Celebrating Our Past, Looking to Our Future

How many religious institutions in Baltimore can you name that have been operating continuously, in the same location, for almost two centuries?

Very few can make that claim. First Unitarian Church of Baltimore is one of them, and it’s something we’re proud of. It is why we are about to embark on a multi-year celebration of the extraordinary history of our congregation, our beautiful building, and our special role in the development and spread of our faith.

We refer to our “bicentennials,” plural, because we will be celebrating three distinct (but closely related events):

  1. the founding of the church in February 1817;
  2. the dedication of the building in October 1818; and
  3. the preaching of the famous “Baltimore Sermon” by Unitarian pioneer William Ellery Channing at the installation of our first minister, Jared Sparks, in May 1819.

In addition to three major celebrations to mark those major milestones, we will be calling attention to our founding and history in many other ways over the next several years, with musical performances, talks, conferences, tours, family activities, and more. For example, this October there will be a series of events looking at what was happening in the months leading up to the founding of the church, especially the influence of the Rev. James Freeman of Boston, whose lectures on Unitarianism in Baltimore in fall 1816 inspired the founding of our church a few months later.

A Bicentennial Steering Committee has been working to develop plans that both honor our history and move us joyously into the future. The current committee members are: Mike Cross-Barnet (chair), Linnea Anderson, Mike Franch, Mike Riggs, Judy Mayer, Rev. David Carl Olson, Jim Houston, and Michelle Lee. We work in partnership with the Board of Trustees, other church committees, and members of the congregation who have participated in a listening session, answered survey questions, and offered us comments and suggestions.

The phrase that we have chosen to represent this momentous period in the life of our church is: “Celebrating 200 Years of Commitment and Community.” We think those words capture something about what makes First Unitarian such a unique place.

Our uninterrupted existence for 200 years has required an unusual degree of commitment to maintaining the institution through periods of war, civil unrest, ideological division, and financial hardship. At the same time, a profound sense of community has been our anchor throughout our long history. The congregation is a robust community of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, bound by shared values and shared history. We also have a deep sense of rootedness in Baltimore City and the global community of humankind.

We hope you will have the opportunity to join us over the next three years as we shine a light on our proud history, our dreams for the future, and our unique place in Baltimore and the world.

Feel free to contact the Bicentennial Steering Committee with questions or comments at bicentennials@firstunitarian.net.