Unitarian Universalist Church of Norfolk Records
Scope and Contents
The records of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Norfolk includes administrative materials, publications, articles, research materials, photographs, and audio-visual items regarding the history of the church. While the bulk of the records concern the Unitarian Universalist Church of Norfolk, the collection also contains material related to African American Universalism in the Tidewater region as well as Unitarian Universalist churches from across the United States.
- 1866-2011, undated
- Majority of material found within 1950-1990
- Other: Date acquired: 05/20/2008
- Unitarian Church of Norfolk (Norfolk, Va.) (Organization)
38.40 Linear Feet
Conditions Governing Access
Open to researchers without restriction.
Conditions Governing Use
Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.
Biographical or Historical Information
Unitarianism originally started in Transylvania during the 1500s and spread to the United States in 1700s. The belief centers around an open-minded philosophy based on values that are similar to Christianity excluding the belief of a trinity sovereign. Unitarians believe in a single, aspect of God focusing on a personal, direct relationship with that deity and exuding examples of rational thinking. Unitarian believers began to accept elements of transcendentalism and humanist thought throughout the later years of the nineteenth century creating a more flexible faith. Famous Unitarians include Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Dorothea Dix, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Unitarianism and Universalism in the Tidewater Area of Virginia; the Jordan School
In 1793, the Reverend Harry Toulmin, the first ordained minister in Norfolk preached briefly in the borough church (Saint Paul's Episcopal Church), before settling in Kentucky. Throughout the early 1800s, intermittent ministerial leadership and not enough congregants, prevented a permanent church from being formed. In 1848, Reverend Hope Bain preached to congregations in Norfolk and Portsmouth, while the Reverends Edwin H. Lake and Alden Bosserman preached to a congregation in the small village of Kempsville.
The Unitarian movement in Virginia stalled during the Civil War (1861-1865), but after the war, the belief of Universalism grew within the free black community, in which it is a religious belief that religion is open to all and that God accepts all types of races of people. Reverend Joseph Jordan, who was the first black to be ordained as a Universalist minister, established a mission in Huntersville in 1887. In 1894, he built a chapel and school on Princess Anne Avenue (Road) and Wide Street. At the same time, under the Reverend Thomas F. Wise, a chapel and school was started in Suffolk (St. Paul’s Universalist Church and Suffolk Normal Training School). Jordan died in 1901, and three years later the chapel and school in Norfolk folded. However, the chapel and school in Suffolk was going strong under the guidance of Joseph Fletcher Jordan (no relation to the previous Jordan). The school under Jordan, had a student body over 300 students with grades first through eight, with ninth grade being added in after 1913. The church also succeeded under Jordan’s career as minister allowing for the publication of “The Colored Universalist,” a monthly newspaper tailored for African-American readership. In 1929, Jordan died and his daughter Annie Bissell Jordan Willis became principal of the school which was later renamed the Jordan Neighborhood House (“Jordan’s School”). In 1930 the St. Paul’s Universalist Church folded, and due to the increase in public education for African-American students, the school became more focused on preschool and kindergarten. After the Second World War (1939-1945), the school started to provide services, such as childcare, prenatal care, after school activities for children, and counseling services. The school closed in 1984.
The First Unitarian Church of Norfolk
The First Unitarian Church of Norfolk was established in 1912 under the sponsorship of the American Unitarian Association in Boston. The church was led by the pastorates of the Reverends Julian R. Pennington, Frank W. Pratt, and John L. Einstein, and met in various buildings and then the former Disciples of Christ Church at 306 East Freemason Street. Sadly due to internal problems within the congregation and the First World War (1915-1918) caused the church to fold.
The Unitarian Church of Norfolk
In 1930 the Unitarian Church of Norfolk was reestablished with the help of the National Unitarian Laymen’s League. The new church acquired the former home of the First Lutheran Church on 15th Street and Moran Avenue, across from Maury High School. The Reverend Harry Lutz was the first minister to serve the congregation. However church growth was slow due to the Great Depression and the Second World War. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was controversy within the church due to two ministers leaving over the issues of interracial relationships (Frank G. White) and bisexuality (Aubrey C. Todd).
Social Change within the Unitarian Church of Norfolk
In the mid to late 1950s, social change within the country through the Brown vs. Board of Education decision rendering “separate but equal” unconstitutional and the growing civil-rights movement had an impact on the church. Under the leadership of Reverend James C. Brewer, the church became vocal for the end of segregation and for the reopening of Norfolk schools in 1959 which were closed under the state mandate of “Massive Resistance” the year before. During the 1960s into the 1970s, under the Reverends James H. Curtis and Carl L. Esenwein , the church became more involved in social issues including fair housing, ending poverty, welfare rights, multiethnic textbooks, and the ending of American involvement in the Vietnam War. The church helped found the Norfolk chapter of the VISTA program, which was designed as a domestic peace corps and part of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, as well as the chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The involvement in these social issues were influenced by the belief of Universalism, and in 1961, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the American Unitarian Association consolidated to form the Unitarian Universalist Church.
In the 1970s and the 1980s, the church became active in women’s and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) rights with chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Unitarian Universalist Gay Caucus were founded there.
The church continues to be very active in social and political issues whether it is local, national, or worldwide.
The Growth of the Unitarian Church of Norfolk and its Future
In 1961 the church congregation outgrew the 15th Street and Moran Avenue location and moved to 902 Graydon Avenue (The Unitarian Center) where church social and educational activities were held, but worship services were held in a variety of places including the Little Theatre of Norfolk. This put a huge strain on the congregation and potential church growth. A search for a new church building begun, there was consideration to move to the suburbs, but the church chose to stay in a urban setting where its true “mission lay in bearing witness in the city.” Finally in 1972 the congregation found a permanent home in the former Second Presbyterian Church building at Yarmouth Street across from The Hague. Besides being a place of worship, the Yarmouth Street church has held concerts, recitals, educational, and social activities. Despite being a thriving place, the Yarmouth Street church has been prone to severe flooding from The Hague over the years and a new place was sought. A building formerly used by the Sanska Engineering Offices at 809 South Military Highway was purchased in 2017. The building is not affected by storm surge flooding, and will have more space for church activities. In July 2018, the new building opened for services. To conicide with the new location, the Norfolk congregation changed their name to the Coastal Virginia Unitarian Universalists (CVUU).
List of Pastors
Harry Lutz: 1930-1934
Gerald R. Fitzpatrick: 1934-1938
Robert W. Sonen: 1939-1944
William W. Peck: 1944
Frank G. White: 1944-1945
Douglas Angell: 1946-1948
Aubrey C. Todd: 1950-1955
Mary C. Lane: 1956 (Not a pastor, but a lay person who helped with services)
James C. Brewer: 1956-1961
James H. Curtis: 1961-1966
Carl L. Esenwein: 1966-1974
Arthur Graham: 1976-1981
Gary M. Gallum: 1981-1984
Peter Lee Scott: 1984-1987
Douglas Morgan Strong: 1987-1988
James Dittmer Roche: 1988-1989
Fern Cowan Stanley: 1990-1992
Janet Newman: 1992-1993
Maj-Britt Johnson: 1993-2000
Judith Morris: 2000-2001
Danny R. Reed: 2002-2005
Paul Boothby: 2005-2007
Pam Allen-Thompson: 2007-2008
Don Beaudreault: 2009
Phyllis Hubbell: 2009-2010
John Manwell: 2010-2011
Cyndi Simpson: 2011-2013
Jennifer Slade: 2013-2014
Charlie Dietrich: 2015-
Note written by Special Collections Staff
Language of Materials
The collection contains administrative materials, publications, articles, research materials, photographs, and audio-visual items pertaining to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Norfolk.
The collection is organized into three series: Series I: Norfolk Unitarian Universalist Church of Norfolk; Series II: Black Universalism in Tidewater; and Series III: Other Unitarian Universalist Churches/General Assembly.
Physical Access Requirements
Some of the materials are aged and brittle, please handle with care.
Source of Acquisition
Willard C. Frank, Jr.
Method of Acquisition
Gift. Accession #A2008-04
Accruals and Additions
An addition to the collection was given in 2011.
This collection was reprocessed by Kathleen Smith, Metadata and Digital Services Specialist, from April 2017 to March 2018.
- A Guide to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Norfolk Records
- Kathleen Smith, Metadata and Digital Services Specialist
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.