A few years after the first Unitarian sermon was delivered in Sacramento and after two guest lectures for the Library Association by the Rev Thomas Starr King, 17 families founded the First Unitarian Church of Sacramento on March 29, 1868. Rev. Henry W. Brown from San Francisco presided. With the financial panics of 1873 and ’87, the church went through unsteady times but by 1892 the congregation decided the future of their church looked bright and incorporated anew as the First Unitarian Society of Sacramento.
Some twenty years later, a resolution was presented to the congregation regarding the fact that the Society did not have a building of their own — they had always met in a rented hall. A committee was formed, fund drive undertaken, land purchased and building constructed. On March 20, 1915, the first service was held at the First Unitarian Church at 1415 27th Street.
When America entered World War I in 1917, membership at the church had declined to seventeen but things picked up in 1922 when a Sacramento lawyer named Berkeley B. Blake was ordained at the First Unitarian Church. Two years later, he reported that the Society now had 47 active members and over 100 additional non-members who considered the First Unitarian Church their spiritual home. Rev. Blake left the pulpit in 1927 to become the field secretary for the American Unitarian Association headquartered in Berkeley, but remained an active participant in the Sacramento Unitarian scene for many years thereafter.
During the Great Depression and through the years of WWII the Sacramento institution survived with visiting ministers and by sharing a minister with the Stockton church. Immediately after the war the Society became revitalized with the installation of the Rev. Theodore Curtis Abell in November, 1945. By the 1946 summer recess, the membership roster had grown from 37 to 192. The Society has maintained a strong presence in the community since.
By the 1950’s it was evident that more space was required and a “Starters Club” was initiated in 1954. $19,500 was raised to purchase 5.76 acres on Sierra Blvd. The church was built over the following years. The new building was dubbed “The House of a Thousand Windows” because its walls contained 1,288 hexagonal windowpanes of translucent amber glass. This feature was the architect’s response to the congregation’s desire for a building that was in harmony with the sunny climate of the area.
Sadly, shortly after the contractor handed over the keys to the new building in May 1960, Rev Abell informed the Board of Trustees that he intended to resign as minister effective September 1, 1960 and that his last service would be Sunday, June 19, 1960 in the old 27th Street location. The first service at the new location was conducted on July 10, 1960. Rev Abell was in attendence but did not preside. He died four months later.
In 1961, the national Unitarian and Universalist organizations merged into the Unitarian Universalist Association. While the Sacramento congregation embraced the new organization, they decided not to change their designation at that time. Interestingly, a spinoff Unitarian group that was using the old First Unitarian Church building on 27th Street was the first to adopt the new designation and became the Central Unitarian Universalist Church. In 1970, the First Unitarian Society officially changed its name to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento (UUSS).
Since 1960, six installed ministers have served this congregation: The Rev. Ford Lewis served from 1960 to 1970. Rev. Theodore Webb served from 1971 until his retirement in 1983. He was named Minister Emeritus in 1985. Ted passed away in 2014. Rev. Donald Beaudreault served from 1985 to 1989, Rev. John Young from 1991 to 1997, and Rev. Doug Kraft. Doug became our minister in 2000 and provided guidance for discovering the meaning and richness in life by his introspective teaching coupled with his Buddhist perspective and knowledge. He retired in July of 2013 after diligently serving this congregation for 13 years.
In 2008, Rev Roger Jones joined UUSS as Family Minister. He was called as our Senior Minister in early 2014 by a 98% affirmative vote of congregation members. In 2013, Rev. Lucy Bunch joined UUSS as our Assistant Minister.
Also in 2013 we began implementing a bold 50-year Master Plan for the Building and Grounds. Renovation and expansion of our sanctuary building began with a ground breaking ceremony July 27, 2014, and we moved back into our modernized facility on September 6, 2015.