The History of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Clinton
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Clinton, Iowa, reaches back to the early days of a boisterous lumber town/railroad center on the Mississippi River.
Early History 1869-1884
Roots of the Clinton (IA) UUF stretch back to December of 1869 when some local citizens met to "form a body corporate to be called 'The First Universalist Society of Clinton, Iowa.'" They purchased property in downtown Clinton and constructed a frame building which they designated as Murray Church, after John Murray, Universalist minister who in 1779, with his wife Judith Sargent Murray had organized the first Universalist Society in America.
The First Universalist Society hired a Reverend Hamilton for the sum of $500 for six months, and a vocalist to be paid "$5 per Sabbath." Newspaper accounts report a 'social' in March 1871, as well as a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The group disbanded after several years, but continued to sponsor lectures and entertainment as late as 1884.
Awakenings in the 1950s
Fast forward to the early 1950s when a group calling itself the Gateway Unitarian Fellowship met at the YWCA, but only for about four years. However, in late 1979, several Clinton residents who had been attending the Davenport Unitarian Church were encouraged by its minister, Alan Egly, to hold circle suppers in their homes. In January 1981, recruiting some like-minded friends, they started holding regular meetings at Clinton Community College. The Rev. Steve Crump, minister in LaSalle-Peru, IL., came to preach once a month. That May, the name Murray Unitarian Universalist Society was adopted. By March 1982, Crump was conducting services in Clinton twice a month, with special funds from the Prairie Star District helping pay for his services.
The Hawkeye Cluster of October 1981 reported that the Murray UU Society had "two pre-schoolers, three or four 9-11-year-olds, and five or six older kids . . . they are thinking toward R.E. The Society has 12 signed members, but 40 attended the service last week." The R.E. program did get started and the children, with help from their parents, designed and built a float which they entered in the Mardi Gras (Hallowe'en) parade - winning a prize!
Crump left in January 1983 to become minister of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA. Later that year, the Rev. Martha Newman, a graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, was invited to minister half-time to the Society. She served until June of 1986. It is of interest to note that when she conducted a UU memorial service, the notion of having a funeral service conducted by a Unitarian minister - and a woman at that! - was a little unsettling for a certain local funeral home!
In the early 1980s, Clinton's economic climate had taken a downturn. Six member families eventually left the area and services were moved to the YWCA. The Rev. Dwight Smith, minister of the Black Hawk UU Society, began serving as minister in the fall of 1986, commuting to Clinton from Waterloo-Cedar Falls one weekend per month. He served until 1989, and was followed by Mary Beth O'Halloran, a ministerial student he was supervising. She came to Clinton twice monthly, and also served a yoked ministry with the Dubuque UUs until her ordination in Davenport in June 1991.
The Fellowship Acquires a Building!
In 1991, a former Baptist church (seating 200) was for sale, complete with all its furnishings, for the remarkable price of $55,000. Members helped with the down payment, a loan was arranged, and funds were received from the PSD Chalice Lighters program. At this time the official name was changed to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Clinton.
In the early 1990s, a registered Adult Day Care program was started in our spacious building by a member; unfortunately it closed after three years due to lack of paying clients. We realize now that it was ahead of its time. Our building has also been used as a voting precinct and for a school's tutorial program. Renters have been Girl Scout troops, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and a Spiritualist group. We have held craft fairs and soup suppers in the past, sponsored a food booth at Art in the Park every year until the event was cancelled, and now hold a yearly rummage sale as our major fundraiser. Although membership remains small, the building's mortgage has been paid off and we are a visible presence in the community, with participation in the Crop Walk and partnership with other social justice groups. The building is still available for weddings, funerals and other events in the community.
The Rev. Charity Rowley was the first minister in the new building. She came from Iowa City twice a month, but later served a yoked ministry with Dubuque and preached at each church once a month. Upon her retirement in 1996, she was honored as Minister Emerita.
For the next two years (1996-98), Bob Hoffman from the Davenport Unitarian Church was our lay minister while he began the UUA's Commissioned Lay Leader program. From 1998 to September 2003, members of the congregation provided weekly services as well as R.E. programs. Roger Mohr, a ministerial student at Meadville Lombard, then became the UUF's "Fellowship Consultant" as well as "supervised intern minister." Following his graduation from Meadville Lombard in May 2006, the UUF conducted his ordination and he was called to serve the Burlington (IA) Unitarian Church.
Then it was back to services by our membership until September 2009 when we employed Rev. Ruby Kirk-Nancy of Rock Island, IL., as a part-time minister. She conducted services twice a month and was available for weddings, holy unions, and funerals in the church. She left to pursue her doctorate in June of 2015.
From 2015 to the present, we have been totally lay-led. To do this, we have met each summer prior to the upcoming year to select service topics that will inspire, educate or challenge those who attend our Sunday services, then set the schedule for the year. This can be viewed on our website under Calendar.