From its early roots as a small group meeting in the late 1800s in Davenport’s Burtis Opera House to the members who gather today in the window-lined sanctuary on the hill, one thread remains constant with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities — a commitment to issues of religious freedom and social justice.
The UUCQC is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a special service on Sunday, April 8, at 10 a.m. in its sanctuary at 3707 Eastern Ave., Davenport. The service, titled “Faithful Anniversary: Seeking Integrity, Joy, and Purpose,” will be led by the Rev. Eric Cherry, director of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s International Office.
The congregation has chosen the theme “Remember, Reflect and Rededicate” for this sesquicentennial year, said the Rev. Jay Wolin, who has been minister of the congregation for the past seven years.
“The reality is, we will evolve,” he said. “We are not who we were 50 years ago, 100 years ago or 150 years ago. We need to adapt to the current environment as it is, not how we imagined it was going to be.”
A look at the congregation’s history reflects its involvement in social justice and community issues, from sponsoring lectures on voting rights for women just eight years after its founding to its promotion of civil rights in the 1960s and current issues of equality and diversity.
A short item in the Oct. 28, 1875, issue of The Davenport Democrat noted, “We hear it stated that a grand suffrage rally will be held on Sunday next in the Unitarian Church, on which occasion Mrs. Julia Ward Howe is expected to be the orator of the occasion.”
A photo in the March 15, 1965, edition of the Times Democrat showed a long line of some 400 people participating in a civil rights march leading up to what was then called the Davenport Unitarian Church for services. The march was held to memorialize a Unitarian minister from Boston who died after being beaten on a Selma, Alabama, street.
“We are focused on justice and the acceptance of differences,” Wolin said of the congregation and its faith history. “That’s a really important facet of who we are.”
Those philosophies, as well as a strong religious education program, resonate particularly with young families.
“We are welcoming to the LGBTQ community,” he said. “There’s an acceptance of all people which is something that is attractive to young people as well as activism through our social justice work.”
The congregation stands at 230 members and 20 friends. Friends are those who support the congregation but have chosen not to sign the membership book, Wolin said.
“We try to create an environment where people can explore their religious and spiritual journey,” he said. “You don’t have to believe one specific thing to be a member here, and we have a wide diversity of theological opinions here among our members.”
The congregation has been celebrating its sesquicentennial with events since August, says Ann Hailey, co-chair of the Sesquicentennial Planning Task Force. One of the projects was the commissioning of a wall hanging by local mixed media fiber artist Colleen Curry. The 8-foot by 10-foot piece titled “All That Is” was dedicated earlier this month.
Hailey said the congregation also commissioned a poem by Aubrey Jane Ryan, a member of the congregation. It will be presented in the coming weeks.
When the congregation purchased the land for its current church in the late 1950s, it was surrounded by farmland. The first service at the Eastern Avenue location was on Easter, March 29, 1959.
“I’ve been told you could see cows outside the window,” Wolin said with a smile.
The congregation’s prior church was at the corner of 9th and Perry streets in Davenport. At one time, there were three houses of worship on that corner — the Unitarian Church, Edwards Congregational Church and Temple Emanuel. The three congregations began doing an interfaith Thanksgiving service which moved among their locations, a tradition that continues today, Wolin said.