1978 – 2006: The Church Era

1978 – Frank Forrester Church IV (1948–2009, ministry 1978-2006) became the ninth minister. Widely known as Forrest, Rev. Church was the son of Senator Frank Church, a noted liberal Democrat of Idaho. He graduated from Stanford University and received a master’s degree and a doctorate of church history from Harvard Divinity School. During his 28-year tenure, Rev. Church wrote 25 books, became a nationally known spokesman for religious liberalism and led All Souls to even greater prominence in social activism, particularly against the AIDS crisis, a cause which was taken on by few other churches at the time. Rev. Church retired as senior minister and became minister of public theology in 2006 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. By the time of Rev. Church’s death in 2009, the congregation had over 1,000 members.

1979 – Rev. Richard (Dick) Leonard joined All Souls as a summer minister and part-time Assistant Minister. Later he became Minister Emeritus. Rev. Leonard has officiated at the weddings of more than 4,000 couples at All Souls and other locations.

1980 – Dedication of sculptor Sue Fuller’s, “String Composition #1-252,” otherwise known as the String Sculpture, in the chancel. It replaced a cross in that place that had come from the third church building. From the mid-1950s to 1978, the cross caused contention and the congregation was split down the middle as to what should be the proper symbolism on the chancel. After committee hearings, the cross was removed in May 1978. The church commissioned American artist Sue Fuller to create a sculpture that could be interpreted many different ways. Fuller was known for what she called her “string compositions,” and her works are in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim and the Tate in London. Fuller worked extensively with textiles and threads, but she made this sculpture out of translucent fluorocarbon filaments.The congregation approved the design in October 1979, and $25,000 was raised to pay for it by voluntary subscription.

1981 – Founding of Monday Night Hospitality. This All Souls program serves a full meal to the hungry every Monday evening. Over 30,000 meals are served a year. Most guests are homeless, and they include all races, nationalities and genders. No one is turned away. The program is run by volunteers under the leadership of George Collins, deacon and Past Board President (2009-10). The program has also included social services including making referrals to medical and mental health services, providing crisis intervention counseling to guests, advocating for senior citizens to prevent evictions, helping guests to reconnect with their families, and referrals to housing, crisis centers, AIDS services, rehab facilities and veterans’ residences.

1985 - The All Souls AIDS Task Force was founded. After Rev. Church delivered a sermon about the church’s responsibility to respond to the AIDS crisis, he invited anyone interested to join him, with church member Chuck Weiss and Dr. Mathilde Krim, to discuss how the congregation could best respond. Over 100 members met that afternoon, and the AIDS Task Force was created. Less than a year later, there appeared on the city buses and subways the first-ever public service posters about AIDS, designed, coordinated and paid for by All Souls volunteers. 10,000 placards were placed, declaring “AIDS is a human condition, it deserves a human response.” Other initiatives of the Task Force included:

  • individual counseling and support groups for those with HIV/AIDS,

  • provision of space, financial support and volunteers for pediatric AIDS programs,

  • counseling and referrals to homeless people with HIV/AIDS concerns,

  • a series of discussions for clergy and lay persons on how communities of faith might respond,

  • spiritual retreats for both people with HIV/AIDS and people grieving for those lost to the disease.

In 1991, All Souls received the Outstanding AIDS Ministry award from the National AIDS Interfaith Network.

1987 – Rev. John Buehrens started as Assistant Minister. A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, he was ordained in 1973 and served congregations in Knoxville and Dallas before coming to All Souls. He was later called as Associate Minister with Forrest Church as Senior Minister. In 1993, Rev. Buehrens was elected the sixth president of the Unitarian Universalist Association and served in that role until 2001.

1988 – The Heart & Soul Charitable Fund was founded to raise money to support programs serving New York's marginalized populations. Together with the Heart & Souls partners and supporters, the fund has found creative and inspiring ways to sustain the critical work done by community-based programs, by:

  • making grants to neighborhood-based organizations,

  • partnering with these organizations so they can become better advocates for the communities they serve,

  • recognizing and honoring their volunteers and staff,

  • celebrating the legacy of the late Rev. Forrest Church through the Forrest Church Award.

 

1989 – The Holtkamp Organ was installed. It was built by the Holtkamp Organ Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest pipe organ maker in North America. Known as one of the Grand Organs of New York, it has three manuals (or keyboards), 53 ranks (or rows of pipes) and 40 stops that put various pipes into play. At the time it was installed, the choir loft surrounding the organ was also redesigned and the 1821 clock was removed from above the main entrance to the sanctuary and placed in the renovated and rededicated Reidy Friendship Hall. Over the years, some organ parts and functions became unstable. After another fund-raising campaign, it was dismantled, trucked back to Cleveland for repairs and reinstalled at All Souls in 2013.

1989 – Publication of Our Chosen Faith, co-authored by All Souls co-ministers, Rev. Forrest Church and Rev. John Buehrens. Our Chosen Faith became the standard bearer book describing what Unitarians Universalists believe, organized around the UUA’s “five sources of belief.” It sold over 100,000 copies.

1990 – Death of Eleanor Clark French, member of All Souls, writer, editor and former vice chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Committee. She served as the director of two rest homes for survivors of concentration camps that were sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

1991 – Rev. Church delivered a sermon titled “Confessions” about his impending divorce from Amy Furth, Director of Religious Education. This sermon began a period of time that severely tested the congregation and leadership of All Souls - the crisis of Rev. Church’s infidelity. Controversy escalated inside the church and spilled out into the press when it was revealed that Rev. Church had fallen in love with a married parishioner, Carolyn Buck Luce. Some vocal church members demanded his resignation, but the congregation voted 370 to 136 to keep him on as senior minister.  The following summer, Rev. Church and Ms. Luce were married in a small ceremony on Shelter Island, by Rev. Dick Leonard.

1991 – Tim Berners-Lee, an English Unitarian Universalist living in Massachusetts, invented the World Wide Web. Raised as an Anglican, in his youth he turned away from religion, but after he became a parent he became a Unitarian Universalist. In 1998, he wrote, “People have often asked me whether the Web design was influenced by Unitarian Universalist philosophy. I have to say that it wasn't explicitly... But looking back on it, I suppose that there are some parallels between the philosophies…Where the design of the Web is a search for set of rules which will allow computers to work together in harmony, so our spiritual and social quest is for a set of rules which allow people to work work together in harmony.” (Tim Berners-Lee, The World Wide Web and the Web of Life.)

1993 – Rev. Galen Guengerich (1957--) became Assistant Minister with Rev. Forrest Church as Senior Minister. Rev. Guengerich graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1985) and the University of Chicago (PhD, 2004), and is the author of God Revised: How Religion Must Evolve in a Scientific Age (2016). He writes a regular column on “The Search for Meaning” for Psychologytoday.com, as well as writing occasionally for Huffington Post and for FaithStreet. Galen is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where he focuses on how traditional religious beliefs and practices, both in the US and abroad, usually reinforce patriarchy to the detriment of women and democracy. He became Senior Minister after Rev. Church’s death in 2009.

1993 – Stories with Soul was founded by Warren Bryan, a prominent actor and All Souls activist. At each session, held every Wednesday evening, group members listen to a short story read aloud and discuss it. According to Miles Chapin, an author, actor and one of Warren’s first readers: “I think when Warren created Stories with Soul, he saw an opportunity to foster a group which appreciated good writing, fine performances and thoughtful stories. The ensuing flourishment of the Stories with Soul community is testament both to his vision and the veracity of his insight.” Stories with Soul draws about 20-30 attendees each week.

1994 – The Unitarian Church of All Souls celebrated its 175th Anniversary. The program of events featured a lecture on “Louisa Lee Schuyler and 19th Century Reform” sponsored by the Women's Alliance and the All Souls Historical Society, A Fair in Olde New York, created by the congregation for the All Souls family, the Gala 175th Anniversary Dinner, presented by the Board of Trustees, a fair open to the public offered by the congregation in support of social outreach, and, on Anniversary Sunday, the 175th Anniversary Sermon preached by Rev. Forrest Church with special music, a Deacon's reception for 25 year plus members, a church school birthday party, an informal buffet lunch, and the 175th Anniversary Symposium: “A Universalism for the 21st Century.”

1996 – All Souls At Sundown was started by Rev. Guengerich. This evening meditation of jazz and poetry is an alternative worship service held one Sunday a month between October and May at 5:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary of All Souls. Led by Galen Guengerich, Sundown employs poetry and music of guest performers to allow time for thoughtful reflection. Past guest performers have included Ravi Coltrane, Andrea Lindborg, Jen Chapin, Milt Grayson, and the Joe Temperley Quartet.

1997 – Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull became Assistant Minister. A graduate of Union Theological Seminary (M.Div. 1969) and Yeshiva University (Ph.D. 1986), Jan came to All Souls after a full professional life in the corporate and non-profit sector. Mentored by Rev. Richard Leonard and Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, she was ordained in 1999. While here, Jan oversaw social justice outreach and advocacy ministries, initiated the Anti-Racism Task Force, preached, and provided significant pastoral care as well as trauma response in the wake of the events of 9/11. In 2004, she accepted the call to First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Cohasset, MA and has since served congregations in Kingston, NY and Meriden, CT. In our larger denomination, Jan became a charter member of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry, chaired the UUA Commission on Social Witness, has been an activist in anti-racism ministries, and is past-President of her chapter Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.

1997 – Melaney Mashburn became Director of Religious Education. She served All Souls until 2010, and initiated many RE traditions at All Souls, such as the Children's Choir, The Family Christmas Eve Services, The Coming of Age Family celebration/Service, The Easter Egg Hunt, Pumpkin Picking, Martin Luther King Service Day and the Bridging Ceremony/Graduation service that marked the official end of the RE program year.  Melaney also created the very popular Single Parents Group, Coping with Loss Group and workshops on How to Raise UU Youth.  In addition to overseeing a flourishing RE program for children, youth and families, Melaney was a warm pastoral presence to all congregants and her office was frequently filled with the youngest to the oldest members of our community.  She also served in the role of Good Officer in the District for several years and was elected and served as treasurer and president of the local LREDA chapter.

1997 – Rev. Richard Leonard became minister emeritus. Born in Detroit in 1927, he graduated from Yale (1949) and Union Seminary in New York (1952). He became the Minister of Education at the Community Church of New York in 1959, and was later the part-time minister of the Flatbush Unitarian Church and the Director of Development for three New York City schools, Walden, Horace Mann and Columbia Prep. During the height of the Civil Rights protests, he spent 18 days in Selma, Alabama. With the killing of James Reeb, a Unitarian minister, Richard was permitted to walk the 50 miles to Montgomery in his place. His book, Call to Selma: 18 Days of Witness, is the only hour-by-hour account of the march written by one of the 300 who walked the distance. In 1979, Richard and his second wife, Polly, joined All Souls Church, where he served as Assistant Minister to Rev. Forrest Church until the death of Dr. Church in 2009. His second book, Ports of Call: Journeys in Ministry, records unusual events that occurred during the Leonards’ travels in other countries, while his third book, Wet Cement, is a three-volume collection of recollected stories. Richard’s wife Polly died in 2017, after a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He currently indulges his interest in chess, having played World Champion Anatoly Karpov in an exhibition in 1979. He has taught more than 700 children the game in New York City schools, and currently teaches chess on Norwegian Cruise lines.

2000 – Navigators USA was established as an alternative scouting movement that would be co-ed and secular, emphasizing diversity and inclusion. This was initially in response to the Boy Scouts of America explicitly discriminating against gays and atheists. The organization was founded by Robin Bossert and a group of All Souls volunteers who had previously led Boy Scout Troop 103 in East Harlem. During the first four years they wrote a curriculum and published handbooks with the help of McGraw-Hill, then spent another four years testing their model and growing slowly to six chapters. Now there are more than 160. The Navigators USA is committed to providing a quality scouting experience that is inclusive and available to all children and families regardless of gender, race, religion, economic status, sexual orientation and social background.

2001, September 11 – The United States was attacked by the Islamic terrorist group al–Qaeda. The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were destroyed and the Pentagon in Virginia suffered major damage. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost immediately, and more died in coming years as a result of injuries and illnesses resulting from the attacks.

2001, September 14 – Rev. Forrest Church appeared on Good Morning America with Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson, and later that day appeared on the PBS News Hour hosted by Dan Rather. “People seem to be taking their own spiritual temperature,” said Rev. Church. “They’re reexamining their lives, their priorities, and in a strange way they’re contemplating their own obituaries … contemplating what meaning they are bringing to life.” He went on to say, “We must seek justice and not revenge … if not, we will be answering hatred with hatred and we will be imitating those whom we so despise.” 

2004 – Rev. Alison Miller became the Acting Assistant Minister. Rev. Miller grew up in the congregation, and started working for All Souls in 1998 as Youth Ministry Director and as Assistant to the Ministers and Director of Development. In 1996 she received her A.B. from Bryn Mawr College, followed in 2003 by her Masters of Divinity from Harvard. In 2005, she accepted the call to be the Senior Minister at Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, N.J. Rev. Miller ran for President of the UUA in 2016, but lost the election to Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray from Phoenix AZ. Two spiritual themes that recur in Rev. Miller’s ministry are the power of stories to shape our lives, and the meaning of healing from a liberal religious perspective.

2005 – After considerable controversy, the congregation voted at its annual meeting to amend the Bond of Union to read: “In the freedom of the truth and in the spirit of love, we unite for the worship of God and the service of all.” The congregation also voted to formally remove from the by-laws the requirement that new members subscribe to the Bond of Union, but that had been largely ignored since the 1950s.  Changing “Jesus” to “love” was more controversial. All Souls had always been a “High Church” congregation and some members were determined to resist what they saw as the relentless forces of secularism. But  Rev. Church argued in a sermon that the change would strengthen the Bond not weaken it: “If by the change of a single word, we can expand our circle of welcome without in any way diminishing the profound devotional spirit in which we gather, to do so will be, I deeply believe, a very fine thing.”

2005 – Rev. Cheryl Walker became Assistant Minister.  Although she was raised as a Muslim and still values many aspects of Islam, Rev. Walker found that both her logical side and her spiritual yearnings were satisfied by Unitarian Universalism. She received her BA in theoretical mathematics from Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts and Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. She worked on Wall Street for twenty years before feeling called to the UU ministry when volunteering with a homeless shelter. After serving at All Souls for four years as Assistant Minister, Rev. Walker was invited in 2009 to become the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Wilmington, NC. She currently also serves as the President of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.

© All Souls Historical Society 2020

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Unitarian Church of All Souls

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