Community Ministry: An Old Idea Rises Again

Joseph Tuckerman, John Haynes Holmes and Clarence Skinner

By Rev. Jonathan Rogers

At its core, “community ministry” rests on the idea that instead of people being brought to church, church should be brought to the people. Historically, this concept has always been a part of Unitarian Universalism. Joseph Tuckerman was a Unitarian minister who cared and advocated for the poor in Boston in the 1820s, including regularly visiting the imprisoned. He became known as the “father of American social work.” Though less famous than his friend and Harvard classmate, William Ellery Channing, Tuckerman exemplified philanthropic liberal Christianity in his era.

In the early 1900s, Unitarian John Haynes Holmes and Universalist Clarence Skinner collaborated to form the Community Churches of New York and Boston, which still exist today. Holmes went so far as to resign his fellowship from the American Unitarian Association, writing “Now, the community, which is the common life, unites, while the denomination, which is of sectarian interest, divides. Why not, therefore, a community instead of a Unitarian church?”  Holmes was also a founding member of the NAACP and the ACLU, led one of the most integrated mid-century Unitarian churches, and was a long-time ally of Black Unitarian pioneer Egbert Ethelred Brown.

For a faith to remain relevant and thriving, its leaders must be engaged with the greater world, providing care and advocacy for those most in need. Each generation needs new communities willing to point the way for movements at large, reinvigorating the traditions that gave birth to them. I believe that Abundant LUUv can be such a congregation. In Holmes’ words: “we may ever have the task of making our [faith] in this place of so new and wonderful a character that this body to which we are bound, may itself become transfigured by the service we perform for God and [humanity].”