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Fellowship Short History

[The following is derived from "A Short History of the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship" by Lillian Adams. For a more detailed history of the Fellowship, see the History of the Fellowship. Some photos of the Fellowship's 2003-04 building project may be viewed at The Fellowship's Building Project. For the history of the CUF organ, see the The Fellowship Organ.]

Unitarianism and Universalism.  Unitarianism and Universalism have their origins in the first three centuries of the Christian era.  The term "Unitarian" originally meant a Christian believing in the oneness of God.  Early Unitarians thus rejected the divinity of Jesus, regarding him instead as the human source of a uniquely important moral message guiding their lives.  Throughout the early history of Christianity those holding Unitarian beliefs were persecuted as heretics and as enemies of what was regarded as the "true faith."  These persecutions continued until the 18th Century.  A "Universalist" in the early stages of Christianity endorsed the basic goodness of all human beings, and thus rejected the doctrines of Original Sin and of God's damnation to Hell of all but the fortunate "elect."  Both Unitarianism and Universalism took root in Colonial America, with Universalism being officially organized in 1793 and Unitarianism later in 1825.  In 1961 the two organizations merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Today the UUA has over 1,000 congregations in the United States, and is represented by its symbol of the flaming chalice all around the world.  For a more complete account of this history see Unitarian Universalist Origins by Mark W. Harris. Also available online are biographies of notable Unitarians. Included are biographies of two past members of the Carbondale Fellowship, Buckminster Fuller and Henry Nelson Wieman.

The Carbondale Fellowship: Early Years.  In 1950 Delyte Morris became President of Southern Illinois Normal University.  Carbondale was a town of about 5,000, not counting students, and the "Normal" started hiring new faculty members, enlarging various departments, and making the school a full-fledged university instead of the teachers' college it had been. As part of this development President Morris recruited distinguished retired faculty from other universities.  Many of them were to join the Fellowship, especially those who had been colleagues or students of John Dewey.
    A number of the new people had been Unitarians in other places; most had children and wanted non-traditional religious education for their children.  In 1952 a small group met in people's homes in the evening, and a Religious Education (RE) program was started in the Fall of 1954 when the cafeteria of Brush School, which no longer exists, was rented for Sunday morning instruction.  The American Unitarian Association had recently started a Fellowship program, making it possible for quite small groups to affiliate and receive their materials.  In March, 1953 the group of Carbondale Unitarians, which now included 22 members, decided to affiliate with the Association as a Fellowship.  In 1955 the two-room Buckles School on what is now Murphysboro Road or old Rte.13 was closed and the Fellowship was able to rent it for their Sunday use.  Homes continued to be used for evening meetings for adults and morning RE sessions.  However, those who had children argued for a structured Sunday morning service for the adults which ran concurrently with religious education, and after much argument, this was done.

Growth of the Fellowship.  Use of the rented building became quite unsatisfactory, and members of the Fellowship looked around for a building that could be bought and adapted to their needs.  In 1956 a building located at the corner of Elm Street and University Avenue, which had been built as an Episcopal church around the turn of the century and then sold to the Carbondale Public Library District, came on the market as the Library started a new building.  As soon as the library moved out, the Fellowship moved in, and found there was a tremendous amount of work to do on it: cleaning, painting, restructuring.  Members of the congregation pitched in.  All the work was done by members, who held their first service in the new building on March 3, 1956. Services ran concurrently with the University semesters, and the last meeting for the season was a picnic which was held for many years at the Adams farm near Ava.  Later the picnics were held at Evergreen Park.
    From 1958 to 1961 the Fellowship grew rapidly, and the small central core area of the Elm Street building was no longer adequate, especially for the Sunday school.  In 196l it was decided to build two additions, one on the front of the building, and the other on the north side, which almost doubled the available space. A number of things were done, such as adding a small upstairs kitchen to be used for the coffee hour, and the downstairs kitchen was remodeled and up-dated, and five small rooms for RE in the front cube were made.  Used parts for the organ were bought from a number of different sources and assembled by the members, who had many skills. The Fellowship was fortunate to have a member of the Music Department at the University who was an organist and had a student who was building and assembling pipe organs. The Fellowship acquired a large debt for these projects, and was able through pledges, bond sales, and various fund raising affairs, to pay it off in a timely manner.
    Since its members included distinguished philosophers, sociologists and others who had thought deeply about religion, morality and ethics, the Fellowship never lacked for Sunday morning speakers from its own congregation, the University, and the community.  These speakers included Buckminster Fuller, Henry Nelson Wieman, Paul Schilpp, and John F. Hayward, an ordained Unitarian minister who came to head up the Religious Studies Department at the University in 1968.  Reverend Hayward fulfilled ceremonial activities such as weddings, funerals, and memorial services.  There continued to be a preference for lay-led services, although about every five years the question of having a minister arose.
    The 1960s and '70s were periods of intense social action in Carbondale and around the country.  The Fellowship was extremely active in all of the movements.  In the 1960s, as the civil rights movement grew, members took part, and were perhaps the prime movers in integrating the segregated public schools, restaurants, and neighborhood housing. Our older RE students were very active in these activities.  During the Vietnam war, which most Fellowship members opposed, members engaged with many others in marches and anti-war activity.  The Fellowship has also participated in the restructuring of the Carbondale City government.  Many of its activist members have taken part in various activities in the community, including the push for the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution in the '70s. Many of them also worked to start the Women's Center, and have been active in the pro-choice movement.

Planning for the Future.  Membership in the Fellowship had stayed relatively constant at around l00 until the mid-'90s, with people leaving (primarily because of leaving town) and others joining.  Many of the new members continued to be mostly young people with children who wanted a non-traditional religious education for them.  In 1997 it became very apparent that a new building was needed, since the present one was in bad condition and would take a great deal of money to fix.  Plans for this new building were begun, and property on the corner of Sunset Avenue and Parrish Lane was acquired as its site.
   At this time discussion also began in earnest on the need for a minister to lead the congregation. The Fellowship learned of the Extension Ministry program of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which aids organizations in obtaining their first minister.  After many meetings and much discussion the Fellowship decided to participate in this program.  It regards itself as fortunate in being able to select by means of this program its first minister, the Reverend Bill Sasso.

   Construction on a new building for the Fellowship was begun in June, 2003. Less than a year later in March, 2004, this construction was completed. Photos of this construction can be viewed at the Fellowship's Building Project. The first Sunday service was held in the new building on March 28, 2004.

**Last update 12/18/12 ymp**


105 N. Parrish Lane, Carbondale, IL (618-529-2439)
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Office Hours:

Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 10:00 - 1:00
Wednesday: 10:00- 1:00 pm
Thursday: 10:00 - 1:00 pm
Friday: 10:00 - 1:00 pm

Minister's Office Hours:

Monday: 10:00 am- 1:00 pm
Tuesday: 6:00 pm - 8:00
Wednesday: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Friday: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

.........and by appointment