The Unitarian Society of New Haven was officially “gathered” in 1951, with 116 charter members. The Society held worship services and religious education classes for nearly 50 children at the Jewish Community Center. In May of 1952 the small congregation voted to call their first minister, the Rev. Lester Lewis; but unfortunately things got off to a rocky start, 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 greatly strengthened our programs in music, religious education, building maintenance and administration.
By 1957 USNH had grown to over 200 members, and we formed an Expansion Committee 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). 1968 saw the addition of a wing that includes 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. USNH called the Rev. Kathleen McTigue in 1991. Under her tenure our congregation grew in size, increased its religious diversity and expanded its social justice work in the wider community. We became an official “Welcoming Congregation” in 1992.
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. Many Sundays our sanctuary is filled close to capacity, and of course our parking lot is now more than full!
In June of 2012, our congregation said a loving good-bye to Kathleen, its minister of 21 years. For three years we were served by interim ministers. The interim period was an opportunity for the congregation to revisit its past, discover itself anew, and move into the future with renewed vision and excitement. It was a time of exploration, experimentation, and reflection. Our interim ministry period continued through June of 2015, during which time a special Ministerial Search Committee sought our next permanent minister.
On May 3, 2015, by unanimous vote, USNH called Rev. Megan Lloyd Joiner as our fifth settled minister. Our history continues to unfold as we grow with our community, and discern our purpose in the wider world. Come be part of our future history!
And… if you find all of this interesting, check out our History, Library and Archives Committee. We have an extensive collection of books, documents, videotapes, and other treasures that provide for fascinating study and insight on the history and people of this community.