First Unitarian Society in Newton

About Us / History and Building / The First Building

Members Owned Pews in the First Building

From 1860 to 1906, the congregation held services in its first house of worship, erected at a site on Washington Street, near the present West Newton Cinema. During those years, consistent with 19th century custom, members owned their pews. The expenses of operating the society included an annual assessment on the pews, a process akin to assessment of real estate taxes.

The first long-term minister, the "lovable and scholarly" Francis Tiffany, served this church from 1866 to 1883, interrupted by a two-year absence because of ill health. A stained-glass window in the current building celebrates Rev. Tiffany as "...poet, philosopher, painter, satirist, prophet, and philanthropist, all in one..."

The successor to Reverend Tiffany was the charismatic red-haired Julian Clifford Jaynes. A fresh graduate of Harvard Divinity School when he began his ministry in 1875, he spent his entire thirty-seven year career at FUSN until his death in 1922. Historian Lawrence Shaw Mayo wrote of Jaynes's eloquence, "When (he) occupied the pulpit, there was reverence in his voice, there was poetry in his prayers, and his sermons were moving and inspiring."

Church records show a division among the members concerning the call to Julian Jaynes. Although a second vote was approved by a strong majority of members, he was opposed by Nathaniel Allen and members of his extended family, operators of a progressive school in West Newton. The call to Rev. Jaynes seems to mark the congregation's shift away from its reform-minded founders, toward a more mainstream point of view.

Continued: 1326 Washington Street



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