Evening Nov, 2nd, 1875
Bread On The Waters...a drama in two acts.
(The list of cast and characters followed.)

Unity Club Announcement for the year 1887-88
Order of Exercises:
Social Tea from Six to Seven o' Clock
Reading of Minutes at Half Past Seven
Topics for the Evenings:
Nov. 9th - Study in Clubs
Nov. 23rd - Our Western Domain
Dec 14 - Manual Training
Jan. 11th - Prison Reform
Feb 8th - The Relation of the Microscope to Medical Science
March.7th - Compulsory Education
April 4th - Seeing and Hearing
Social Events will be held - January 28, February 15, March 14, April 11

The Conversation Club met on a regular basis. Here is a list of some of the topics discussed during the late 1890's.

Our very own summer discussion group could walk into any of these meetings and join right in. The topics have not changed much at all. Unitarians were as committed to being aware of the problems of the world in the 1800's as they are in 2010. History repeats itself.

The Sunday School was growing by leaps and bounds as quoted, "We had no room for the activities without encroaching on the use of the church auditorium."

At a meeting in 1869 Gen. Morgan offered and contributed $2000 provided the Society would raise sufficient funds to pay off the church debt and put the church in repair, amounting to an additional $3000. This was accepted and by February the additional money was in sight. Gen Morgan was authorized to take charge of the construction of an annex which proved to be so indispensable that members wondered how the were able to do without it. It served all of the clubs and other entertainments and activities of the Society .

Details of these financial plans are included because through the history of our existence we have experienced periods of figuring out how to handle things so we do not have any debt.!!!!!! It reminds me of the last ten to twelve years of planning and executing the plans for our addition WHILE staying out of debt. Our congregation like the one over a hundred years ago rose to the the occasion and did it.. This addition serves clubs, other entertainments and activities of our society. We wonder how we got along without it. History repeats it self.

December 30, 1890 The headline in the Quincy Daily Whig newspaper was Celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Unitarian Church. This was followed by a very long and detailed article about the 50th anniversary festivities." Quoting directly from the newspaper article:

On Sunday and yesterday the Unitarian church in this city celebrated its golden jubilee, the fiftieth anniversary of its organization. The church edifice, on Maine street between Sixth and Seventh, was beautifully decorated for the occasion and at all of the services and exercises there was markedly apparent a feeling of suppressed joy and good fellowship which displayed itself in the hearty greetings and congratulations which the members, old and new, extended to each other. Many of the old pastors of the church were present having come hundreds of miles to participate in the festivities, and joined with the members in the felicitations over the rounding out of the first half century of its existence.

Now, following this we have four long columns quoting the various sermons, listing the program activities and describing each in detail. The service followed much of the traditional Christian format. The listing included the Organ Voluntary, Invocation by The Rev. Blake, Scripture Reading, Prayer and Benediction. This article was a source of much information about the prior fifty years.

The church continued at the Maine Street location until 1912. As we all know, times change, needs change, huge buildings become harder to care for. History continues to repeat itself. For whatever the reason Mr. Otto Morensteher bought the building on Maine Street. With the sale of this property and the furnishings we had $31,250 and were able to build our new church- the one we are in now- pay $2000 for the lot and buy a parsonage for $6000. We had a balance of $2000. left. Services during the time when the church was sold and the new one built at 16th and Hampshire were held in the Jewish Synagogue.

The next fifty years passed. A Centennial Celebration was held in 1939. The church history was complied in this booklet. It is a great source of information for anyone interested. As the congregation gathered for the celebration a folder was handed out that introduced the church in this manner.

"This is our centennial year and large congregations will mark its observance. The Sunday morning service begins promptly at eleven and closes at twelve-fifteen." Listed are all the sermon topics from September 11 through December 25 with main headings of: Masters of Interpretation, Problems of Belief, Vistas of History and The Human Scene. Organizations for Fellowship and Culture were listed: The Industrial Alliance of Unitarian Women, The King's Daughters, The Six O'Clock Club, The Evening Hour Alliance and the Young Liberals Forum. Still quoting......"A modern graded Sunday School meets every Sunday morning at ten o'clock under the directions of Edward C. Hess".

With those things in place the second 100 years begins.

Thanks to Frieda Marshall we have a great source for what goes on through the next fifty years of our church's history, tradition, longevity and persistence......She compiled Beyond the Centennial Year...which takes us to the 90's and Frieda then followed up with A Sequel to the Centennial Year and and that takes us THROUGH the 90's. In reading these books it is very hard to choose what to share with you. There is so much we need to realize about how we got to the present day.

The 60's were challenging times for many people for many different reasons. The Quincy Unitarians were no exception. Our finances were shaky. Several years we spent beyond our means. There was talk of becoming a fellowship, cutting back our services:, as building maintenance loomed there was talk of selling the present building and investing in one that was lower in cost maintenance. We did sell a parsonage we owned several houses west on Hampshire. We did not have a minister for the church year 1970-71. We persisted, we hung in there, we kept going.

In September 1971 Cal Knapp became our minister. He was an ordained Methodist minister who was at Melrose Chapel at the time. He had some good friends and colleagues who were Unitarians and it interested him enough to take on our church. Cal described himself as a man with extraordinary energy. That was a true statement and he energized our church right back into action. With Cal came the plant sale, the talk back, red velvet and candlelight Christmas Eve services, the wayside pulpit built by Fred Stefan and World Citizenship Declaration. In 1976 Cal resigned to become a farmer on land he owned in southeastern Illinois. Again our financial state of affairs did not bode well for hiring a full time minister. We solved that problem by sharing the ministers John Brigham and Eric Haugan with the Burlington, Iowa Church in the 70's and 80's. We had no minister the year 1987-1988. Lynn Smith Roberts served our church and the Macomb Fellowship from 1989 to 1995.

Enter, the professor from Quincy University who had spoken at our church on several occasions. When it became apparent we needed a minister, Dr. Rob Manning was approached and agreed to serve as our part time minister. We would share him with Quincy University. Rob was formally ordained November 17, 1996. No one knew at the time that he would make history by being the minister with the most longevity of tenure. He has held on to our old traditions and brought about new traditions in his persistent pursuit to keep liberal religion alive and well in Quincy.

We are alive and well in Quincy. We have a great new addition and are not in debt. Women's Alliance meets monthly, Sunday School keeps going, Our Social Action Committee involves us in the community needs, First Friday, Carry in Dinners, Candlelight dinners, movie nights, and plant sale keep our interaction alive.

There is so much history yet to explore. The gallery of ministers is displayed up in the second floor hall. Everyone should tour that at some time. I suggest a talk or talks next year on the ministers through the years. Their personalities were varied and interesting.

And Gertrude our very historic organ should not be overlooked. She is a Great part of our history and tradition and has certainly lived up to having longevity and persistence.

Social Action activities were always a part of our existence. It would be great to look into the kinds of things that took place through the years as our interest and care for others in our community and world persist..

The history of our religious education is also a story unto itself. Times change, children grow up, younger ones continue to come, The RE program has a lot to offer.

As we head in to the 171st year the most important thing is all of YOU. Our membership and our friends are a great bunch of people. We are united as we continue down the path of liberal religion. We continue to form the history of this church; we continue to honor our old traditions and make new ones; we add to the longevity of this church as history repeats itself in our persistence to make the world a better place.

©2010 Sandy Morrison

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Morrison, Sandra 2010. 170 years of Unitarianism in Quincy, /talks/20100124.shtml (accessed July 4, 2020).

The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.