A center of love and light - celebrating 150 years
“Happy Birthday 2U” 150th Party - 2007
May 11, 1857
Eleven prominent members of Chicago’s business community (including William Larrabee, Eli Bates, Samual Greeley, and Nathan Mears) meet to organize a new Unitarian church on Chicago’s north side.
December 23, 1857
The founding members draft and sign a constitution and name their new church Unity Church.
Services begin to be held on Sunday afternoons at a Baptist church at Dearborn and Ohio Streets. Reverend Robert Collyer, an outspoken abolitionist haling from a working class background in Yorkshire, England, agrees to serve as Unity’s temporary pastor. In 1860, he will be installed as Unity’s first settled minister.
Rev. Robert Collyer’s bust is located in our sanctuary.
December 24, 1859
Having outgrown the temporary accommodations, Unity Church’s growing congregation dedicates its newly built, gothic style, modest frame building at the corner of Chicago and Dearborn.
During the American Civil War, Rev. Collyer becomes a national figure due to his work on the Sanitary Commission and growing reputation as a lecturer. By the end of the war, Unity’s weekly attendance has outgrown the 450 available seats.
June 20, 1869
The congregation celebrates the dedication of the grand 1200-seat church built at Dearborn and Walton, said to be the largest Protestant church in the city.
October 9, 1871
Unity’s building is destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire; only the outer walls and tower remain.
On the first Sunday after the fire, the members of Unity Church stand for a service in the ashes by the remains of their church.
Rev. Robert Collyer was a blacksmith. His actual anvil, the symbol of our congregation, was sent to him from England as a gift after the Chicago fire. It is located in our sanctuary. The Anvil is the name of our monthly newsletter.
The congregation dedicates the new Unity building, rebuilt on the same lot.
After more than 20 years of serving the congregation of Unity Church, Reverend Collyer leaves Unity Church to answer a call from the Church of the Messiah in New York.
Amidst changing demographics in its neighborhood and the loss of its prominent minister, the membership of Unity Church declines to less than 70 members. In 1902, the members vote to discharge minister Albert Lazenby and sell the church building. (Its current owner is the Scottish Rite Bodies of Chicago.) Unity Church holds its final service in the Walton and Dearborn building on May 25, 1903.
Unity Church experiences a turning point when it calls Fred V. Hawley, an experienced minister already serving in Chicago; church attendance begins to stabilize and increase. The congregation purchases a lot and builds the current church building at Barry Avenue and Orchard Street (which, at that time, came through to Barry just west of the present church building).
November 15, 1927
After serving Unity Church for 23 years, Rev. Hawley is hit by a truck and killed. He is remembered as a good-natured, idealistic, and eloquent man who “had a wonderful philosophy of life.” George Allison agrees to help Unity Church through its crisis and answers their call to ministry; he brings with him his already existing North Shore Universalist Church. Before Hawley’s unexpected death, he and Allison had already discussed the possibility of merging their two churches.
In March 1931, the members of Unity Church vote to call John Rushton Heyworth. As Rev. Heyworth had been previously dismissed from a Congregational church, some members of Unity are doubtful as to the authenticity of his Unitarianism. Ultimately, many of Unity’s humanist and more secular members feel alienated; attendance dwindles and Unity experiences financial difficulties.
Heyworth organizes the Lake View Council on Religious Action, a group of local ministers, priests, and rabbis. Reverend and Mrs. Heyworth move into the upper level of the church building (the part currently known as the “loft”).
Due to Heyworth’s old age and chronic illness, his ability to provide strong leadership is impaired. He is carried downstairs each Sunday in his wheelchair and preaches to a handful of people in the deteriorating building. In 1965, Meadville Lombard Theological School sends two of its faculty members, Ron Engel and Neil Shadle, to organize Sunday services, as Rev. Heyworth has become too ill to preach.
In June, Rev. Heyworth passes away. As the fewer than one dozen members are facing an uncertain future, services at Unity Church are suspended as of December. Engel and Shadle suggest that the remaining congregants contact Lyda Palmer, sustainer of the Near North Fellowship.
January 14, 1968
Lyda Palmer gathers approximately 20 people (including Seymour and Esther Fleishman, Maryann and Richard Brandon, Virginia and Tom Green, Ingrid Key, and Dave Ferguson) to make plans for reviving the church. This group, comprised of both Unity Church members and members of the Near North Fellowship, is later known as the Ground Floor Renewal Group.
The members adopt the name Second Unitarian Church as a way to make a break from the Heyworth era.
Second Unitarian Church calls Bart Gould, who is both ordained and installed in 1972.
Concern about the impact of loneliness, despair, substance abuse, and homelessness on people prompted Second Unitarian and 17 other congregations of diverse faiths to found The Night Ministry - originally known as The Northside Ecumenical Night Ministry.
Second Unitarian’s membership grows to about 200 members. After serving Second Unitarian for 13 years, Bart Gould resigns and accepts a call from a church in Louisiana. The following year, Charlie Kast answers the church’s call to ministry.
The congregation votes to drastically renovate the building by raising the floor of the sanctuary and excavating what had been a crawl space below it. Children’s classrooms and offices are added in the new basement. During the significant construction, Sunday services are held at the Jane Addams facility. The building is rededicated in December.
The church ordains Mary Allen Walden (who authored the offertory words that continue to be part of Second Unitarian’s weekly Sunday services) as its first, and thus far only, Minister of Music.
Mary Walden returns to her native home of Georgia. Greg Stewart, a seminarian at Meadville, revitalizes the children’s program and raises consciousness about homeless youth through his program “Way Cool Sunday School.”
A turnover in key church staff leaves the congregation feeling uncertain as both Charlie Kast and Greg Stewart leave.
Lynn Ungar is called by the congregation and serves as the church’s first female settled minister.
After Rev. Ungar moves to California, Second Unitarian is served by interim ministers Nannene Gowdy and Jeanne Mills. The congregation enters a period of self-reflection and assessment.
Rev. Jennifer Owen-O’Quill is called to ministry. Her ministry brings renewed congregational commitments to Lakeview Action Coalition, Night Ministry, and the Lakeview Pantry, as well as a new relationship with the Community Renewal Society. During this time, the congregation raises a banner in support of same sex marriage and begins the practice of splitting its collection plate cash with non-profit groups.
The congregation celebrates its 150th anniversary and welcomes its 300th member.
November 18, 2007 - Rev. William G. Sinkford, Unitarian Universalist Association President, preaches at Second Unitarian to celebrate our 150th anniversary.
November 2009 - October 2011
In November 2009, Rev. Owen-O’Quill resigns as minister. Rev. Adam Robersmith is engaged as Consulting Minister in early 2010 and leads the congregation through a two-year process of reflection and healing, reinvigorating lay participation in church leadership and nurturing our renewed commitment to transparent, collaborative, and effective decision-making.
October 30, 2011 - After two years of preparation for a new settled minister, the congregation votes overwhelmingly to call Rev. Robersmith to the pulpit. We invite you to join us in shaping the future of 2U!