Park Street Church, Unitarian Universalist
“In the 1940s, things began to change within the Unitarian and Universalist churches across the country,” Barbara Doucette explained in her 2010 remarks titled Roots of the Danvers Church. She continued:
They would [eventually] unite as one church.
With this in mind, the two churches in Peabody began talks regarding this issue. In 1945, membership in both churches had begun to diminish. They would unite on a temporary basis. Rev. Gale at the Unitarian church had resigned so Rev. Beale from the Universalist church conducted services for both societies. At this point, it was decided to officially unite both churches and close the Universalist church and use the Unitarian. The church was then named the Park Street Church of Peabody, Unitarian-Universalist.
Church membership was declining by the early 1960s as families moved out of Peabody and members were not replaced with “new blood.” In 1961, Rev. Blair Whiting resigned, leaving Rev. Robert Miller to serve as interim minister.
The united church called the Rev. George William Budd as their minister in 1962. His ordination and installation drew an impressive group of UU ministers, academics, and rabbis. An order of service during Rev. Budd’s tenure describes the church this way:
Our church is a voluntary association of individuals and families who have come together for the study and practice of religion as it is interpreted by the growing thought and the noblest lives of humanity, hoping that in this way we will prove helpful to one another and that we will further truth, goodness and love in the world.
Excerpts from Rev. Budd’s sermons appeared frequently in the Peabody newspaper, including this one from his sermon titled An Unpopular Theme:
Let’s not go back to the old virtues. We need to be honest, but it isn’t enough to keep the books straight and to be meticulous about the small change; honesty must run through our whole lives, our thinking as well as our actions, and must unmask our prejudices.
We don’t concern ourselves today with character so much as “personality.” We don’t strive so hard to be as to appear; we worry less about what we are than about our “image.”
Our religion should not be restricted to small purpose of life. The modern world has shown us wider purposes, like human brotherhood and understanding. We need real character, which cannot live with a small mind and a little heart.
Rev. Budd was popular, but church finances were dwindling. As Barbara Doucette explained, “New ideas were brought forth but with the high cost of maintaining, heating and other expenses associated with the facility, it seemed futile.”
Meanwhile, the church had commissioned a study by Boston University to determine the feasibility of maintaining and growing a Unitarian Universalist church in Peabody. The results were less than positive. The study concluded that the Peabody community could not sustain a liberal religious church.
Unitarians and Universalists across the country formally merged in 1961, creating the Unitarian Universalist Association. According the Heidi Kuehn in her history of the Northshore UU Church, “the faith statement adopted by the new Unitarian Universalist Association focused on a living tradition of world religions and social justice, rather than on the Christian faith from which both the Unitarian and Universalist denominations emerged.”
It is interesting to note that Unitarians and Universalists in Peabody and Danvers had all merged many years earlier: Peabody, unofficially, starting in 1946, officially in 1957; and Danvers in 1924, with the formation of the Community Church.
Final merger: Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church
In 1965, Park Street Church dissolved and “recreated itself as a single organization, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Peabody,” historian Heidi Kuehn tells us.
That same year, 1965, the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Danvers (formerly the Community Church, re-named in 1945) was also experiencing a decline in membership and financial support. They approached Rev. Budd with the idea of joining the Danvers and Peabody churches to create a new, regional church.
Church historian Barbara Doucette’s remarks tells us:
The new church would be named the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church. For a new beginning it was decided that both ministers would step down and a new one selected. In the interim, Rev. Robert Miller would serve the Park Street Church.
The new, combined church was officially named in 1966; the new church building on Locust Street was dedicated on October 29, 1967. The Rev. Charles Wilson was chosen to be the first minister. The by-laws they adopted (revised in 1975) included these words.
Section 1: Our purpose is to join together in a cooperative quest for religious and ethical values; to apply these values to the fulfillment of our objectives, which are: the development of character, the enrichment of the spirit, the promotion of universal brotherhood, and service to all mankind.
Section 2: Our basic underlying convictions are: that religious belief should be compatible with scientific evidence, that the democratic process should govern all human relations, that each individual has an inherent dignity and the right to freedom of belief unfettered by any prescribed creed.
Today, Park Street Church still stands, having been converted to condominiums in 1986. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rev. Edmund W. Beal, 1945-1948
Rev. Raymond A. Sabin, 1949-
Rev. G. William Budd, 1962-1965