A meeting held in April 1953, attracted 26 people from the Springfield area who were interested in Unitarianism. In December 1954, the Springfield Unitarian Fellowship was chartered by the American Unitarian Association. The Fellowship met in members’ homes, including the Rosen home which is now the Walnut Street Inn, and in other locations including the YWCA on S. Jefferson Avenue and the Laborers and Hod Carriers Hall, no longer in existence but then located near the NW corner of Walnut and Glenstone.
In 1955 Pipkin Junior High School teacher Les Hill was fired by the Springfield Public Schools superintendent who alleged that Hill held Atheist beliefs. This incident galvanized the Unitarian Fellowship, whose President, Vic Bovee, worked for the local newspaper. A detailed editorial he wrote about the Les Hill case was picked up by the media, giving both Les Hill and the Fellowship national attention. Membership in the Fellowship increased. In 1958 it began meeting in a building on East Seminole Street, no longer standing but now the location of Daybreak Adult Day Care Center. In 1960, the Unitarian and Universalist denominations merged, with the Springfield Fellowship becoming a member congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist Association.
In 1966, the Fellowship split over the issue of whether the group was ready to hire a minister and become a church. Both groups grew in numbers during the four years they met separately. After reconciling, they became the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Springfield. The first minister, the Rev. Carl Whittier, served from 1972-1976, followed by the Rev. Carl Bierman from 1978-1986.
In 1984, the church moved into a new building on East Battlefield Road on land that had been purchased for the Church by Don and Laure’ Young. Even with some rather large donations and loans secured from the Veatch Foundation and the UUA, construction of the building had severely stretched the congregation’s finances. The services of Jack Taylor, a member who was an architect, and of Jim Broadstreet, who administered the building project, were donated, as were lumber, siding, and other materials. Nearly every church member contributed time and labor — installing trim, painting, laying tile and carpeting, landscaping – and the building became a reality. It was dedicated in the summer of 1984, at which time the children of the church planted a tree on the northeast corner of the property. The Rev. Mike Adamek was called as minister in 1988 and served the church until 1999. The church’s mortgage was paid-off, and the congregation celebrated with a mortgage burning ceremony on April 16, 1994. The Rev. Jane Bechle was called as part-time minister in 2007 and served until 2015, being in the pulpit two Sundays each month. Other Sunday services are planned by a committee and include outside speakers; sermons written by other UU ministers read by church members; messages from members; and programs contributed by various interest groups within the church.
A celebration to mark the Church’s 50 year anniversary was held on December 5, 2004. Recent property improvements have included the expansion of the parking lot in 2004 and the establishment by their children of the John and Rosemary Keller Memorial Garden and Wall following Rosemary’s death.
Although not well-known in South West Missouri or the Ozarks, Unitarian-Universalism is not a new religion. Its roots go back to the very beginnings of organized Christianity. Our congregation includes many committed long-time Unitarian Universalists as well as members new to the faith. We come from many different locales, races, backgrounds, and religious traditions, including none at all. We integrate a variety of beliefs into our theologies and our personal spiritual practices. Like Unitarian Universalists everywhere, we may hold humanist, Christian, Jewish, Pagan, Buddhist, Native American, or other beliefs in addition to our acceptance of the 7 Principles of Unitarian-Universalism. Our personal spiritual practices and our Sunday services may incorporate rituals from Native American, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and other traditions, as well as reflecting our appreciation of music and the arts.
This history was written by Jim Broadstreet and Susan Hom.