A Short History of the Unitarian Society of New Haven
The Unitarian Society of New Haven (USNH) began when a group of about sixty Unitarians started meeting together in the summer of 1949. Identified by what was then the national denomination (the American Unitarian Association), the group met for several years with denominational guidance and support.
The Unitarian Society of New Haven was officially gathered in 1951, with 116 charter members. Worship services and religious education classes for nearly 50 children were held at the Jewish Community Center. In May of 1952 the small congregation voted to call their first minister, the Rev. Lester Lewis; but dissatisfaction with his ministry led to a short tenure, and he was dismissed from service two years later. Happily, the next minister called was the Rev. Wayne Shuttee, who served USNH for more than thirty years and then became its Minister Emeritus. Over time additional staff began to serve the congregation and greatly strengthened our programs in music, religious education, building maintenance and administration.
By 1957 congregational membership had grown to over 200, and an Expansion Committee was formed to investigate possibilities for a permanent home. In 1960 USNH purchased three acres on the Hartford Turnpike, and built its first true home (this original construction is now the Social Hall and about two-thirds of the classroom space). In 1968 a wing was added that included six more classrooms and the Children’s Chapel.
USNH maintained strong links to its parent denomination, and was a strong supporter of merger when the American Unitarian Association joined in 1961 with the Universalist Church of America. Our congregation’s name reflects its origin as a Unitarian congregation, but we are a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
After Rev. Wayne Shuttee retired in 1985, several ministerial transitions followed in quick succession, including three separate interim ministers and a called minister, the Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, who served from 1987-90. Our current minister, the Rev. Kathleen McTigue, was called in 1991. Under her tenure our congregation has grown ins size, increased its religious diversity and expanded its social justice work in the wider community. We became an official “Welcoming Congregation” in 1992.
Because of continued growth in the 1990s, USNH made the decision in 1996 to hold two Sunday worship services and religious education sessions. In 2000, following an extensive period of study and fundraising, the congregation launched an ambitious new building project. We completed our 400-seat sanctuary in September 2003.