Our history

A History of the Lafayette/West Lafayette UU Church

Early Universalism

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.

Today the church has 184 signed members with many additional active friends.

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