First Unitarian Society in Newton

About Us / History and Building / 1326 Washington Street

Erecting the Gothic Building at 1326 Washington Street

As a result of growth during the Jaynes ministry, the society decided to erect a new building, commissioning the grand Gothic-style structure that still houses the congregation today. Construction of the "new" building occasioned many changes, including a substantial revision of the society's bylaws and abolishment of the practice of pew ownership. The local newspaper account of the 1906 dedication noted "All of the officiating clergymen wore robes, and the pastor will continue that custom in the future."

News: Renovation of the 1906 building won a Newton Preservation Award in 2009. 

FUSN's American Gothic building.

The Reverend Paul Phelan succeeded Julian Jaynes, and the next longterm ministry was that of Dr. Herbert Hitchen (1931-1950). Rev. Hitchen was described as an excellent and erudite speaker who galvanized his listeners.

When the Channing Religious Society of Newton, a Unitarian church in Newton Corner, closed its doors in 1945, its remaining members joined FUSN. In the same period, former members of the Newton Centre Unitarian Church joined FUSN when their church closed. Although the congregation has continued to use its historic name that puts emphasis on "Unitarian," in 1961 FUSN took on a new identity when the Unitarian and Universalist organizations merged in a ceremony at Boston's Symphony Hall.

Under the ministry of John Ogden Fisher (1950-1961) the society experienced a fresh wave of growth during the post-war "baby boom" era. During that period the congregation's robust dedication to religious education for its children was evidenced by a two-hour Sunday school program. FUSN hired its first a Director of Religious Education, Harry Taplin, who was adored by old and young alike.

Members active during the 1950s and early 1960s have described the lively social events at this time, including frequent all-church suppers, theatrical performances by the Couples' Club, visiting speakers, and the elegant monthly luncheons of the Women's Alliance.

In 1954, the society was directly touched by accusations of Senator Joseph McCarthy at a turning point in the McCarthy era. In the course of televised hearings of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Joseph McCarthy questioned the loyalty of church member Fred Fisher, a Boston attorney. Attorney Joseph Welch replied: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir?" Following the hearing, FUSN's Board of Trustees sent a letter to Chairman Karl Mundt and other senators, which stated in part:

...Mr. Fisher is superintendent of our Sunday School and a respected member of our congregation whose loyalty and integrity we regard as unquestionably above reproach...We deplore the fact that a member of the Senate can today use Senate hearings to defame an individual and unfairly accuse him of the serious offense of disloyalty....

Following Rev. Fisher's tenure, the church saw a succession of ministers with many different styles.
In 1972, when the UU ministry was still dominated by men, the congregation ordained the Rev. Polly Laughland Guild, an active member who had begun attending FUSN when she was in kindergarten. When her youngest child began school, Rev. Guild enrolled in divinity school. Following her graduation, she first served FUSN as minister of religious education; from 1972 to 1973 she shared duties as Parish Minister.

In a sermon given before the Follen Community Church in Lexington, MA, Rev. Guild recalled the hostility and put-downs she experienced as a woman in the ministry, as well as her own doubts:

"Many ministers claim to have been called into the ministry by God, but I was definitely called by members of the West Newton congregation who said ‘You really are our minister,' and so I began to see that as a real possibility.'"

One memorable contribution Rev. Guild made to the society was the practice of traveling as a congregation to spend a weekend together at the Ferry Beach UU Camp and Conference Center near Old Orchard Beach, Maine. She convinced the FB staff to open up for an off-season weekend, and the tradition of spending a three-day weekend in Maine continues to this day for FUSN and for many other congregations as well.

Continued: Social Change and Division


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