“Throughout its long and rich history, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron has been guided by a spirit of freedom, tolerance, and social activism.”
Unitarian Universalism is an inclusive, theologically diverse religion that emerged out of the joining together of two religious traditions – Unitarianism and Universalism in 1961. The Unitarian tradition stresses the unity or oneness of the divine and values the role played by freedom, reason, and tolerance in the search for spiritual truth and meaning. Universalism affirms the boundlessness or universality of divine love and the dignity and worth of all people. Although both traditions were at one time part of Christianity, contemporary Unitarian Universalism recognizes the wisdom of many different faiths and looks to diverse sources of truth, including modern science, nature, and the arts.
To learn more about the historical roots of Unitarian Universalism, read a brief essay by Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. Mark Harris.
The Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Akron has a long and rich history. From its earliest roots in the early nineteenth century to the present day, the UU Church of Akron has been guided by a spirit of freedom, tolerance, and social activism.
Founding and Early Years
Universalism was introduced to Akron in 1811 by an early settler, Major Miner Spicer, a native of Groton, Connecticut. Spicer's log cabin, built at what is now the intersection of Exchange and Spicer Streets, was the destination of many circuit-riding Universalist ministers.
In 1839, a new church building, known to many as "the finest stone church in Ohio," was built. The church was the scene of several historic events, including the 1843 General Convention of the Universalists of America. The great abolitionist leader and former slave Sojourner Truth made her famous "Ain't I A Woman?" speech at the "stone church" during a women's rights convention in 1851.
Because of a severe budget crisis and a shrinking congregation, the “stone church” was sold to the Baptist Society in 1853.
A Church Reborn and Founding a College
In 1870 the Ohio Universalist Convention selected Akron as the site for a denominational college, due to strong financial commitment from Akron industrialist John R. Buchtel. Buchtel College renewed local interest in Universalism. The school's first president served as pastor of the re-established Universalist congregation. This tradition continued as four more Buchtel College presidents were also ministers of the Universalist Church.
The "golden era of Universalism" in Akron began in 1879, when a beautiful red brick Gothic church with a huge tower and magnificent stained-glass windows was built at the corner of Mill Street and South Broadway. John Buchtel, Joy Pendleton, and Ferdinand Schumacher, of Quaker Oats fame, were among the financiers of this impressive edifice.
Although the official alliance between the Universalist Church and Buchtel College ended in 1913, many campus leaders have played prominent roles in the Akron church. Buchtel College later became The University of Akron, now the third largest university in the state.
Moving on and Moving Forward
By 1958, the challenges of maintaining an aging church building left the congregation at a crossroads. A decision was made to purchase six and a half acres in the "rural" village of Fairlawn and to construct a “modern” church building.
In 1961, as the Universalist Church of America merged with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the congregation dedicated its new building and called The Reverend Gordon McKeeman as its new minister. In 1963, the local church selected its current name, The Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron (UUCA).
During the ministry of Gordon McKeeman, the UU Church of Akron experienced both growth and change. Innovative programs were created and the congregation became a prominent voice for justice and tolerance in the greater Akron community.
After the Rev. McKeeman moved on to become president of Starr King School for the Ministry, The Rev. Mark H. Lange became the church's 17th minister in 1984, and Cossiette Conley was selected as the church's first Minister of Religious Education. The 25-year-old church building began showing signs of age and the Renaissance 25 capital fund drive helped provide financial support for major structural repairs. Recent work has focused on beautification of the church and its grounds, including the addition of a Remembrance Garden on the front lawn.
The last twenty years have witnessed even more changes. The Rev. Nancy O. Arnold was called to be the congregation’s next settled minister in 1994. During this period, the UU Church of Akron voted to became a “Welcoming Congregation,” meaning a community that welcomes and celebrates the participation of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender individuals. After some controversy, the congregation added on to the existing structure by building a new Fellowship Hall, which was dedicated in 2004.
In the spring of 2009, the UU Church of Akron called the Rev. Tim Temerson as its 20th settled minister. Two years later, the congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary in Fairlawn with a special worship service and the publication of a commemorative booklet edited by church historian, Norma Rios. During a reception held in the Fellowship Hall after the worship service, the City of Fairlawn presented Board president Susan Wynn with a plaque declaring November 13, 2011 to be "Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron 50th Anniversary Day" in the City of Fairlawn.
Today our congregation remains dynamic and vibrant. We seek to grow spiritually, support and care for one another, and reach beyond our walls with deeds of justice and compassion in the community of Akron and the wider world.