Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1966 Volume 14 Number 2, Pages 26–31

The Main Line Unitarian Church

J. Alden Mason

Page 26

The Main Line Unitarian Church is an outgrowth of the Unitarian Church of Delaware County, located in Springfield, Pa. That church is itself of relatively recent foundation, having been organized in 1952.

Like many liberal churches, the Springfield church had a number of discussion groups which met regularly in the members homes. One of the most active of these was the Main Line group in the Radnor-Paoli area. By 1957 it came to be felt that there might be enough interest in Unitarianism in this area to support a new fellowship.

The first move in this direction was at a dinner in January, 1958, at the home of Bernard H. White in Radnor, attended by the Whites, the George W. Volckhausens of Devon, and Reverend Herbert F. Vetter, Jr., and Mrs. H. Vetter, of the Springfield Church. It was decided to hold a larger meeting which was called at the home of the Douglas C. Wendells in Daylesford on February 6th. Reverend Vetter, while regretting the loss of some of his congregation, gave the project his approval and blessing, and it was decided to issue a general call and to publish a notice in the Suburban and Wayne Times.

As a result of this call, 32 persons met at the home of the Robert F. Koenigs in Berwyn on March 30, where organizing committees were appointed. On April 18, at the home of George Volckhausen, 27 persons met, heard reports of the committees, and decided definitely to organize a Unitarian Fellowship. An official report of this action was made at the May 5th meeting of the Philadelphia Area Council for Unitarian Advance (PACUA), and received with strong approval. The Fellowship was officially organized at a meeting held at the old Berwyn Methodist Church on Main Avenue on Sunday evening, May 25, 1958, with about thirty persons present. Constitution and Bylaws and a budget were adopted and most of the founder members signed a membership book.

The thirty-four founder members of the Fellowship were: Henry W. Bousman Albert P. and Dorothy D. Harclerode James S. Cassedy, II Charles N. and Elizabeth B. Rink John H. Pedersen Thomas L. and Evelyn M. Robbins Simon E. and Mary S. Gluck Wallace M. and Henrietta Schleicher

Page 27

Robert F. and Dorothy D. Koenig Jonh P. and Carol T. Troy William and Phyllis B. Korbel, Jr. George W. and June Volckhausen J. Alden and Florence R. Mason Douglas C.and Nancy C. Wendell Glenn C. and Sarah H. McCombs Bernard H. and Frances S. White Ralzemond B. and Doris M. Parker Dolph W. Zink James C. N. and Margaret C. Paul

Of these thirty-four founders only eleven remain, almost all of the others having been called to other parts of the country.

A Board of Trustees was elected, the first ones being Mr. Cassedy, Mrs. Gluck and Mr. Paul; Mr, Koenig, Mrs. Volckhausen, and Mr. White; Mr. McCombs, Mr. Parker, and Mr. Schleicher.

The trustees elected as the first officers: President Bernard H. White, Vice President Robert F. Koenig, Secretary June M. Volckhausen, Treasurer Wallace M. Schleicher. July 18th the Fellowship was admitted as the 248th fellowship of the Unitarian-Universalist Association. Shortly after it was incorporated in Chester County as a non-profit corporation. A lease was signed for the use of the old Methodist Church on Main Avenue, Berwyn, and the parsonage behind it on Waterloo Avenue. It was realized that church status, a resident minister, and our own building were goals for the future.

The first service was held September 7, 1958, with a congregation of 77 and with Rev. Vetter as the minister. Services were held through winter and spring with a different speaker each Sunday, a practice that was followed until a permanent pastor was obtained. Men and women from all fields of work and knowledge spoke. Those who drew the largest congregations were Senator Joseph Clark and Norman Thomas, both of whom spoke more than once. Prominent scientists such as Dr. Ashley Montagu, anthropologist, and Dr. Harlow Shapley, astronomer, were among the others. Rev. James J. Reeb, the martyr who was recently murdered at Selma, Alabama, spoke several times. Tentative discussions were held with him to see if he would consider becoming the permanent pastor.

In addition to singing by the congregation and choir, music, both vocal and instrumental, by individuals or small groups, has always played a prominent part in the services, and is planned for in the church annual budget. There are both Senior and Junior choirs. A flower committee makes sure there is an attractive floral piece at the altar.

Page 28

The Church School has always been considered a most important part of the Church. Enrollment and attendance usually exceeds that of church membership. The first school occupied the old parsonage and the church basement (before the social hour) but soon outside quarters had to be rented. The teachers were and are adults of the congregation. Beginning with about 50 children in October 1958, there were 106 by January, 1959, and growth has continued steadily ever since.

A lending library and a book shop, both with good stocks of current and up-to-date books, are maintained. There are also midweek discussion groups that take up controversial topics, generally of a social nature. Concern for the plight of the Negro in our society has always been prominent and integrated Negro housing has been recurrent topic for discussion and action. From time to time social or educational events are held. The most ambitious of the latter was in the spring of 1961 when Mayor Dilworth, City Solicitor David Berger, and two University of Pennsylvania professors spoke at a series of evening meetings on various phases of "The Delaware Valley Population Explosion." Such affairs were in the charge of the Committee on Community Problems, now termed the Social Concerns Committee.

After every service there is a Coffee Hour during which guests are greeted and may, if they wish, sign the guest book in order to receive future announcements.

No services are held during the summer months, from about mid-June to mid-September.

An important annual cultural event is the Arts and Crafts show at which local artists and art craftsmen exhibit their paintings, sculpture and other handicraft. In a few years this has grown to be a prominent affair in which well-known artists partake, and their products are sold to their advantage and that of the Church. The most recent fifth exhibition resulted in sales of $3,155.75, with a profit of $764.29 to the church. Musicals are occasionally held when choral groups such as the Great Valley Singers or other musicians perform.

There is a Women's Alliance having the welfare of the Church (and especially the tangible church) at heart, and the Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) for the younger generation, both being affiliated with similar groups in other Unitarian-Universalist and other liberal churches. The LRY sells doughnuts at the coffee hour, and UNICEF cards at Christmas. Both devote their profits at all affairs to the Church.

Page 29

Instead of confirmation, children are presented at a service of dedication now and then. Another morning is devoted to an appreciation of the services of the teachers in the Church School. Occasionally work parties are called to clean up house and grounds and do similar labor.

An annual dinner at the Church's expense is held every year before the beginning of the annual drive for contributions.

In 1959, as a result of long negotiations, the Unitarian and Universalist denominations united as one, without however, changing the names of individual churches. In April, 1959, the Main Line Unitarian Fellowship was admitted as the 27th member of the Priestly Conference of Unitarian churches and fellowships in the Middle Atlantic States.

The attainment of a permanent home was the next great advance of the church. In 1960 the availability of McMichael property on Valley Forge Road near Maplewood, close to Old St. David's Church, was brought to our attention, and purchased (largely by mortgage, of course) at a surprisingly low sum for such a fine property of four acres and a very large and well-built mansion. It was built by Emory McMichael about 1900. The large ballroom was suitable for an auditorium seating some 126, and the many rooms seemed admirable for the church school. Unfortunately we found later that the six on the top floor could not be used because of the fire safety laws; Of course great changes were needed, new heating equipment, furnishings, parking space, fire-proof stairways, etc., all at considerable expense, but somehow it was done, and the first service in the new hone was held April 30, 1961. In spite of distance and parking problems, the attendance was 111.

The next forward step was the attainment by the Fellowship of church status, for which a certain number of families were required as well as assumption of certain obligations. It was voted to assume these, and in November, 1962, we were admitted as a member church of the Unitarian-Universalist Association. We had been the fourth largest fellowship in the country.

Page 30

The attainment of a regular full-time minister had long been the goal of the Church, but the assumption of his salary in addition to all the other beginning and growing expenses seemed impossible. Nevertheless it was voted on April 8, 1963, to call a pastor and also to build a parsonage on the church property. The minister's home was completed and occupied by Rev. Mason F. McGinness, Mrs. McGinness and their two daughters on August 31, and Mr. McGinness preached his first sermon on September 5, 1963, to a congregation of 176. The official installation service, however, was held on October 27, at which time Rev. Dana M. Greeley, President of the American Unitarian-Universalist Association, preached the inaugural sermon, assisted by several other prominent national church officials, and by Rev. Chester T. Winters, Minister of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley.

Mr. McGinness is a graduate of Tufts College and Tufts School of Religion, with an S.T.D. degree. From 1937 to 1955 he was minister to several Universalist or Unitarian churches in New England,but since that time had been in administrative offices of denominational headquarters, most recently as Vice President for Administration. H e and Mrs. McGinness have always taken a prominent part in community and social work wherever they go. Mrs. McGinness holding degrees from the School of Social Work of Simmons College. In 1965 he was awarded the honorary degree of D.D. by the Meadville Theological School of the University of Chicago. The McGinnesses have taken a very important place in the religious and community life of this vicinity.

The last great innovation was a necessity, not a desideratum. This was the adoption of double services at 9.3O and 11.15 A. M. Sunday mornings. This was begun on September 27, 1964.

The government of the Church is independent and congregational, the connection with the national organization being purely administrative. There being no creed, membership entails merely subscription to the broad ideals of the Church and signing the membership book.

The presidents of the Church to date have been:
1958-1959 Bernard H. White
1959-1960 Bernard H. White
1960-1961 George W. Volckhausen
1961-1962 Nancy C. Wendell
1962-1963 Richard H. Hughes
1963-1964 Robert Lathrop
1964-1965 James F . Thomason
1965-1966 Richard Lobban

The growth of the Main Line Unitarian Church has been most extraordinary in the less than eight years of its existence.

Twenty-four new members have joined since the first of the year, and 80 new members have joined in the past year. The membership is now 321, and there is an average enrollment of 282 children in the church school. At the last service before Christmas last year 283 persons attended the two services.

Page 31

A committee of the church is now conferring with architects regarding a new church building, probably to be built on our ground behind the present old mansion. It is not expected, however, that a building large enough to accommodate all future growth can be built. It is rather expected that groups coming from considerable distances will form new fellowships – and eventually churches – in their neighborhoods, leaving the Devon church at a congenial size.

Our Purpose:
Our purpose is to join together in a cooperative quest for religious and ethical values, to apply these values to the fulfillment of our objectives, which are: the development of character, the enrichment of the spirit, the promotion of universal brotherhood and service to all mankind.

Our Convictions:
Our basic underlying convictions are: that religious and scientific truth must be compatible, that the democratic process must govern all human relations, that each individual has an inherent dignity and the right to freedom of belief unfettered by any prescribed creed.

Our Membership:
Our membership is open to all who are in sympathy with the general purposes and convictions of our Church. One becomes a member by signing the membership book which is at the membership table in the lobby of the church.

Our Church Government:
Our Church is governed by a Board of Trustees elected by the membership at annual meetings.

Our Finances:
Our Church depends entirely upon regular pledges and contributions of members and friends to underwrite its budget.


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