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Revitalizing a Small Unitarian Universalist Church

Revitalizing a Small Unitarian Universalist Church

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Published by Kathleen McGregor
My final paper for Religious Leadership in an Urban Context.
My final paper for Religious Leadership in an Urban Context.

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Published by: Kathleen McGregor on Jul 09, 2011
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07/09/2011

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Kathleen McGregor US300 Religious Leadership in an Urban ContextProfessor Slesserev-Jamir May 10, 2011The First Universalist Parish of Pasadena was established in 1886 by fundingfrom a prominent Universalist businessman from Chicago, Amos Throop.
1
The city of Pasadena was incorporated the same year.
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Paul Sawyer, the recently deceased minister emeritus, who wrote a brief history of the church explains that Amos Throop establisheda polytechnic school that evolved into the California Institute of Technology.
3
AmosThroop, who had two failed bids for mayor of Chicago in the 1850s in the Temperance party, was elected one of the first mayors of the fledgling city of Pasadena.
4
The initialFirst Universalist Parish was established several blocks away from the current building.The corner stone of Throop Memorial Church was laid in 1922, and was built in 1923.While the church maintains the name First Universalist Parish for business purposes, thechurch building and congregation are known as Throop Memorial Church.
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 Florence Kollock, who helped organize the inaugural Parliament of WorldReligions, held in 1883, was called to minister the First Universalist Parish in 1886.
6
 Interestingly, the Unitarians declined to open a church in Pasadena, as both religionsdrew from the same pool of theologically inclined residents.
7
 
1
 http://www.lafn.org/~dave/uu/throop/sawyerHist.txt 
2
 http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/History/1886-1920.asp 
3
 http://www.lafn.org/~dave/uu/throop/sawyerHist.txt 
4
 http://www.chicagohistory.org/pages/1443.shtml 
5
 http://www.lafn.org/~dave/uu/throop/sawyerHist.txt 
6
 http://www.lafn.org/~dave/uu/throop/sawyerHist.txt 
7
 http://www.lafn.org/~dave/uu/throop/sawyerHist.txt 
 
The end of World War II ushered in an era of social change. The population of African Americans doubled between 1940 and 1950.
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Throop Memorial Church, aconservative Universalist parish called a new minister in 1956. Harmon Gehr came fromPhiladelphia with his wife and three children. The family almost immediately courtedscandal and very nearly censure by enrolling their teens in public school. Whileeconomics come into play with a minister’s salary, expected not only to support a familyof five with the expectation of enrolling the children in private school, according to IsabelGehr, the major concern was mixing with the African American children in the schools.By their actions, Harmon and Isabel pushed the reluctant church to acknowledge race.Both Harmon and Isabel were active in the civil rights movement, and while the currentchurch looks fondly on past civil rights work, the church was less than enthusiastic at thetime. Harmon Gehr retired and later passed away in the 1980’s.
9
At 93, Isabel continuesto attend. After more than fifty years, she still remains involved in the welfare of thechurch. By learning from the past, Throop can move into the future.In May, the church will be celebrating the one hundred twenty fifth anniversary of establishing the congregation. In the past decade the church has experienced thedifficulties of forcing the retirement of one minister, which resulted in the loss of anumber of congregation members. With financial difficulties, the congregation called aninterim minister who was not in fellowship with the UU Ministerial FellowshipCommittee, the certifying body of ministers. When this did not work out, another minister was called in 2007. When the congregation decided to do a financial “reset” in2010 to try to live within its means, the budget reduced the minister position to half-time,
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 http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/History/1950-1970.asp 
9
Interview, Isabel Gehr, 2004.
 
and eliminated the full-time religious education director position. This last decision,made by the board of trustees and the congregation, left the church membership lower than ever. The politics of the church affects the resources for putting a plan into practice, but I feel sufficiently encouraged to make a plan for the church as my final project for this class.Pasadena has two Unitarian Universalist churches. Neighborhood Church is a prosperous, large congregation across town. When the Unitarian Universalist Associationwas created in 1961, Neighborhood Church was a Congregationalist church that becamea member congregation. Throop Memorial Church also affiliated with the UnitarianUniversalist Association. In the mid-1990s, as a member of Neighborhood church, I wastold that I might be happier at Throop Church since it was more working class. Thehistory story that I have been telling others in the past, that one church started as an upper middle class and wealthy congregation, and that Throop was more working class in the past, has been incorrect. What is interesting is that there persists a misconception aboutthe classes that attended Unitarian and Universalist churches around the turn of lastcentury, which also inform the congregations today. Mark W. Harris writes, “This isunfortunate because demographically and socially Universalists actually lived out thevalues expressed in their faith of freedom and equality. A diversity of classes participated, and many members, especially before 1850, shared a classless vision of bothheaven and earth.”
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Throop Church is predominantly white and educated; however, inthe current economic climate, a significant portion of the congregation is underemployed,or retired. Wealth is not something that many have, or seem to have.
10
Mark W. Harris, “A Faith for the Few?” UU World, Spring 2011,http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/175332.shtml(accessed May 3, 2011).

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