Our History and Our Chalice
John Murray established Universalism in Gloucester, MA in 1779. In 1807, Rockport members of the Gloucester church began holding services in a local school. On February 11, 1821, the first Universalist church in America, the Universalist Benevolent Society in Sandy Bay, was born when 23 Founders signed this “Compact”: “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being sensible of the unchangeable and universal love of God to Mankind, and in humble thankfulness to Him, disposing our hearts to unite together in the bonds of love and friendship: think it our duty as tending to the good of society in general and the improvement and edification of each other in particular, to form ourselves into a religious society.”
When the Rockport and Gloucester congregations officially separated in 1845, we established our name as The First Universalist Society of Rockport. In 1961, we added Unitarian to our name, then in 2003 dropped First, to be The Unitarian Universalist Society of Rockport. We are a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association
In 1843, we prepared resolutions against slavery, intemperance, and war. In 1861, a person threw a smoking bomb through a window into our sanctuary, during an anti-slavery lecture by a noted abolitionist. The crowd evacuated, but later returned to hear the rest of the talk. In 1884, our Society hired its first female pastor, Lorenza Haynes, past Chaplain to The Maine Senate and House. We ordained three more women into ministry since 1971. In the 1960’s members were involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements. For decades through the 1980s, the Murray League, a woman’s fellowship group gave hospitality and sociability to people from all over the North Shore. They hosted a Monday Morning Coffee Break, serving handmade donuts, muffins, pancakes, and fried dough, which supported the church’s work.
We participated in the anti-nuclear movement and opposed USA policies in Central America in the 1980’s. Since the 1990’s we have supported ecological awareness, responsible sustainability, and Gay and Lesbian rights. We initiated and still host Rockport’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemorations and New Year’s Eve Peace Services. Contemporary social justice concerns include:
- Racial justice
- Women’s and children’s rights
- Central American solidarity work
- Rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people
- Immigrant rights
- Affordable housing
- Disaster relief in New Orleans and Haiti.
Our current church was built in 1829. We added our historic 93-foot steeple in 1867. In the 1950’s and 1980’s, a Vestry, kitchen, and Friendship Room were added on. In addition, we transformed our organ loft into classrooms and moved our organ to the Sanctuary during this time.
A flame within a chalice (a cup with a stem and foot) is a primary symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition. Many of our congregations kindle a flaming chalice in gatherings and worships and feature the chalice symbol prominently.
Hans Deutsch, an Austrian artist, first brought together the chalice and the flame as a Unitarian symbol during his work with the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II. To Deutsch, the image had connotations of sacrifice and love.
To Unitarian Universalists today the flaming chalice is a symbol of hope, the sacred, the quest for truth, the warmth of community, the light of reason, and more.
We light a flaming chalice in worship to create a reverent space for reflection, prayer, meditation, and singing.
Coley Bryan, a UUSR member, created our unique chalice that we use in our worship.