A Brief History of All Souls Church

By Charles Butterfield

Our church dates to the early 1790s when the Rev. Hosea Ballou, “Father of Universalism in America,” preached to a small gathering in West Brattleboro. The Universalists continued meeting in schools, Grange Halls and farmhouses, until in 1833 its members broke from the First Congregational Church and called their first minister. In 1835 they erected a brick building on Western Avenue, now home to the Baptist Church of West Brattleboro. When the population center of Brattleboro shifted from west to east, close to the railroad line, a new Universalist society was formed in 1843 in what is now downtown Brattleboro. Rapid growth and a full calendar of activities marked this congregation for distinction. The 1862 national Universalist convention was held in the congregation’s new building on Canal Street (now the Agape Christian Fellowship).

While the Universalists flourished on Canal Street, at the other end of town the liberal church took another step forward. A dissident group within Centre Congregational Church, then located on the town common, formed the Brattleboro Unitarian Congregational Society in 1831. This enthusiastic group built a wooden structure at the corner of Grove and Main Streets in 1832 and settled its first minister in 1833. In 1875 the Unitarians replaced their wood building with one of handsome quarried stone. For almost 80 years All Souls occupied the little “Victorian jewel” downtown.

By the early 1920s the Unitarian population was in decline, while the Universalists needed additional space. Because the liberal views of both congregations were similar, the Unitarians invited the Universalists to join with them. The union took place officially in 1922, forty years before the Unitarian Universalist Association was established, and All Souls Church was born. But with a desire to foster the arts as well as liberal religion in a modern, expansive environment, the congregation voted to sell the property and move to West Brattleboro. The West Village Meeting House was dedicated in 1970 and stands today close to where the Universalists began our church’s story more than 200 years ago.

The West Village Meeting House has seen changes in its fifty years. In 2004 the West RE Wing wall was rebuilt and new windows installed. In 2015 the Main Hall windows were replaced with modern triple-paned glass. In 2017, the church received the gift of a welcoming new glass front entry. In 2018 we had our first ever Spring Fair of wreathes and garden crafts. That year also brought us double-paned windows in the foyer, new, more comfortable seating, and a code compliant balcony fire escape was installed in 2019.

Aside from the physical improvements there has been a great deal of spiritual progress recently. In May 2001 our church was recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Welcoming Congregation, celebrating the presence and participation of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender and queer people. Five years later, we were designated a Green Sanctuary, completing two years of study and incorporating environmental values into the daily workings of the church. In the fall of 2012 TAP, the Theatre Adventure Program, New England Youth Theatre’s inclusive program for youth and adults with developmental challenges, moved to West Village Meeting House where they write, rehearse and perform shows. The Social and Environmental Action Committee, formed in 2016, is reviving a ministry launched when the congregation first moved to West Brattleboro.

Chronology

1922, February 1 Articles of incorporation approved (merging First Universalist Society and Unitarian Congregational Society)
1922, April 7 Bylaws adopted and trustees elected
1922, April 10 Leased Unitarian buildings at Main and Grove Streets
1922, June 8 First congregational meeting called Rev. E. P. Wood (formerly of the First Universalist Society)
1923, January 11 First annual congregational meeting
1926, December 2 First pledge by mail campaign
1929, January 10 “Trust Fund Investment Board” elected
1932, March 31 Rev. Wood resigned due to ill health
1932, June 30 Called Rev. Donald B. Hoyt
1932, September 26 “The News” first published
1933, January 12 Printed order of service initiated
1938, January 11 Purchased 125 “Hymns of the Spirit”
1943, October 24 Rev. Hoyt resigned, called to Portland, Maine
1943, December 26 Rev. Kenneth R. Hutchinson called
1946, November 15 Jacob Estey memorial organ installed
1947, May 9 Rev. Hutchinson resigned for health reasons
1947, August 14 Rev. Dr. Fred H. Miller called
1948, June 28 Extensive redecoration of church approved
1949, January 12 Coffee hour tradition began
1949, December 27 Religious Education Committee formed
1950, June 23 Steinway grand piano purchased
1952, January 9 First woman trustee elected
1953, January 14 Congregation approved national UU merger
1953, June 12 Purchased new parsonage at Oak Crest
1955, September 12 First Sunday School Administrator hired
1961, November 15 Public address system installed in church
1957, January 9 Voted to sponsor Hungarian refugee family
1958, March 21-23 Hosted New England Liberal Religious Youth Conference
1959, March 8 First proposal to build new church heard
1962, January 10 Universalist Society transferred funds to All Souls
1962, March 7 New church survey committee activated
1962, April 4 Joined the New Hampshire-Vermont UU District
1962, September 4 Social Action Committee formed
1966, April 4 Congregation approved building new church
1966, April 24 Rev. Dr. Fred H. Miller resigned, joined Windham College faculty
1966, April Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott architects named
1967, February 7 Rev. Robert Edward Green called
1967, January 12 Final annual meeting of First Universalist Society
1969, June 5 $455,000 approved for new church building
1970, June 14 Dedication of (partially completed) new church building
1970, June 30 Rev. Robert Green resigned, called to East Lansing, Michigan
1970, September 13 Robert MacLean named Activities Coordinator
1970, September 13 Inauguration of services at new church building
1972, April 27 West Village Meeting House name first proposed
1979, April 30 Activities Coordinator resigned
1980, June 1 Rev. Dr. Peter Denny called
1985, Sept-Dec Consideration of Salvadoran refugee sanctuary
1986, March 31 Rev. Dr. Peter Denny resigned for career change
1989, December Rev. Anthony Acheson called
1994, April 30 Rev. Anthony Acheson resigned
1994 -1995 Rev. Patience Stoddard part-time interim
1995, June 11 Rev. Carol Karlson called
2000, May 31 Rev. Carol Karlson resigned, called to New Bedford, Mass.
2000, Sept-2002 Rev. Deborah Mero part-time interim
2000, November 29 History and Archives Committee established
2001, May Recognized by the UUA as a Welcoming Congregation
2001, May 6 Right Relations Policy adopted
2001, December 2 Robert Woodward shot at the church by police
2002, May 12 Rev. Barbro Hansson called
2003, May 18 Rev. Barbro Hansson installed
2003, August 6 $90,000 loan approved for extensive repairs
2003, September 15 Growth/Long-Range Planning Team initiated
2004, May 16 Current mission statement adopted
2006, March Recognized as a Green Sanctuary by the UUA’s Ministry for Earth
2014, June Rev. Hansson retired
2014, August Rev. Anne Willever hired as interim minister; served one year
2015, August Rev. Lisa Mobayed hired as development minister-half time; served one year
2016, September Rev. Shayna Appel, hired as 3 year contract half time minister
2016, December Social and Environmental Action Committee established
2018, September New website launched