Universalism in this area of Indiana dates back to about 1828, when the Rev. Hiram Curry came from Ohio to Dayton township, immediately to the southwest of Lafayette. A church was built there in 1839, and itinerant preachers went out to the surrounding townships. Rev. Erasmus Manford made Lafayette his headquarters, serving as the only Universalist minister for all western Indiana. In 1841, he started publishing a 24-page monthly, the Christian Teacher. By 1849 there were 55 Universalist Societies in Indiana, 29 preachers, 15 meeting houses, 10 associations, and two periodicals.
Over 150 years later, there are 16 Unitarian-Universalist congregations in the state. The early Universalist phase of our current congregation formally began in November of 1850, when a group that had been meeting at various locations joined to form “The First Universalist Society of LaFayette.” Subscription papers for some $3,500 were obtained and a new building completed in 1952 at the corner of Ninth and Main Streets (later sold to the German Reformed Church and now a parking lot). By 1856, the church was in debt; by 1861, there was dissension on the board and the building was sold in 1863. A revitalization in 1867 resulted in a new building on Ninth Street between Cincinnati and Elizabeth Streets and a call to the Rev. Albert Bruce the
next year. Synchronicity: 1867 was also the year the Lafayette Jewish congregation erected their temple at 17 S. Seventh, which was our home for 30 years, from 1977-2007. By 1887, under the leadership of Rev. Albert Wilgus, the membership was 75 and the church was out of debt. Ten years later, according to a Lafayette local history, the society “went down for lack of members.” The denominational history attributes it to “internal disputes.” The building was ultimately sold to the Lutherans and is now a parking lot.
A New Era
In January 1949, a group of mostly Purdue faculty met at the home of Dorothea and Raymond Girton; the “Unitarian Fellowship of West Lafayette, Indiana” was established. After a temporary disbanding the following year, the group reactivated. They first met in people’s homes, then at the Hillel Foundation building, at the Episcopalian Canterbury House, and over a music studio, with its use of our folding chairs (our only “infrastructure”) during the week in lieu of rent. In 1956-57, a housing committee was formed and a congregational survey made. The next season, a residential property at 439 Harrison Street in West Lafayette was purchased for $15,000 and became our Fellowship House. Some of our continuing activities had their start there, such as the Art Fair and Shared Hearth Suppers. Our name was changed to “Unitarian Fellowship of
Greater Lafayette” to represent more accurately the area from which members came.
By 1961-62, a statement of philosophy for the Religious Education program had been formulated. Another congregational survey resulted in the call of a part-time minister. There were about 50 adult members and 50 children in the RE program. Having outgrown the Harrison Street house, the congregation purchased another residential property in West Lafayette at the corner of Wood and Chauncey. Rev. Ed Wilson became the part-time minister. Under his tutelage, the use of hymns and our covenant became part of the service.
By 1966, there were 100 active members and 80 children in the RE program. A fund drive to construct a new building at Wood and Chauncey was successful; however, the architect died, leaving behind an inspired and aesthetically pleasing design, which proved structurally unworkable. Revisions were determined to be cost prohibitive. An adjacent lot was purchased in 1973 to add space for future construction. In 1968, the Rev. Charles Slap came as a part-time minister while he finished his studies at Meadville-Lombard Theological School. He became full time in March 1969 but resigned in June 1971 to accept a call to Davis, Calif. The Rev. Kenneth
Hurto was called in May 1972. By 1975, support for the Fellowship had dwindled. Many of the original founders and active members of the congregation had moved out of the Lafayette area or had become inactive. The Wood and Chauncey property was sold to the West Lafayette Park Board, and Rev. Hurto resigned in August to accept a call to First church of Des Moines, Iowa.
A New Home
In 1976, the congregation took part in the Unitarian Universalist “Sharing in Growth” program. The congregation purchased the former Temple Israel at 17 South Seventh Street, Lafayette, from the American Red Cross, which had used the building for storage. Initial work went to bringing the building back from the years of vandalism and neglect, as well as converting the sanctuary to our worship style and taste (with the usual UU discussion/dissension/ultimate consensus-capitulation on such matters as pews, stained glass windows and similar items of decor and usage). Much of the work was done by fellowship members. A grant from a local foundation enabled exterior cleaning and preservation of the brick structure, which was dedicated in April 1979 and is now on the National Historic Register.
In 1980, the Rev. Will Saunders came to us for six weeks on the UUA Minister-on-Loan program, and with his stimulus and encouragement, a search committee was formed. This resulted in the Rev. Libbie Stoddard accepting our call in December of that year.
Period of Growth
The 1980s and ’90s were periods of great growth for the congregation. The building on Seventh Street underwent further extensive remodeling, making the second-floor sanctuary handicapped-accessible and providing a second exit and fire stairs. The main floor was also renovated to make more room for RE and better office space.
The music program was upgraded with the purchase of a Yamaha grand piano, and in 1994, we hired our first paid Director of Religious Education. By 1995, we had 135 members and 60 active friends, with an RE program with 98 children and an annual budget of $94,370. In December 1996, the congregation officially changed its name to “Unitarian Universalist Church of Lafayette.” In 1997 we authorized two new staff positions, a Sunday child care supervisor and a Sunday child care assistant. And in April 1997, the congregation voted to become a Welcoming Congregation.
By the mid-’90s, the sanctuary was filled to capacity. The RE program was now meeting in our own RE rooms, the Red Cross next door, and Central Presbyterian Church across the street. The Future Space Committee was formed to study our options for finding a new church home, as it was clear we had outgrown the Seventh Street building. An interim solution resulted in double services being offered from 1997-1999.
Ideally, the church wanted to remain in downtown Lafayette, but it quickly became clear that no space was going to become available. Thus the congregation purchased property at 2239 Union St. in Lafayette with the intention of building a new church home.
In May of 1998, Rev. Stoddard announced her resignation due to family illness. The Rev. Robert Flanders served as our interim minister, and the Rev. Hilary Landau Krivchenia was called in August 2000. The congregation worked with a local architect to design a building for the Union Street property; a three-year Capital Campaign raised more than $700,000 toward the planned construction of a two-phase building. Ultimately the plans to build were abandoned, as the project proved too costly and was going to have too great an environmental impact on the property as well as the surrounding neighborhood.
In 2007, the church was able to purchase the former St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church building at 333 Meridian Street, West Lafayette. The building was dedicated in October 2007, with a parade leading the way from the former building on Seventh Street to our new location. UU President William Sinkford was here for the festivities. In April 2008, Rev. Krivchenia resigned to take a call with Countryside UU Church in Palatine, Ill. The Rev. Dr. Marlene Walker served as our interim minister through August 2010.
On May 2nd of 2010, our church called Rev. Charlie Davis to become our new minister. He held his first service on Sept. 5, 2010. He served the congregation just under eight years, presiding at his last service on July 31, 2018. Our Interim Minister, Rosemary Morrison, joined us in early 2019.
Today the church has 184 signed members with many additional active friends.