Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland, durable proponent of liberal theology, celebrates 60th anniversary in Cleveland Heights

"On its 60th anniversary, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland congregation continues its commitment to lifelong search for truth, enduring values, advancement of sound personal and community morals, and individual freedom of religion," said minister Rev. Colin Bossen.

The society will celebrate its diamond anniversary at the church located at 2728 Lancashire Rd., in Cleveland Heights, on Saturday, Sept. 17 from 6 to 9 p.m., with entertainment, food and reflection on the congregation’s rich history. The celebration continues on Sunday, Sept. 18, with Rev. John Corrado as guest speaker for the 11 a.m. service.  Rev. Corrado was a UUSC member from 1960 to 1963 before entering Starr King School for the Ministry, and served as minister to four UU congregations until his retirement in 2009.  The public is invited to all events.

From its home in Cleveland Heights's Coventry Village neighborhood, UUSC claims a distinguished religious heritage. The New England Unitarians came to the Cleveland area in 1836, banding together to incorporate as Unity Church in 1867. By early 1900s, the congregation was able to build a classic stone church at the corner of Euclid and East 82nd Street.

In 1932, Unity Church joined with All Souls Universalist Church (later changing name to First Unitarian Church of Cleveland). During the next 20 years, this fertile merger produced East Shore Unitarian Church, West Shore Unitarian Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland.

Defying "white flight", UUSC charter members felt morally responsible to maintain their Unitarian presence in Cleveland's inner city. Staying at East 82nd Street, they incorporated as Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland. During those decisive, divisive years, the dedicated small congregation remained an active urban presence, gaining a respected "liberal activist" community profile for its opposition to the Vietnam War, and support of civil rights and women's rights and the early environmental movement.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer described UUSC as "the first integrated congregation in Cleveland”. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was scheduled to speak there on April 21, 1968, just 17 days before his assassination.

In early 1969, the congregation transferred church ownership with a portion of its endowment to the Cleveland Black Unitarian Universalist Caucus, retaining rights for the congregation to use the building as needed. In 1971, the congregation voted to relocate to its present 2728 Lancashire Road address, buying the former Marmarosher Shul synagogue.

In 1997, the congregation voted to officially become a "welcoming congregation" with commitment to more inclusiveness of bisexual, gay, lesbian and/or transgender persons (BGLT). The Society, still active in the struggle for BGLT rights in Ohio, continues to affirm this commitment, and is a part of a coalition that worked to create Domestic Partnership Registries in Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.

Rev. Bossen, a committed social activist, was called by the Society in 2007 as its first full time minister in over 35 years.  Earlier UUSC ministers were Jesse Cavileer, Emerson Schwenk, Denis Kuby, Farley Wheelwright, Chris Bailey and Peggy Clason. 

Linda Coulter

Linda Coulter is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland.

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Volume 4, Issue 10, Posted 1:41 PM, 09.13.2011