Learn about our church facility and history.
A Brief History
Universalist National Memorial Church is one of a kind in the nation’s capital. It is a parish drawn diversely from the metropolitan Washington area, yet was built to serve as the national representative of the Universalist Church of America, which merged in 1961 with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Univeralist Association of Congregations. UNMC is now a proud member congregation of the UUA, an association of more than one thousand congregations across the continent, bound together not by a common theology, but by a common covenant to seek truth in freedom. Each congregation within the UUA is self-governing and self-financing. The Board of Trustees adopted a resolution on strengthening the church’s affiliation with the UUA in April 2003.
Our particular community is both liberal Christian and Universalist; that is, liberal in that there is no creedal test to become a member of this church, Universalist in that we affirm that no soul is forever lost from the all-conquering love of God, Christian in that the focus of our religious journey is the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The mission statement adopted by the congregation of this church states that we seek to create a loving community for worship and service in the spirit of Jesus Christ, to welcome all and respect individual beliefs as we grow together.
The Universalists were so named because they made universal salvation the cornerstone of their Christian faith, a religiously democratizing proposition, traceable to the 3rd century theologian, Origen, and the apostolic age. Strongly rooted in New England and in the society produced by the American Revolution, later Universalists were prominent social reformers and leaders in education, publishing, and business. In Washington DC, the Universalists were a presence before the Civil War, before relocating to the present site in 1929.
The building, designed by Francis H. Allen and Charles Collens of Boston, who were the architects for the Riverside Church in New York City and the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, has its roots in Romanesque architecture derived from English, French, and Italian traditions. The acoustics are considered excellent, and the stained glass windows unique.
What to Expect
Our worship services can best be described as –
Meditative: We open each worship service with a time of silent meditation.
Inspirational: Under the direction of Darryl Winston, our chorale of professionally trained singers and classically trained pianist lead a variety of musical selections. The songs include hymns, contemporary pieces and classical music, all carefully selected for the purposes of inspiring hope, reflection and wonder.
Prayerful: We share together in a time of pastoral prayer and we open space for all in attendance to express joys and concerns. We end this time with the Prayer of Jesus… (“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”)
Reflective: Our diverse weekly readings include selections from the Bible (and, occasionally, other holy texts), excerpts from various books that guide our understanding of the spiritual journey and many others…
Collaborative: We hear a brief sermon each week, either from one of our Co-Ministry Leaders (the two of whom together represent the pastoral presence at UNMC), or from a member of our congregation.
We invite you to experience a worship service this Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. We hope to see you there!
Our Mission and Goals
The mission and goals of the church, adopted by the congregation at its annual meeting in May 2002, are:
To create a loving community
for worship and service
in the spirit of Jesus Christ.
To welcome all
and respect individual beliefs
as we grow together.
We want to grow as a spiritual community, both in numbers and in the depth of our faith experience.
We want to revitalize our building to make it a welcoming house of worship, study, fellowship, and service with the potential to contribute financially to the long-term viability of this congregation.
Declaration of Faith
Who Are We?
We are a liberal, Universalist Christian church–
liberal in that we have no creedal test for membership,
Universalist in our belief in the final harmony of all souls with God,
and Christian in that our mission is to create a loving community
for worship and service in the spirit of Jesus Christ.
We are a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).
The following free-will Declaration of Faith was adopted by the congregation in 2008:
In faith and freedom, we are called…
to bring hope and healing to the world
so that all may rejoice in God’s grace.
I believe in…
the universal love of God
the spiritual authority and leadership of Jesus Christ
the trustworthiness of the Bible as a source of divine revelation
the need for repentance and forgiveness of sin
and the final harmony of all souls with God.
We Honor Your Path
We are a spiritually diverse congregation of people who seek to join faith and reason as we encounter God together. We acknowledge that each person’s religious beliefs (or their choice not to believe) are outgrowths of culture, conscience and experience. We share a belief within our community that religious journeys are deeply personal and worthy of respect.
While we at UNMC are committed as a congregation to maintaining the centrality of Jesus’ teachings as a source for guidance and inspiration, we are also committed to honoring the individual experience of each person within that context. Therefore, we are a congregation of Unitarians and Trinitarians, believers and non-believers, people for whom Christianity and/or Unitarian Universalism is the only religion and people who practice interspirituality (a mixture of religions).
When it comes to churches, ours is one where exploration is encouraged, boundaries are challenged and growth is inevitable. We invite you to join your journey with ours at one of our services in the near future.
We gather together each week on Sunday at 11:00 a.m., and we hope to see you when we gather again!
We, the members of the Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington, D.C., hereby unite for the public worship of God, the study and practice of the religion of Jesus, and the maintenance of the ordinances of the Christian Church. We acknowledge the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Article l. Name and Denominational Relations
Section 1. The name of this organization shall be The Universalist National Memorial Church of the District of Columbia.
Whenever the word “Church” is used in these Bylaws it shall signify the legal corporation as well as the body of members enrolled as hereinafter provided.
Section 2. In accordance with an agreement made with the Universalist General Convention on October 17, 1927, it is hereby provided:
a. That the Universalist National Memorial Church shall represent the denomination in the spirit of its administration. It shall set an example of well-ordered worship, effective preaching, rational and devout religious education, missionary zeal, and devotion to good works.
b. That the local church shall, subject to the provisions of this agreement, have autonomy in the management of its local affairs and the use of the church buildings for proper activities, and shall be entitled to receive the spiritual and pastoral service rightly expected from a local minister.
Article II. Membership
Section 1. Any person who has been confirmed in Christian fellowship by the Pastor of this Church or by some minister authorized to act in such matters for it, or who has been received into fellowship by letter from some other Church, shall be enrolled in the membership of this Church on signing the Bylaws in the membership book provided for that purpose.
Section 2. The Church shall have the power to receive Associate members into its membership under these conditions: (A) The person will be temporarily in Washington and will return to a home church where membership in good standing is held; or (B) A person who has membership in a Church where there are family ties and connections, which for sentimental reasons could not be broken even though the person holding this membership would be eager to have membership in the Universalist National Memorial Church. Associate members shall have all the rights and privileges of members.
Section 3. Only members and Associate members of the Church shall have the right to vote at legal meetings of the Church. To hold an elective office one must be a member or Associate member of the Church and over eighteen years of age.
Section 4. Membership may be terminated for cause by two-thirds vote of the Church on recommendation of the Deacons and Deaconesses after due notice and hearing.
Article III. Officers
Section 1. The officers of this Church shall be a Moderator, a Secretary, a Treasurer, an Assistant Treasurer, a Registrar, and a Diaconate consisting of four or more deacons and four or more deaconesses. All of these officers, except the deacons and deaconesses, shall be elected by ballot at each annual meeting. The deacons and deaconesses shall be nominated by the Pastor and elected by vote of the parish and their terms of service shall be at the pleasure of the Church.
Section 1A. No person may hold more than one of the offices of Moderator, Secretary, Treasurer, and Assistant Treasurer.
Section 2. There shall be a Board of Trustees consisting of no fewer than 7 and no more than 16 members, including the Moderator, Secretary, Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer. The up to 12 remaining members of the Board shall be elected from the membership of the Church in such a manner that approximately half of these members of the Board shall be elected annually for terms of two years. Board members may not serve for more than three consecutive terms. The maximum size of the Board for each year shall be determined by the congregation at the Annual Meeting, but the size of the Board may be increased by the congregation at any legal meeting of the Church.
Section 3. The Moderator and Secretary shall be respectively chairman and clerk of the Board of Trustees. No person shall serve as Moderator for more than five consecutive years. A Vice Moderator shall be elected by the Board of Trustees from within its membership at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees following the Annual meeting of the Church.
Section 4. In all elections a majority of the votes cast shall be required to elect, ad all officers and Board members shall continue in office until their successors shall be chosen. The Board of Trustees may fill vacancies in its own membership or in any offices of the Church, however occasioned, until the next Annual Meeting. If a Board member is elected by the Board to fill a vacant officer position in addition to his or her Board position, that Board member shall continue to exercise only one vote on the Board. A person elected to fill a vacancy or unexpired term shall be considered to have served for one term if the period during which that person serves is more than one half of the term. In the event a candidate is identified during the Church year to stand for an officer’s position, such individual may be nominated by the Board and elected to the position at any legal meeting of the congregation held in accordance with Section 1 of Article VI.
Section 5. The three trustees required by statute of the District of Columbia, (hereinafter called “Statutory Trustees”), to be elected at each Annual meeting for a one year term shall be the Moderator, Secretary and Treasurer. Following each such election, the certificate thereof required by the statute shall duly be filed by the Secretary in the office of the Recorder of Deeds of the District of Columbia.
Section 6. Election of Officers and Trustees shall be held at the Annual Meeting on the third Sunday in May each year. The Officers and Trustees elected shall assume office upon election.
Section 7. Delegates to the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association shall be nominated by the Board of Trustees and elected by vote of the parish.
Article IV. Powers and Duties of Officers.
Section 1. The Moderator shall preside at all legal meetings of the Church and all meetings of the Board of Trustees and shall serve as member ex officio of all established committees. The Moderator shall designate a member of the Board to be chairman of each standing committee. The Vice Moderator shall perform the duties of the Moderator in the absence of the Moderator.
Section 2. The Secretary shall keep a record of all meetings of the Church and the Board of Trustees. The Secretary shall give due notice of all legal meetings of the Church and perform such other duties as are usually incident to the office.
Section 3. The Treasurer, except as provided in Section 4 of this Article, shall have custody of all funds and evidences of property belonging to the Church; shall receive all money receivable by the Church and pay out the same as directed by the Board of Trustees; shall keep accounts of all receipts and expenditures and render a full report of the financial condition of the Church at the Annual Meeting and at such other meetings as may be required. The Treasurer shall give a surety bond in such amount as the Board of Trustees may require. The Treasurer shall present the accounts for auditing at least once a year.
Section 3A. The Assistant Treasurer shall assist the Treasurer with the performance of the duties enumerated in Section 3 and shall perform such other duties and have such powers as the Board of Trustees may direct.
Section 4. The Board of Trustees, except as otherwise provided in these Bylaws, shall have general charge of the administration of the Church. It may make such arrangements as it deems wise for the management, investment and reinvestment of the securities owned by the Universalist National Memorial Church and may authorize the Treasurer to transfer the custody of the same to any trustee or agent. It may sell or transfer personal property belonging to the Church, and any transfer signed by the Treasurer, accompanied by a certificate of the Secretary to the effect that the sale or transfer was authorized by a vote of the Board of Trustees, shall be sufficient protection or authorization for any third person. Between the Annual meetings it shall have all the powers which the Church itself possesses except such as are specifically reserved by law or these Bylaws to the Church.
Section 5. The Registrar shall keep the official membership book of the Church as provided in Article II of the Bylaws; also a church register in which shall be recorded the dates of admission, transfer, withdrawal or decease of members, all baptisms, confirmations, marriages,and funerals at which the Pastor, or some minister acting for the Church, has officiated.
Section 6. The Diaconate shall make suitable provision for the communion service and assist in its administration. They shall oversee the disbursing of any charity funds and offerings of the Church in coordination with the Pastor. Under his or her direction and guidance and as appropriate, they may assist the Pastor in attending to the pastoral needs of the congregation. The activities of the Diaconate shall be reported to the Board through the Pastor.
Section 7. The Statutory Trustees shall exercise the powers and perform the duties required by the statutes of the District of Columbia relating to trustees of religious societies.
Article V. Committees
Section 1. There shall be a Nominating Committee of three members elected by the Board of Trustees.
Section 2. There shall be an Audit Committee to audit the Treasurer’s records as soon as possible after the close of the fiscal year that shall make a report on its findings at the Annual Meeting of the Church.
Section 3. The Board shall establish such other committees and employ such mechanisms as it determines necessary to promote the ministry and effective administration of the Church. The Board may establish standing and temporary committees to perform various functions, including, but not limited to, those in the following areas: adult spiritual development; budget, finance, and stewardship; building, grounds, and maintenance; building usage; chancel (including memorial flowers); Church administration; Church development; denominational and social concerns; hospitality and membership; ministry; outreach and publicity; programs and activities; religious education for children and youth; strategic planning; and worship and liturgy. The Board shall define the duties and powers of each committee in writing, establishing such requirements for organization, leadership, and membership for each committee as it deems necessary. The Board remains responsible for the oversight of all Church committees. The Board shall approve the membership of all Committees and should appoint a Board member to each. The Board shall approve the Chair of all Committees, preferably from Board members.
Section 4. All standing committees, except the Nominating and Auditing Committee, shall meet monthly, except for those months in which the Board does not meet. Committees may meet more frequently, at the discretion of the committee chairmen.
Section 5. Committees shall review policy and operations under their jurisdiction prior to the preparation of the proposed annual budget by the Finance Committee, and shall make recommendations to the Finance Committee for the funding of those areas of church operation and activity under each committee’s jurisdiction.
Section 6. All standing committees shall report on the previous month’s meeting(s) and activities at each meeting of the Board of Trustees, with the exception of the Auditing Committee, which shall report only at the Annual Meeting and at such other times as may be requested by the Board.
Section 7. In any area where the nature of the tasks involved or the needs of the Church do not require or make advantageous a committee structure, the Board alternatively may designate in individual coordinator or two co-coordinators and shall define generally and provide to each their responsibilities and authorities in writing. Such individuals shall report regularly to the Board on their activities.
Section 8. The Board shall report or ensure reports are made to the congregation at the Church Annual Meeting on the status and activities of all committees and coordinators, including any created or dissolved during the year.
Article VI. Meetings
Section 1. The Annual meeting of the Church shall be held on a Sunday in May, with the date to be set by the Board of Trustees. Special legal meetings may be held at the call of the Board of Trustees, and shall be held upon the written request of 15 members of the Church, addressed to the Board, for such purposes only as may be specified in the call of such meeting. The Secretary shall give notice of each annual or special legal meeting by causing announcement thereof to be given at a regular service of worship on each of two successive Sundays immediately preceding the date of such meeting, or by mailing an announcement to each member of the Church at least 10 days before the date of such meetings. The Registrar’s list of members shall be the official voting list at any legal meeting.
Section 2. The fiscal year of the Church shall begin on the first day of May in each calendar year. The Board of Trustees shall at the annual meeting submit for the approval of the Church a budget of estimated income and expenses for the following fiscal year.
Section 3. Twenty-five members entitled to vote shall constitute a quorum at any legal meeting of the Church, and five members of the Board of Trustees shall constitute a quorum at any meeting of the Board; but less than a quorum may adjourn to a definite time. The Board of Trustees may act by electronic meeting (email), provided that any such action is proposed by the Moderator or Vice-Moderator, and provided further that any such action is authorized by unanimous electronic vote of all the Trustees.
Section 4. The term “legal meeting,” whenever used in these Bylaws, shall be understood as meaning an annual or special meeting of the Church held after notification by the Secretary in accordance with the provisions of Section 1 of this Article.
Article VII. The Office of the Pastor
Section 1. The Pastor shall have charge of the spiritual life of the Church.
Section 2. The Pastor shall have the power, in coordination with a building usage committee or coordinator, if any exists, and subject to the policies and approval of the Board of Trustees, to determine the uses of the church buildings for worship and other suitable activities of a parochial or community nature.
Section 3. The Pastor shall be chosen and dismissed by vote of the Church at any legal meeting, provided that notice of such intended action shall have been inserted in the call of such meeting. A vote of at least three-fourths of the members present shall be required to call or dismiss a Pastor.
Section 4. No minister shall be entered to or continue in the pastorate of this Church unless he holds or will seek fellowship in the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Article VIII. Church Ordinances
Section 1. The Communion or the Lord’s Supper shall be observed on the Thursday of Holy Week and at such other times as the Pastor and Diaconate may determine. At every such service all present shall be invited to partake.
Section 2. The Pastor shall confirm in Christian fellowship such persons as shall desire it. He shall also administer baptism as it may be requested.
Article IX. Parliamentary Authority
This organization shall be governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, Revised, except in such cases where the Rules of Order conflict with these Bylaws.
Article X. Amendments
These Bylaws may be amended at any annual or special legal meeting of the Church by a vote of at least two-thirds of the members present entitled to vote, provided that the purpose to amend the Bylaws and the nature of the amendment or amendments proposed shall have been stated in the notification of said meeting; and provided further that no amendment of the Preamble or Article I of these Bylaws shall be valid without the concurrence of the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
As amended at Semi-annual Meeting, November 23, 2008
At the annual meeting on May 15, 2005, the congregation voted to adopt the congregational covenant that the Committee on Ministry had developed with the support of the deacons and the involvement of the entire church community in formal and informal discussions and feedback opportunities. You can read the full text of this document of commitment in community with one another by clicking here.
Early Universalists in Washington (Timeline from 1827)
This timeline is based on the work of A. S. Knox in 1980, and is based principally on histories of the Universalist Church in Washington, D.C. by James Watson Webb 1882, and Marcus Winfield Lewis, c.1940
Early Universalists in Washington
- 1827-1860: Theophilus Fiske and Otis Skinner were among the Universalist preachers visiting Washington during this time. Attempts of local Universalists to form a Society in the District of Columbia failed.
- 1861-1865: Washington churches were largely used as hospitals during the war. Universalist ministers preached occasionally.
- 1866-1867: Universalists attended Unitarian Church at Indiana Ave. and D St., N.W. where the pulpit was occasionally occupied by Universalist ministers.
- September 1867: Universalist General Convention (UGC) meeting in Baltimore, Md. passed resolution to establish National Memorial Church in Washington, D.C.
Murray Universalist Society/First Universalist Church of Washington, D.C.
- January 19, 1868: First recorded religious service of Washington Universalists was conducted by Rev. Elbridge Gerry Brooks in Union League Hall, 9th near F St., N. W., 150 attending.
- January 25, 1868: Temporary organization established.
- March 1, 1869: Appeal was made to Centenary Committee of the Universalist General Convention (UGC) to build a Centenary church in Washington, memorializing John Murray’s landing in America in 1770, which led to the establishment of Universalist Church. The appeal was rejected by the Committee.
- May 17, 1869: A permanent Washington Universalist organization was formed — The Murray Universalist Society — 59 members.
- 1869-1873: There were many visiting Universalist ministers, and meetings were held in private homes and in halls, including the Lincoln Hall, at 9th and S Streets, Metzerott Hall on Pennsylvania Ave. between 9th & 10th Sts. N.W., and Masonic Hall, 9th & F Sts. N.W. During this time Walt Whitman attended services.
- 1870: (John Murray’s landing in America) Centenary Year. Universalist General Convention (UGC) meeting was held in first American Universalist Church, founded in 1780 in Gloucester, Mass. One purpose of the convention was to establish a $100,000 fund for erection of a memorial church in the Nation’s Capital.
Universalist Church of Our Father
Until 1961, when the Universalists and the Unitarian denominations consolidated, the Universalist General Convention (UGA; which became known as the Universalist Church of America, or UCA) held biennial meetings that served as the highest denominational decision making body. For those few churches, including this church, the churches in Baltimore, and the scant couple of churches in Virginia, that fell outside the state covention system, the Universalist General Convention was the immediate denominational body. Our special relationship, as “the national church” was codified in 1927 and included a power-sharing arrangement with the UGC that lasted into the 1950s. Not until 1991 did the church actually own its own building. The meetings of the UGC were held several times in Washington. First, in September 1873, it met in Masonic Hall, and in the Unitarian and Metropolitan churches. Funds intended formate proposed Memorial Church in Washington, D.C. were converted to the rebuilding of the church destroyed by the Chicago fire in 1871. On October 30, 1883, the dedication of the Church of Our Father was held during a session of the Universalist General Convention held in Washington. The UCG met in Washington in 1893, 1903 (when the delegates were received by President Theodore Roosevelt) 1929 (at All Souls Church, Unitarian and the Mayflower Hotel) 1935 (at the church and the Mayflower Hotel; this was the session when the “Washington Avowal” was adopted) and in 1939.
Nationwide financial panic during this month further postponed building of Universalist National Memorial Church in D.C. Money was raised, however, by local Murray Society for purchase of lot for a church building.
John Van Schaik, Image courtesy of the UUA
On February 15 and 22, 1874, Church body was first organized, and was publicly recognized March 24 as First Universalist Church of Washington. On June 1, 1875, the Murray Universalist Society of Washington was legally incorporated.
- 1879: Search was made to purchase an existing church building. Considered were the Shiloh Baptist Church and the New York Avenue Presbyterian.
- November 1881: Purchase was made of SE corner lot, 13th & L Sts. N.W. On this the Church of Our Father was built later to house the First Universalist Church of Washington, D.C.
- May 9, 1882: Cornerstone of the Church was laid.
- May 13, 1883: First service was held in Church of Our Father, Rev. Alexander Kent officiating.
- 1892: The first National Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution was held in this church.
- October 25, 1908: Twenty-fifth anniversary of Church of our Father. Dr. van Schaick preached in the morning, and historical lectures were given in the church in the evening.
Universalist National Memorial Church
- 1921: Question of the National Memorial Church in Washington again brought up by Universalist General Convention. Money for construction of Universalist National Memorial Church was authorized.
- 1921-1925: Several sites were considered in vicinity of present UNMC. Present site approved February 1, 1925. Money was raised through the U.S., in part by purchases of memorials.
- 1925-1930: Services of First Universalist Church were held in the Metropolitan Theater on F Street, and the Ambassador Theater on Columbia Road (at 18th Street), during building of Universalist National Memorial Church.