We Mark 50 Years in our Unique Home

More than 150 people celebrated the 50th anniversary of the building housing the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady (formerly First Unitarian Society of Schenectady) during the weekend of September 24th and 25th, 2011. The building was designed by Edward Durell Stone and built by L.A. Swyer and Sons. On Saturday evening, the festivities began with a symbolic walk from the former church building, at the corner of State Street and Wendell Avenue, to the celebration site at 1221 Wendell. While a member of the youth group played piano, slides were shown documenting the site, the construction of the building and many of the Sunday services and other events the building has hosted over the past 50 years.



Fiftieth Anniversary Slide Show
Slide Show from the celebration, in three downloadable or viewable PDF files.

Slides of the building site and construction

Slides from 1961 to 1999

Slides from 2000 to 2badgeC011

An album of photos of the celebration events is available here.

Anniversary committee members created displays depicting the theme “Where we have been, where we are now, and how we envision our future.” They included information regarding the Rev. Bill Gold, who was minister when the church was built, the contents of a religious education time capsule from 1986, information on the history of the youth program, contributions of the Women’s Alliance to the building as well as a display about energy efficient options for the church, including solar panels. A copy of the October 1, 1961 Union-Star October 1, 1961, featuring the inauguration of the building, was on display. Children learned more about the building by enjoying a scavenger hunt and other activities. Beginning at 6:15 PM, supper was served. The main program of the evening featured remarks by Judy Farrall, a church member who also spoke at the 25th anniversary of the building, along with a proclamation from NY State Assemblyman James Tedisco that was read by Board of Trustees President Holly Hawkes. The Reverend Priscilla Richter opened the proceedings and also read comments written by the Rev. Charles Slap 25 years ago for the silver anniversary of the building. Two musical groups from the congregation provided entertainment from the 60’s and from the present. Kevin O’Connor, past president of the Society, led the entire congregation in a “Geek Chorus” to celebrate the event. The program closed with everyone singing “Happy Birthday” followed by dessert—two carrot cakes in the shape of a “five” and a “zero”.

SymbolicWalkOn Sunday morning, two members who were important players in the construction of the building spoke and answered questions at a special session of “Coffee and Conversation”. Elwin Stevens is the architect who served as the supervisor of construction. He played this role as his volunteer contribution to the project, and saved the congregation a great deal of money in the process. Mr. Stevens commented that the church is “the most architecturally significant building in the Capital District of New York.” When asked how he had interested Edward Durell Stone, who had never designed a church before, he replied, “I pointed out to him that Frank Lloyd Wright had build a Unitarian Universalist Church in Madison, Wisconsin.” Mal Horton, an engineer and church member who also was on site of the construction nearly every day, talked about redesigning the planned heating system to use more efficient furnaces, and the electrical work, which he oversaw. He introduced a state of the art 24-volt lighting control system that is still providing flexible operation today. The overflow crowd was spellbound by the stories shared by Horton and Stevens.

The Reverend Priscilla Richter highlighted the religious significance of many of the features of the building during her Sunday sermon. In her Fiftieth Anniversary Prayer, Rev. Richter expressed gratitude for our tradition and hopes for us to embody these cherished ideals. Newer members may not have known that the interlocking circles which make up all the walls of the church, along with the Great Hall dome itself were inspired by the Edwin Markham poem, “Outwitted”. The poem describes circles as a way to keep people out—or draw them in:

“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel a thing to flout,
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.”

The Sunday service also featured congregational voices sharing the importance of the building to each of them as their spiritual home.

Everyone who entered the Great Hall was given a “badge” to wear featuring a drawing of the building suspended on a gold ribbon. As the congregation enters the second fifty years of this unique building the opportunity to renew and re-affirm the forward-looking philosophy that produced it presents itself. It will take creativity, optimism, technical knowledge, money and imagination to adapt the building to the technological and social challenges of today. While maintaining and upgrading this beloved building, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady will be carrying on the best tradition of our faith while acting in the spirit of earlier members of the Society.

The Reverend Priscilla Richter read these words of the Reverend Charles Slap, then FUSS minister, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the building in 1986:

Twenty-five years ago, on this first Sunday in October, a group of happy religious liberals gathered here to take possession of their new religious home.
They acted in faith, that liberal religion had a secure and honorable future in Schenectady. They acted in trust, that those who came after them would love and care for this magnificent building, as they did. They acted in love, offering this house of fellowship as a gift to those who had not yet found our path in religion, those who would be looking for this place.
We here today are the recipients of that faith, trust, and love. To the givers, whether here this morning, or far away, or departed, we say “thank you.”
Twenty-five years from today, may the congregation of The First Unitarian Society, here gathered, have cause to thank us, as those who kept the faith, earned the trust, and shared the love, and so passed on the gift.