First Unitarian Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

Gathered in 1785, the First Unitarian Church of Worcester, Massachusetts was formed by a group of 54 “free thinkers” who left Worcester-based First Parish Church under the leadership of their pastor, Dr. Aaron Bancroft, in a quest to celebrate freedom of belief and religious expression that would help define Unitarian doctrine in the United States. The Church’s current Federal style structure, built in 1850, was designed by Sidney Mason Stone and was inspired by the Center Church on-the-Green in New Haven, Connecticut. Following in the footsteps of its founders, the First Unitarian Church continues, “to preserve the freedom of each of us to determine for ourselves what we believe and how we should live. We are open to the wisdom of world religions. We welcome and honor diversity of belief, culture, lifestyle, and political view as a source of strength.”

First Parish Church, Portland, Maine

With roots dating back to 1674, First Parish Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, is the oldest house of worship in Portland. The current structure, designed by shipbuilder and architect John Mussey, was completed in 1826 of granite from nearby Freeport and is built in the Federalist style. The church has gone to great lengths to keep the original design intact and using only replacements that are as close to the originals as possible. Much like the congregation’s careful attention to maintaining Mussey’s design, the First Parish Church continues its mission to: “nurture the spirit, grow in community and help heal the world.”

South Church, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Completed in 1826, South Church also known as the “Stone Church” because of its granite exterior has been a Unitarian Universalist church since 1945. The building, which is thought to have been designed by Jonathan Folsom, is built in the Greek Revival style. Nevertheless, it should be noted that its current interior is in the Baroque style after an 1858 remodel. South Church is one of the first monumental granite buildings to be built in northern New England. On a plaque located on the facade of the building, it states that in 1717 Portsmouth’s first identified black family was baptized by South Church. With this in mind, it is fitting that the Unitarian Universalist church is housed in this very important landmark, as its mission in part celebrates “the worth and dignity of all people.”

Gosport Chapel, Star Island, Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire

Gosport Chapel is part of the non-profit Star Island Corporation retreat complex, founded on the spiritual ideals of Unitarian-Universalism and the United Church of Christ. The rustic island-based retreat located seven miles off the shores of New Hampshire offers a community-oriented, multi-generational environment for personal reflection and rejuvenation. Gosport Chapel, a modest stone structure built in 1800, sits on the highest point of the island and is at the heart of the complex. As part of a Star Island tradition at the end of each retreat day, participants gather at the foot of the hill and form a procession up a long winding path carrying candle lanterns to the chapel. Inside, the candle lanterns are hung on the wall, providing the only source of light for the evening service.

Arlington Street Church, Boston, Massachusetts

Founded in 1729 as the “Church of the Presbyterian Strangers”, the Arlington Street Church is a Unitarian Universalist church, which draws from a variety of religious traditions. While the Unitarian Universalist congregations “tend to retain some Christian traditions, such as Sunday worship with a sermon and the singing of hymns. The extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into personal spiritual practice is a matter of personal choice for congregants.”(1) Unitarian refers to the belief in one God.

In 1861, the church’s current structure was completed and was the first public building to be constructed on newly filled land in Boston’s Back Bay, sitting on 999 wooden pilings driven into the tidal mud. Architect Arthur Gilman drew inspiration for its exterior from London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields and its basilica type interior from the Church of the Annunciation in Genoa, Italy. As part of the church’s mission, congregants gather “in love and service for justice and peace.”(2)

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarian_Universalism
2. http://www.ascboston.org/about/index.html