A History of Activism, Service, & Caring
The society has a history of commitment to social justice and the open exchange of ideas. Over the past century it has contained a microcosm of American liberal thought and change in a way that few other institutions in Schenectady have. The Society has hosted debates on hundreds of civic and moral issues, and has been at the forefront of social changes as wide ranging as labor reform, educational reform, civil rights, reproductive freedom, public safety, and gay rights.
Read more about this in PDF format. It is divided into three parts:
History of UUSS
In the late 1800s, Schenectady was a prosperous industrial city with a locomotive works and Thomas Edison’s electrical works. The formation of the General Electric Company here in 1892 included the Edison Electric Company and the Thompson-Houston Company of Massachusetts and brought to Schenectady professionals and their families from the New England area. The earliest and most prominent Unitarian to join GE was Albert L. Rohrer, who came here in 1893. Rohrer was followed by other Unitarians in 1897.
Schenectady in 1900 had a population of 32,000 with many Protestant churches, a few Catholic churches, and one or two Jewish temples. In late 1900, Reverend Morehouse of the Unitarian Conference of the Middle States and Canada visited the Unitarians in Schenectady, urging them to start a local church. They acted immediately, starting church services in rented quarters in late 1900; applied for and received a certificate of incorporation from New York State on March 15, 1901; and, on June 3, 1901, chose a permanent church building site at the corner of Union Street and Wendell Avenue.
The Society grew in numbers over the next 15 years and, after numerous fund-raising appeals and a $10,000 20-year interest-free loan from the AUA, $22,300 was available in 1917 to begin construction at the new site. The cornerstone was laid by ex-President Taft in June 1917 (see photo to the right), and the first use of the new auditorium took place in January 1918, for the 17th Annual Meeting of the Society.
Reverend Gold inspired the members to contribute to a $300,000 fund drive for a new building located on Wendell Avenue, adjoining Union College. The work of many members over five years culminated in a unique structure, designed by Edward Durell Stone. The building was dedicated on October 1, 1961, and the mortgage was burned about 20 years later. By 1964, membership had risen to 700, with 450 children in the church school.
From March 1965 , when Rev. Gold resigned, until September 1973, our ministers were Carl Storm, Anthony Perrino, and Robert Eddy. In keeping with national trends in most churches, membership dropped during this period. Reverend Rudolf Nemser served as minister from September 1973 to December 1983, at which time the membership was 482 plus 43 contributors.
Dr. Charles Slap became our minister in January 1985. He retired in May 1992, because of increasing disability as a result of AIDS, and he died in November 1992. During this difficult time, we were fortunate to have the services of Rev. Linda Hoddy, who had been ordained in our church in 1992, as Assistant Minister until August 1993, and of Rev. Fred Campbell as Interim Minister, starting in September 1992. Reverend Hoddy and Reverend Campbell helped the congregation accept the loss of a much-loved leader.
Reverend Andrew Backus served as our minister from September 1994 until his decision to pursue interim ministry in 2000. Reverend Mary Hnottavange served as our Interim Minister until Rev. Russ Savage began his service as minister in 2001.
FUSS member Beth Hillig created this dramatic stained glass work that was purchased in celebration of the centennial year of the Society, in 2001. The beautiful lighted wooden stand for the stained glass was custom crafted by Bill MacTiernan. The photo is by Judy Clough.
On Sunday, September 24, 2006, Rev. Priscilla Richter was formally installed at the Service of Installation as the 24th settled minister in the church’s 106-year history. She served until her retirement in 2014.
On August 1, 2014, Rev. Dr. Margret A. O’Neall began her service with this congregation as interim minister. Margret is a professional interim minister, and she is credentialed both as an Accredited Interim Minister through the Unitarian Universalist Association, and a Professional Transition Specialist through the interdenominational Interim Ministry Network. She also holds a Certificate in Appreciative Inquiry through the Corporation for Positive Change.
On August 1, 2017 UUSS welcomed joint Ministers Reverend Wendy Bartel and Reverend Lynn Gardner.
Rev. Wendy grew up in Massachusetts and earned a Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy from Ann Maria College (MA) in 1989/90 (graduation ceremonies were held at the completion of 4 years of coursework for students (back then) and the diploma was issued after an additional 6 months required internship.) Rev. Wendy then moved to California and worked as a Music Therapist with children and adults with severe and profound developmental disabilities.
Rev. Lynn is from the West Coast and has lived in California and Oregon. She earned her Associates Degree in Early Childhood education from De Anza College (CA) in 1988 and ran an in-home daycare, which included several employees and served many families. In preparation to attend seminary, Rev. Lynn earned her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Oregon State University in 2005.
Rev. Wendy and Rev. Lynn met while attending Starr King School for the Ministry. They were married in 2008 and earned their Masters of Divinity from Starr King in 2009. Rev. Wendy did an internship at the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo (UUSM) and served as Summer Coverage Minister in 2009. During seminary, Rev. Lynn served as the UUA Regional Organizing Consultant for Young Adult and Campus Ministries in the Pacific Western Region. Upon graduation, she served as the Worship Arts and Education Specialist for the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Read more here: