The “lyrical” Midwestern church

Unitarian Universalist congregations come in a number of varieties, and one of my favorite — and amazingly little spoken-of — are the “First Unitarian” and “All Souls Unitarians” in the middle of the United States, founded before 1930.

These churches tend to be (or were) more churchly in tone, but with a universalizing theism, or a humanism that might be mistaken for mysticism. The kind of place that made the “fiddle and lecture” form of worship — a large, conspicuous sermon, solo musicians and a relatively little else — work. The kind of place where you hear of the Oversoul and the Golden Rule in the same breath. This is the kind of place I would go half the time, in tandem with some liberal pastoral Quakers or liberal, low-church Lutherans. (Alas, I we don’t have any of these around here. Except perhaps the Lutherans.)

This was (or is) a vital, intellectual and practical churchmanship with a kind of reforming and American aesthetic. I think we should do more of that.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. …I have a feeling few congregations are willing to pay for that kind of Ministry on top of all the other demands they’ll make on the Minister.

  2. I’m not so sure that job demands on the ordained minister are the primary barrier to this kind of ministry. This kind of ministry is more about the flavor of the congregation, than about the minister’s job description. The ethos Scott writes of is part of the religious culture of the congregation, and is often self cultivating no matter who the minister is.

    I’m wondering about any post-1930’s congregations that fit this mode of lyrical Humanism / universalizing Theism. Perhaps Eliot Chapel in MO?


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.