The History of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley

The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley (UUCLV) was started in 1948 when a group of nine interested people held a meeting at the Americus Hotel in Allentown, and formed The First Unitarian Fellowship of the Lehigh Valley. After meeting at various locations over the next few years, an old carriage house was rented on Steinman Street. (Bethlehem City Hall Complex is now on this location.) In 1957 the Steinman Street building became too small. It was kept for the religious education program for children, and the adults, one hundred of them, met at the Hotel Bethlehem.

In 1958 we purchased a small church on Lechauweki Avenue in Fountain Hill, which was built in 1875 as a summer chapel for the Episcopal Cathedral. Known as St. Mary's Chapel, Episcopal services were held there every Sunday afternoon from 1875 to 1941. In 1946 it was sold to Joseph N. Victor, a scientist who moved his laboratory there. After his death, the building stood vacant until the 1958 purchase. While there, we built a Religious Education Building and renovated the church interior several times.

In 1961 with 109 members, we changed our designation from a fellowship to church, becoming The Unitarian Church of the Lehigh Valley, and called our first minister. In 1987, we changed our name to The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley to show the importance of the Universalist beliefs and traditions in our church.

In December 1995 we moved to a larger facility, after several years of double Sunday services and RE classes due to lack of space. Our present building, in Bethlehem's Historic District, was built in 1869 by Wesley Methodist Church. An addition, built in 1932, houses our church offices and Religious Education classrooms. Today we have more than 200 members and over 50 children enrolled in our Religious Education Program.

We are proud of our tradition in championing social causes and our many activities and achievements working for social justice, including a joint project with the Society of Friends to establish a mental health rehabilitation program called Fountain House that became part of the Lehigh Valley Mental Health Association, known as Horizon House and then Haven House. Working with the NAACP, we provided help to migrant farm workers in the form of day care for children, housing, clothing and legislation. We formed the Lehigh Valley Memorial Society, which encouraged low-cost funerals, worked on legislation to control funeral cost abuses, and provided information on death and dying, living wills, and right-to-die issues. We supported the South Terrace Housing project, collected books for southern universities, supported a Montessori school, and formed a Zero Population Growth group, which provided information on birth control and problems associated with over-population. We established a bail bond project In Lehigh and Northampton Counties, which provided bail for people who could not afford it. We provided draft counseling for young men during the Vietnam War, and sponsored and supervised a conscientious objector who was doing alternative service in police/youth activities.

We have provided meeting space and support for Lehigh Valley NOW, Turning Point for battered women, Le-Hi-Ho for gay and lesbian people, National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), a support group for families of persons with AIDS, and more. We have worked on prison reform and prison counseling, and supported an ecumenical food bank. In the 1980's, the congregation voted to declare the church a sanctuary for Central American refugees. Our members have worked with com-munity agencies such as Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army soup kitchen, and the Interfaith Coalition on Poverty.

In 2000 the congregation voted to become a "Welcoming Congregation", pledging itself to be a safe and welcoming space for homosexual, bisexual or transgender people, and to offer understanding and acceptance in accordance with our principles of equality, human dignity, and openness. In 2001, we voted to host and sponsor HAVEN (Hope, Acceptance, Validation, Equality, Nurturing), a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (GLBTQ) Youth Group.

In 2005, the church was accredited as a Green Sanctuary by the Unitarian Universalist Association. As a congregation we have explored what it means to live today within a religious community on an imperiled Earth.

In 2008 we joined with other Bethlehem area churches to be a host site for Bethlehem Emergency Sheltering, Inc. on Wednesday evenings. From mid-December through March, members and friends of the congregation provide dinner, a warm, safe place to sleep, and breakfast for homeless men from the local area.

Music is very important to the members of our church. In 2009, we purchased an exquisite, new Schimmel concert grand piano. To celebrate our piano and share it with the community, we started the Second Sunday Concert Series that showcases local and regional artists.

In 2013, we are undertaking a capital campaign to build the foundation of our dreams, as we commit to remain a part of Bethlehem's urban community, and renovate our old beloved building to be accessible to all and to remain the home of our compassionate community for many years.

Howard Waterhouse1961-1965
John Burciaga1965-1969
Robert Karnan1970-1974
George A. Williams1975-1983
Lawrence McGinty (interim)1983-1984
Howell Lind1984-1987
Judith G. Mannheim1988-1992
Beverly A. Bumbaugh (interim)1992-1993
Laine Hawxhurst1993-2000
Sue M. Turner (interim)2000-2002
Len DeRoche2002-2007
Nancy Bouchard (interim)2008 - 2010
Rev. Don Garrett2010 -