DID JA KNOW….. The founding members of the Unitarian Universalist Church came from an active meld of the Richmond community. Businessmen, politicians, craftsmen and members of the militia and medical profession joined to foster the efforts of liberal Christians, who believed that two separate religious denominations could co-exist and co-operate for the greater good of their membership. They held committee meetings in the privacy of their homes and public rooms were rented for larger events. Newspapers and handbills were used to advertise out-of-town speakers.
By the time Rev. Dods had left Richmond the church membership was eager to create a place of worship that suited their needs. On May 22, 1832 four lots on Mayo Street were purchased and a prominent Richmond architect, Otis Manson, was contracted to construct their church. The members of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Richmond, Virginia dedicated their new building, as the First Independent Christian Church of Richmond, on January 1833. Their first pastor, John B. Pitkin, was ordained by Rev. Mr. Bernard Whitman, a Unitarian, and the Rev. Otis A. Skinner, a Universalist; this cooperation of clergy from two denominations was one of the first of its kind to be recorded.
Within a year, Rev. Pitkin reported that, “the church was in a healthy and flourishing condition. Local prejudice was giving way, ladies attended services and members of the House of Delegates were among his listeners and personal friends.” Pitkin was able to establish a mission in Powhatan and traveled to other parts of Virginia to fill vacant pulpits.
As his congregation grew, Pitkin’s ministry did not go unnoticed or unchallenged by the local orthodox community. In his letters to his mother, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, he describes the bigotry and corruption that he has observed in some of the city’s churches and the effects of their attacks upon his congregation; looked upon as deviationists, not Christian. He recognizes that some among his membership hold to a diversity of faulty beliefs but he remains optimistic that he has the ability to “bring them to Christian truth, feeling and practice.”
The 1820s and 1830s were years of intense conflict between Unitarian and Universalist leaders.
W. S. Balch, editor of the “Impartialist” (Universalist), printed the account of the first joint Unitarian Universalist ordination on record and expressed the hope that such interdenominational good fellowship would someday exist also in New England.