A Brief History

Some church history…

The people of KUUC are committed to actively creating compassionate community and working for a fair and peaceful world.

KUUC is a Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary. We welcome seekers from every walk of life.

The Keene Unitarian Universalist Church is an independent congregation which has been part of the fabric of the Monadnock Region since its founding in 1824 by members of the Congregational Church, who seceded over the issue of Trinitarianism vs. Unitarianism. Six years later, they built their first building, the Unitarian Church at the corner of Main and Church Streets. The present granite building at 69 Washington Street was built in 1894. The Tiffany Truth Window was added in 1900 as a memorial to the founding members.

At about the same time, a small group of free-thinkers broke away from the Baptist Church in Richmond, NH, over the issue of Universal Salvation, and formed the Universalist Church. Nationally, the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association, with historical roots reaching back over one thousand years, merged in 1961 at an historic meeting in Syracuse, New York, to create the present Unitarian Universalist Association with over 1,000 congregations in North America.

As a congregation, we are affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) headquartered in Boston, MA and are part of its New England Region. Both the UUA and the region provide helpful staff members and essential resources through which we operate independently and democratically.

HISTORIC HIGHLIGHTS:                          APRIL 2022   

Many of us UUs’ have a deep connection with nature.  We love being outdoors and feel nourished from the experience.  In honor of Earth Day this month, let’s take a look at some Keene Unitarians whose love of the outdoors has benefitted the entire city for many generations.

In 1886, our indomitable Mary Dinsmoor along with four others “drew up the by-laws and articles of association for the Rural Improvement Society.”  She and fellow church members George A. Wheelock and Caroline Ingersoll were the Society’s most enthusiastic members according to Jim Smart’s The Keene Unitarian Universalist Church:  its building and its people.  George Wheelock had been a long time member of the earlier Forest Tree Society.  Their mission was to plant trees along Keene’s byways and in Central Square.

When one looks at our wooded hillsides, it’s difficult to imagine a landscape devoid of trees.  But for over 150 years, trees had been used for construction, fuel, potash and cooking.  The Great Sheep Boom from 1820-40 had cleared much of the land for agriculture. Founding members of the Rural Improvement Society saw the results and realized the need for protecting forestland.  “The impending sale of sizable lots of good timberland prompted some concerned people to take action.”

George Wheelock bought 25 acres of land in 1866 that bears his name.  In 1896 and 1897, he bought two tracts totaling 100 acres above the reservoir on Beech Hill, our Robin Hood Park.  Caroline Ingersoll bought a 17-acre tract of land across Park Avenue from Wheelock Park in 1887.  She christened it Ladies Wildwood Park.  And Dinsmoor Woods on Maple Avenue was created on 13 acres purchased by Miss Mary B. in 1923.

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Interest in land conservation has continued through the 20th century and into the 21st with the creation and expansion of City owned lands.  Many current congregation members have served on the Keene Conservation Commission. They have help ensure that proper stewardship of natural resources continues in Keene.                                              —Eloise Clark

KUUC Founders: The 12 founders

(and their ages as of March 18, 1824)

Silas Perry, 61
Catherine Perry, 42 (?)
James Wilson, Sr., 57
Elizabeth S. Wilson, 43
James Wilson Jr., 27
Daniel Bradford, 53

Diantha Prentiss, 26 (?)
John Prentiss, 46
Samuel Wood, Jr., Unknown
Aaron Appleton, 58
Mary B. R. Dinsmoor, 54
Elizabeth Page, 80

The Seventy-one Associates who established KUUC:

The first page of the church’s covenant book lists seventy-one men as associate founders. Associate founders were those men who first joined the Unitarian community after its founding. The plaque, like the Truth window, was executed and installed by the Tiffany Company. It was restored to its original luster in 2005 by Michael Smart.

Seventy-one associate members were the men who contributed to getting the church on a firm social and financial foundation. They often acted informally, but essentially they took on a responsibility similar to that of today’s Board of Trustees.

One wonders why the plaque committee, composed of women, did not include the significant contributions of their sex during the same period. The church’s published history pp. 150-51 identifies seventy-one women pp. 150-51 who also deserve to be recognized as Associate Founders.

Some Interesting Facts about KUUC:

The Truth Window:

Truth was the topic of the first Unitarian sermon in Keene, and was a natural theme for a memorial window, which was installed in December 1900, as “a memorial window to the Seventy Associates who founded the church.” The window was designed by the Tiffany Glass Company, which was at its height of productivity and creativity during the turn of the century, producing eight known “Truth” windows.

The window contains an androgynous figure, holding a torch which signifies Truth’s illuminating power, and a sword, representing the practical embodiment of truth in laws, institutions… Around its neck is a key, symbolizing the ability to unlock and get beyond barriers of ignorance. The wreath of roses? Well, Truth can be as sweet as a rose and as painful as the thorns, both to those who speak it and to those who listen!

The New Hampshire Sentinel described the window as follows:

The window . . . has been placed in position at the head of the church in the center of the chancel or alcove in rear of the pulpit. The window thus becomes a most conspicuous object and its tone and design are happily such as to harmonize admirably with the general plan and coloring of the interior, to which it adds a richness and finish that is now seen to have been very essential to the proper development of the architect’s design . . .

The Chalice Blossom

The Chalice Blossom Window was designed by Craig Stockwell in memory of David La Mar, an active and well-liked member of the church. David abhorred the vacuum in the pulpit-side chancel, and initiated discussion with the Board of Trustees. Before any decisions were made, David died in January 1993. Funds which had been given in David’s memory were used to fund Craig’s design.

The Chalice Blossom glass window was chosen to complement and not compete with the Truth window. The window is about two and a half feet wide and stands six feet tall.

Excerpts from The Keene Unitarian Universalist Church: The Building and its People. James Smart. 1996. Available in the KUUC library.

What is Unitarian Universalism?

IN UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISM, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart. Our SEVEN PRINCIPLES and SIX SOURCES Support the Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning. For more information, http://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe

To watch a video, https://www.uua.org/beliefs/who-we-are/video/use-video

1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

These are the six sources our congregations affirm and promote.

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
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