In 1797, The First Society for Social and Public Worship in the Town of Burlington was formed by the citizens who wanted a church. Church-going was not a high priority among Americans after the Revolution. Only 51 of about 2000 Burlington residents were interested.
Within ten years, the Society divided into liberal and conservative factions, mirroring what was happening throughout New England. The Society’s first minister, Dr. Daniel Sanders, refusing to enter into the controversy, resigned in 1806 to devote himself to his position as president of the University of Vermont.
By 1809, Rev. Mr. Samuel Clark was called as minister by the liberal faction. The conservatives called Rev. Mr. Daniel Haskell. Only adult men were allowed to vote, even though most church-goers were women. The conservative group became the First Calvinistic Congregational Church of Burlington and the liberals formed the First Congregational Society of Burlington.
The Brick Meeting House
In 1814, the Society purchased a five-acre lot for $1,000. The Brick Meeting House, our current building, was constructed in 1816. The timbers came from the Brown’s River Valley, the brick was made nearby and the nails were hammered by hand. It cost $22,185.34 and is the oldest surviving place of worship in Burlington, a widely heralded local landmark.
Over the years a number of significant renovations and repairs have been made to improve the building, so it would accommodate the growing congregation and to make it more accessible.
From Turbulent to Flourishing Years
During the turbulent years between 1852 and 1863, Rev. Joshua Young was minister. The Society was torn over the issue of slavery. In 1859, Rev. Mr. Young attended the funeral of John Brown after Brown had been hanged for the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Since no minister had been appointed to conduct the service, Mr. Young did so.
His ministry was followed by the long and harmonious tenure of Loami Ware. During that time the Society flourished.
The women of the church organized in 1823. By the time of the Civil War, their Sewing Circle was very busy with social and charitable activities. They sewed for the soldiers during the war and sent donations to those in need. They spearheaded the building of the parish house in 1868 to house Sunday School classes and the parlors.
Originally the First Congregational Society of Burlington, we have changed names over the years to reflect our identity. We became the First Congregational (Unitarian) Society of Burlington to differentiate ourselves from the Trinitarian First Congregational Church. We later became the First Unitarian Church and changed names again to the First Unitarian Universalist Church when Unitarians and Universalists merged in 1961. Finally, in 1982, we voted to restore the term society to our name: The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington