by Allan Ainsworth
This third edition of the history of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City takes up where Unitarianism in Utah: 1891-1991 left off in recording the history of the church. While keeping in mind that this is a history, the current book diverts from the conventional printed book in that it is digital, can be accessed from any computer, laptop, tablet, or phone, and contains numerous other features including videotapes.
The Second Hundred Years is comprised of three parts that place the church squarely into the greater Salt Lake community, delve into what goes on socially and spiritually inside the church, and provide the ruminations and observations of a number of people, some of whom have been participants in the church for at least the breadth of the 30 years this book attempts to cover.
Part 1, The First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City and its Role in the Greater Community, illustrates how the church has interacted with the larger community over the last 30 years through living its goals of promoting social justice, jazz music, and other social issues. This section of the book includes a recollection from Tom Goldsmith on the social justice work that the church has traditionally embraced. Goldsmith recalls how the church has always felt a strong need to participate in justice issues because of a moral empowerment to guide political processes toward a “divine purpose”. Simple movements such as making and serving sandwiches to homeless people, and protests at the Nevada Test Site against the use of nuclear warfare are all a part of what the church represents.
Goldsmith follows his article about social justice with another example of striving for justice in his second contribution, entitled Sale of Main Street to the LDS Church. The saga of the sale of a portion of Main Street, in downtown Salt Lake City, and The First Unitarian Church’s role as plaintiff in a lawsuit against this sale.
At least during Goldsmith’s tenure as senior minister, music has had a strong role in the church. Goldsmith and John Rasmuson offer accounts about how Jazz Vespers has played such a strong part in the church, and how the 25 year long run of the Vespers reached deeply into the SLC community. The Vespers pieces are followed by a brief description by Monica Dobbins of how the church as interacted with Planned Parenthood as part of the People’s Justice Forum.
Other chapters include a description of the support by the church of a secular group of Humanists who met in Eliot Hall for a number of years. This group of people from throughout the SLC community was first formed at First Unitarian Church. Many attendees of the church may not know the history of this relationship, but Wilson, the author, presents a succinct history, complete with names of members of this movement to enlighten the reader. Rasmuson then tells the story of how litter became a part of our social justice movement by helping to clean up a portion of Highway 65, in Parley’s Canyon.
Additional chapters are presented that describe the church’s role in supporting local schools on Salt Lake’s west side, in less affluent parts of the city. Michele Page and Sue Geary provide important information about how the church lives up to the Unitarian Universalist principle of the worth and dignity of all people by starting a Welcoming Congregation through a vote of the congregation in 1999 that honors “every part of our identities, backgrounds, and experiences”. To First Church, this means nondiscrimination, celebration of diversity, outreach and support of other affirmative organizations and attention of related legislation.’
Rasmuson again offers his insight through his and others’ participation in resettling refugees in partnership with the International Refugee Committee (IRC). This chapter outlines how members of the church helped to settle refugees through countless volunteer hours of procuring and delivering furniture to families moving from diverse countries.
Part 1 concludes with a chapter by Tom Huckin and Allan Ainsworth on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the church. This chapter, due to its subject matter, is open-ended, that is, as of the official publication of this book it is still unknown how the pandemic will shape the near future of the church. Covid-19 has temporarily shut down in-person attendance within the walls of the church, has curtailed fund-raising, including the most recent capital campaign, and revealed the ability of creative people to continue the rich tradition of church services online.
Part 2, entitled “The Internal Workings of the Church” is a more intimate portrait of the church over this 30-year time period. Lex Hemphill recounts how capital campaigns have continued to shape the physical structure of the church. He follows this chapter with a vivid description of the Community Cooperative Nursery School, better known as CCNS. For those readers who do not know the history of this innovative school, Hemphill provides a well-rounded account of this history.
Spirituality may not be the first thought of those attending services at First Church. Allan Ainsworth paints a history of how spirituality plays out during the day-to-day activities inside the church even among the most secular of attendees and how younger families are re-shaping their understanding of spirituality as it affects them.
Rasmuson tackles the history of the creation of Small Group Ministry (SGM) beginning in 2004. Bringing together groups of 10 to 12 people each month, the purpose of these gatherings is “to engender deeper personal connections and spiritual growth” according to the author. The SGM continues to play a deep and important pursuit among many members of the church.
Other chapters in Part 2 include information on the importance of the Endowment Fund (Cathy Chambless), Steffey’s chapter on how the church could financially support other humanitarian organizations in the community, the importance of arts and crafts in the culture of the church, and how church campouts have provided an important continuity among members (Reed).
The creators of this book are especially proud of the contents of Part 3 due to its innovative nature. Don Walton and Ken Kraus videotaped numerous members of the church to gain their wisdom and insight about the church’s history. There are two videotapes of Tim DeChristopher, one from RadioWest, and one taped by Walton at DeChristopher’s current home in Vermont. Alan Coombs has two tapes, very fitting for one of the people who has played an outsize part in shaping the church’s history and culture. Monica Dobbins, and Peter and Amanda Esco are interviewed, followed by a two-part interview by Allan Ainsworth of Tom Goldsmith. Of course, Jazz Vespers shows up again.
Julie Miller, Phil and Nancy Moos and Pat Shea offer their perspectives on how First Church has been shaped and has shaped the church through its members and their commitment to social justice.
Finally, we re-visit the church archives once again through the resources of the University of Utah’ Marriott Library. When the church outgrew the capacity to store its records in-house, about 112 linear feet of archival material was donated to Special Collections at this library. Due to our contractual arrangement with Marriott Library we are able to present a link to these archives to this book. Listed under “Additional Resources”, readers are able to pursue a selection of archival materials contained in the original donation to the library. The editors of this book make no pretense of having been comprehensive in their perusal of the archives but have earmarked a small selection of the contents of the boxes and boxes that make up this special collection. This section of the book is intended to whet the appetite for interested readers to visit the archives for their own research once Marriott Library re-opens.