A word about rural churches

I was going to move directly to metropolitan areas, but thought I would detour first to those congregations that are neither in metropolitan or micropolitan areas. That is, rural churches. These are very few — only about 5% of all Unitarian Universalists congregations — and most (from personal knowledge) are in small towns, not in open country. Indeed, I was ordained by one, in Canon, Georgia.

The full list, plus notes, below the fold.

A couple of notes.

  1. This list is up for revision. It is entirely possible that a church may have property or a mailing address in the country, but that’s because of donated or cheap land, or a willing correspondence clerk. It might really “belong” to an adjacent (say, one zip code over) town and so would be in a metropolitan or micropolitan area.
  2. Many of the churches are of the older Universalist variety, but I wonder if some of the newer ones have a resort or retirement locus as their draw. And college towns.
  3. Of these college towns, Middlebury, Vermont, is home of the largest rural church: Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. 167 members.  Even more interesting is that is doesn’t date to the Dawn of Time, but 1988. Yes, rural churches are small but don’t default to the 25-40 range that new congregations have settled into. [Cripes. I stared right though the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship listing . . . .]
  4. Zero membership means an emerging congregation.
  5. Several are in Oxford County, Maine. Universalist, of course.
  6. Islands are also well represented in Alaska, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands.
Congregation Members Church ID State County
Sitka UU Fellowship Inc. 18 2012 AK Sitka City and Borough
Seward UUs 9 2001 AK Kenai Peninsula Borough
Quimper UU Fellowship 292 8228 WA Jefferson County
San Juan UU Fellowship 14 8215 WA San Juan County
Central Coast UU Fellowship 31 7127 OR Lincoln County
Socorro Uus 20 6112B NM Socorro County
UUs of the White Mountains 0 375345 AZ Navajo County
Two Rivers UU 32 2626 CO Garfield County
Pagosah UU Fellowship 32 2630 CO Archuleta County
UU Fellowship in Alamosa, Colorado 25 360818 CO Alamosa County
UUs of the Big Bend 31 7718 TX Brewster County
Eureka UU Fellowship 56 2030 AR Carroll County
UU Church of Stockton Illinois 63 3421 IL Jo Daviess County
Unitarian Fellowship 24 5514 MN Itasca County
Blue Hills UU Fellowship 32 8426 WI Barron County
Chequamegon UU Fellowship 31 8329 WI Ashland County
Northwoods UU Fellowship 79 8417 WI Oneida County
UU Fellowship of Door County 90 8428 WI Door County
Northeast Iowa UU Fellowship 57 3617 IA Winneshiek County
People’s Church 72 5333 MI Mason County
Mountain Light UU Church 23 3041 GA Gilmer County
Georgia Mountains UU Church 64 3039 GA Lumpkin County
Canon UU Church 10 3112 GA Franklin County
Thermal Belt UU Fellowship 28 6639 NC Polk County
UU Fellowship of Franklin North Carolina 83 6636 NC Macon County
First Universalist Church of Sampson County at Red Hill 15 6715 NC Sampson County
Rockbridge UU Fellowship 0 508554 VA Rockbridge County
UUs of the Eastern Shore 0 342444 VA Accomack County
UUs of the Blue Ridge 0 532465 VA Rappahannock County
UU Fellowship of the Rappahannock 41 8118 VA Lancaster County
UUs of the Chester River 62 4039 MD Kent County
First Universalist Church 93 7214 PA Susquehanna County
Upper Delaware UU Fellowship 18 7316 PA Wayne County
Universalist Society of West Burke 7 8026 VT Caledonia County
First Universalist Parish 33 7934 VT Orleans County
Universalist Unitarian Congregation 36 8015 VT Caledonia County
Champlain Valley UU Society 167 7937 VT Addison County
UU Fellowship of Stowe 0 375025 VT Lamoille County
All Souls Church UU 100 7925 VT Windham County
First Universalist Church 40 3926 ME Somerset County
UU Church of Belfast 121 3817 ME Waldo County
The Caribou UU Congregation 29 3824 ME Aroostook County
Unitarian Society of Houlton 19 3912 ME Aroostook County
First Congregational Society (Unitarian) of Eastport 6 3833 ME Washington County
UU Church of Ellsworth 83 3834 ME Hancock County
Midcoast UU Fellowship 65 3837 ME Lincoln County
The UU Church of Sangerville & Dover Foxcroft 34 4018 ME Piscataquis County
UU Congregation of Castine 71 3825 ME Hancock County
First Universalist Church 23 4022 ME Oxford County
First Universalist Church of South Paris 37 4013 ME Oxford County
First Universalist Church of Norway UU 41 3922 ME Oxford County
First Universalist Society 5 3911 ME Oxford County
First Universalist Society 4 3821 ME Oxford County
UU Fellowship of the Eastern Slopes 111 5817 NH Carroll County
UU Society of Martha’s Vineyard 66 5121 MA Dukes County
Second Congregational Meeting House Society UU 150 4733 MA Nantucket County
UU Fellowship of St Croix 21 8028 VI St. Croix Island
The UU Fellowship of St John 28 8029 VI St. John Island

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. That’s quite a list, indeed. You might be interested to know that Quimper UUF is located in Port Townsend, quite a large-ish non-suburban but not really rural area of population on the Olympic Peninsula of WA.

    Two much more rural congregations here in WA would be mine (UUC of Whidbey Island, membership about 90, shooting for a 100) and the Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship (about 80), plus possibly Skagit UUF, in Mt. Vernon (not sure of size but smaller than UUCWI).

    Hope this helps, Scott. I’m not sure what your parameters are.

  2. Outlaw’s Bridge Universalist Church in NC is in the community of Outlaw’s Bridge, The church and parsonage are 2 of the 4 or 5 buildings in town (mailing address is Seven Springs NC, which I consider rural).

  3. Definitions depend up on area size and social integration, based on commuting patterns. Which is why islands show up so much. For this reason . . . .

    Port Townsend is the largest town in Jefferson county, but still under 10,000 in population. So I suspect, as it is a growing area, to become a micropolitan area of its own in the next few years.

    Whidbey Island has already past that point, but Vashon Island — to my mind — deserves to be called rural because it lacks a bridge to the rest of decidedly metropolitan King County.

    Outlaw’s Bridge is a part of the Goldsboro, N.C. metropolitan area.

  4. The interesting thing about Whidbey, which you couldn’t know if you haven’t been here, is that there are three distinct micro-areas: the south end, which reaches from Clinton to Greenbank and is primarily made up of retired folk, artists, and political liberals, the central area, which is prairie and farmland (both agricultural and marine-based), and the north end with its Navy base, big box stores, and conservative political climate. My congregation is on the south end but we draw from all over the island, which is 55 miles long.
    I think what you’re doing is really fascinating, Scott. Keep it up.

  5. So wonderful to read about rural churches. I was ordained by one, too–Champlain Valley–and served another church that doesn’t make this list because it’s in the big small town of Rutland, VT, population 17,000, but serves a largely rural population.

    Champlain Valley stands out to me as a model of a successful church planting. Small group of dedicated laypeople, got very part-time consulting ministers early on, hired an intern as its first full-time minister (immediately afterwards, purely coincidentally, the Dept. of Ministry cracked down on off-site supervision of interns–if they’d done so earlier, CVUUS wouldn’t have had this experience), and called an extension minister who served there for 11 years. It was one of the last congregations to use the Extension Ministry program.

    I think nurturing the above congregations–that is, those among them that wish to grow and be vibrant, even if they don’t imagine ever being large or even mid-size–makes much more sense than most of the approaches to growth the UUA has tried in the past several years.

  6. You missed a big bunch of us in the Mountain Desert District. There are rural churches (both established and emerging) in:

    Taos, NM (Unitarian Congregation of Taos)
    Alamosa, CO
    Pagosa Springs, CO
    Las Vegas, NM
    Farmington, NM

    and more in Montana, Colorado, NM, Wyoming. Check in with Nancy Bowen, MDD DE. In fact, if you survey UUA Staff, you can catch them all.

    Good Hunting.

  7. @Anne. Look again, Alamosa and Pagosah are on the list.

    Taos is a micropolitan area; Farmington rates as metropolitan.

    Las Vegas, N.M. doesn’t appear in the UUA list, a minimum requirement for this work, but it would be with the micropolitans.

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