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Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva
102-112 South Second St.
Geneva, IL 60134

This church was a transplant of the staunchly liberal Christianity from New England Unitarianism. Their first minister, Augustus Conant, served from the very beginning in 1842 until 1857. He, his wife Betsy, and nineteen others wrote the church covenant in 1842, which is still used at every morning service:

“Being desirous of promoting practical goodness in the world, and of aiding each other in our moral and religious improvement, we have associated ourselves together - not in agreeing in opinion, not as having attained universal truth in belief or perfection in character, but as seekers after truth and goodness.”

Conant was followed by fourteen more ministers, including four women, between 1857 and 1926. During these years, the congregation experienced conflict when movements like Transcendentalism and later humanism caused some Unitarians to change their beliefs—and others to resist change. By and large the members honored their original covenant, but doing so at times required an effort. An example is in the ministry of Dr. Charles Lyttle, a humanist who was called in 1926 and remained minister until 1964. He wrote the song and Doxology, still used, to unite the theists and the Humanists among the members. [1]

 

Doxology:

From all that dwell below the skies
Let faith and hope with love arise
Let beauty, truth, and good be sung
Through every land by every tongue

Song of Praise:

Praise God. the Love we all may share;
Praise God, the Beauty everywhere;
Praise God, the Hope of Good to be;
Praise God, the Truth that makes us Free.

UU GenevaLyttle was followed by Rev. Donald B. King from 1964 to 1978, and Rev. Dr. Lindsay Bates, who was called in 1978 and is senior minister today. The original church building was expanded in 1855, and a vestibule was added in 1874. This is the church of today. Pews and stained glass windows were acquired in 1879 from a church burned in the Great Chicago Fire. A parsonage, now called Pioneer House, was built in 1893 and construction in 1989 connected Pioneer House with the church.

David Conradi-Jones is a member of the MidAmerica Region History and Heritage Committee. The first photo is by David Conradi-Jones and the second is from the Web site of the UU Society of Geneva.

Sources

From the biography of Charles M. Lyttle written by Alan Seaburg in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, an on-line resource of the Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society.

Web site of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva: www.uusg.org.


1 The online Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography credits Lyttle with reviving a struggling congregation and notes other contributions. "In 1942, for the church's centennial, he wrote the hymn 'Church of the Free Spirit.' This hymn was later selected for inclusion in Hymns for the Celebration of Life and Singing the Living Tradition." Lyttle is the author of Freedom Moves West: A History of the Western Unitarian Conference 1852-1952, an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the history of Unitarianism in the Midwest and West.

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