For the use of

Unitarian and Universalist Churches, Societies and Fellowships

in Considering

The Question of Merger


Alternatives To Merger


Prepared Under the Auspices



of the



309 Washington Street

Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts

September, 1958






Commission Members

William B. Rice, Chairman

Raymond B. Hopkins

Max A. Kapp

Robert Killam

Lloyd S. Luther

Robert E. McLaughlin

Virginia McGill

William B. Norris

Wilcon C. Piper

Alan Sawyer

Harry B. Scholefeild

Carl J. Westman



October 13, 1958

To the Churches, Fellowships and Organizations

of the Universalist Church of America and the

American Unitarian Association:


We submit herewith a document of historical import and great current concern. For generations our two national bodies have been considering the possibility of uniting in their common cause for liberal religion. Following affirmative but rather general votes at conferences and conventions, various committees have worked at the problem of providing some reasonable structure which would preserve all the precious uniqueness of our individual churches while strengthening and enhancing their combined effort in this continent. The result has been an ever closer cooperation and recently, in some areas of our work, some joint effort, to wit, the Council of Liberal Churches.


Your Joint Commission was appointed to consider plans for a real merger and other alternatives. After months of consideration and the wise and competent assistance of Institutional Consulting Associates, we have prepared this study of the resources of our two bodies and the best thought we have as to a preliminary plan for merger and the alternatives. We are well aware of the fact that our study must be limited but the essential material is here, presented as fairly and accurately as possible.


Now the responsibility is yours. What develops from the study you must pursue and the votes you must take in your parishes and in your legal denominational meetings can have great influence on our future. All authority, all power, all the potential growth rests, in our kind of democratic structure, at the parish level. Therefore, we beg of you, give this matter your best sober thought.


We still believe that democracy can operate effectively and pro­vide the greatest freedom and opportunity for development, and in all the plans we are submitting we have borne this in mind. We are well aware of the fact that the liberal churches include parishes and individuals with various and often widely different approaches to religious faith, and we would guard this uniqueness and take no position which would limit our precious heritage of freedom.


Bear in mind that liberalism is not ours. We inherited its opportunities and we bear the responsibility of sharing it with all who seek it and especially those who would be one with liberalism in the future. Let us endeavor to build wisely today for a great future.


Sincerely yours,



William B. Rice






Dr. William B. Rice, Chairman

A.U. A. - U. C. A. Joint Merger Commission

313 Washington St.,

Wellesley Hills 82, Mass.


Dear Bill,


After the review by the Commission of the "INFORMATION MANUAL” and the “DISCUSSION GUIDE”, I asked to be allowed to qualify my approval of them by a word or two to be included with your introductory letter.


What troubles me is the general tendency in them to indulge in pre-judgements in favor of merger. Since a great majority of the Commission was in favor of merger, perhaps this was a natural consequence.


The other thing that gives me some concern is the fact that it seems to me so much is left unsaid. Here again, the character of the Commission, composed as it was of both Unitarians and Universalists, made this inevitable.


In view of these things, I believe that a full, open, and critical discussion of the issues in the churches before the plebiscite is of the first importance.


With kindest personal regards,


Lloyd S. Luther

1018 - 18th. St., N. W.,

Washington 6, D. C.




            The Present Merger Commission and Its Work        2

            History and Results of Previous Merger Efforts    4

            The Why and What of Merger                        7

            Liberal Religion in North America                 8




            I.          UNITARIAN HISTORY A BRIEF STATEMENT     11

                        by Rev. Harry B. Scholefield

            II.          HISTORICAL SKETCH OF UNIVERSALISM       16

                        by Dr. Max A. Kapp

            III.         CHURCHES AND MEMBERSHIP                 20

                        Size of Church and Size of Community      21

                        Federated Churches            23

                        Fellowships                    24

                        Location of Churches           25

                        Membership                   25

                        Trend Patterns               26

                        Collective Membership        27

            IV.        THE MINISTRY

                        Number and Source of Ministers    29

                        Degrees Received and Institutions Attended  30

                        Education of Individual Ministers     32

                        Present Occupations of Ministers   33

                        Operation of the Departments         34

                        Benefits for Ministers            35

            V.        THE UNITED PROGRAMS

            The Council of Liberal Churches     38

            Liberal Religious Youth        41

            Other United Programs        42




                        The American Unitarian Association          44

                        Universalist Church of America       45

                        Headquarters Organizations           46

                        Headquarters Personnel      48


                        Departments of the Ministry 50

                        Departments of Extension   50

                        The Service Committees     52

                        Publications   54

                        Fund Raising 55


                        Comparative Assets 59

                        Assets Not at Headquarters     60

                        Annual Income and Expense      61

                        Funds at Headquarters        62


                        Origin and Number   63

                        Operation       65


                        Unitarian Laymen’s League 67

                        National Association of Universalist Men   68

                        The General Alliance            68

                        Association of Universalist Women            69

                        Ministers’ Associations        70




                         Advantages and Disadvantages of Merger    74

                          Plan 1 — Complete Functional Merger    79

                          Plan 2 — Broadening and Enlarging the Council

                                   of Liberal Churches   82


                        Alternative 1   — Maintaining the Status—Quo      86

                        Alternative 2   — Withdrawal                      87

                        Alternative 3   — Association of Liberal

                        Religious Denominations                           88

                        Alternative 4   — Council or Committee on Liberal

                        Religious Interdenominational

                        Cooperation  90




                        Choosing a New Name                         94

                        By—Laws                                     95

                        Frequency of Meetings                       95

                        Plan of Organization                        96

                        Titles of Principal Officers                96

                        Internal vs. External Top Level Functions   96

                        Financing and Funds                         97

                        Ministerial Matters                         97

                        Headquarters Personnel                      98

                        Regions and State Conventions               98



                        Basic Assumptions   99

                        Possible Name                99

                        State of Incorporation       100

                        By—Laws      100

                        Representative Body          100

                        Officers           100

                        Committees   100

                        Board of Trustees     100

                        Headquarters Organization 101

                        Personnel       102

                        Finance          102

                        Regions and State Conventions     103



Table  Title

            1          Number of Churches and Size of Church Membership   

                        of the Universalist and Unitarian Churches According­

                        to the U.S. Census of Religious Bodies for

                        1890, 1896, 1916 and 1926 (Page 20)

            2          Number of Universalist and Unitarian Active,       

                        Inactive and Summer Churches in 1935, 1945, 1958 (Page 21)

            3          Distribution of Active Universalist Churches by    

                        Membership Size — Groups and Size — Groups of

                        Communities, 1958 (Page 22)

            4          Distribution of Active Unitarian Churches by                    

                        Membership Size — Groups and Size of Communities,

                        1958 (Page 22)

            5          Distribution of Federated Churches by Size of    

                        Membership and Size by Place of Location, 1958 (Page 23)

            6          Unitarian and Universalist Fellowships According           

                        to Size of Membership and Size of Place of Loca­tion, 1958 (Page 24)

            7          Comparison by Number of the Various Types of Active 

Local Units of the Unitarian and Universalist De­nominations, 1958

(Page 25)

            8          Legal Memberships in Universalist and Unitarian

                        Churches, 1935, 1945 and 1957 (Page 26)

            9          Number of Unitarian and Universalist Church Schools

                        and Members, 1905 to 1955 (Page 26)

            10        Total Membership of Churches, Fellowships and Church           

                        of the Larger Fellowship in the Unitarian and Uni­versalist

                        Denominations, 1958 (Page 27)

            11        Total Number of Local Units and Membership of Unitarian

                        and Universalist Denominations (Page 27)

            12        Number of Ministers in A.U.A. and in U.C.A. (Page 30)

            13        How A.U.A. and U.C.A. Ministers Attained Fellowship (Page 30)

            14        Principal Institutions Granting Graduate Degrees

                        to 373 Unitarian Ministers in Active Church Service (Page 31)

            15        Principal Institutions Granting Graduate Degrees

                        to 177 Universalist Ministers in Active Church

                        Service (Page 31)

            16        Distribution of Unitarian Ministers in Various       

                        Categories by the Amounts of their Education (Page 32)

            17        Distribution of Universalist Ministers In Various

                        Categories by the Amounts of their Education (Page 32)

            18        Current Occupations of Ministers (Page 33)



List of  Tables and Charts (continued)

Table  Title

            19        Distribution of Salaries of Pastors of Unitarian    

                        and Universalist Churches by Thousand Dollar

                        Groups, June, 1958 (Page 36)

            20        Assets at Respective Headquarters Plus Those of         

                        the Beacon Press, Unitarian Service Committee and

                        the Universalist Publishing House (Page 59)

            21        Summary of Respective Assets of the Two Headquarters,

                        and of the Beacon Press, Unitarian Service

                        Committee, the Universalist Publishing House,

                        Regions and State Conventions (Page 59)

            22        The Assets of Unitarian Regions and Universalist

                        State Conventions together with Annual Expenses (Page 60)

            23        A Comparison of Funds Held at Unitarian and

                        Universalist Headquarters According to Nature and

                        Purpose (Page 62)

            24        Distribution of Active Unitarian Churches by Regions

                        and Active Universalist Churches by Conventions,

                        Excluding Summer, Occasional and Dormant Churches,

                        February, 1957 (Page 64)

            25        Distribution of Unitarians and Universalist Units

                        by the Same Regional Areas, February, 1957 (Page 64)




            1          Number of A.U.A. Active Churches, Number of Uni—     

                        Uni Churches and Number of Fellowships, April, 1957 (Page 25)

            2          Number of U.C.A. Active Churches, Number of Uni—     

                        Uni Churches and Number of Fellowships as shown

                        in the U.C.A. Directory, January, 1957 (Page 25)

            3          The American Unitarian Association Plan of        

                        Organization, June, 1958 (Page 46)

            4          Universalist Church of America Plan of Organization,

                        June, 1958 (Page 48)

            5          A Possible Long Range Plan of Headquarters Organization

                        for a Functional Merger of the American

                        Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church

                        of America (Page 101)

            6          Proposed Regions Showing Present Numbers of Active           

                        Churches and Fellowships, A.U.A. and U.C.A.

                        Combined, Together with Combined Estimates of Likely

                        Number of Churches and Fellowships in 1967 (Page 102)




Whether to merge or not is an important, but complicated ques­tion which has been allowed to go undecided by several generations of Unitarians and Universalists. The reason for this long delay and indecision is that on its surface, merging seems simple, logical and perhaps inevitable, but actually it is not an easy step and involves many complicated problems even though over the years the two groups have moved closer and closer together in philosophy and program.


Those who look carefully into the necessary changes involved in merger recognize that both the possibilities and problems are immense. There are advantages and disadvantages for each of the pro­posed partners, all of which should be known and studied carefully if constructive plans for the future are to result.


The Commission’s aims in preparing this Manual are:


1.         To furnish the members of the churches of both denominations with facts about the two organizations and information they need when considering merger.


2.         To present in some detail the alternative organi­zational patterns which are open, giving the

implications of each.


The Commission has looked upon its task as a trust given it by the people of both denominations. It has sought to be as democratic as possible, being solicituous to obtain all viewpoints represented by its members and many others in both denominations. Care has been exercised to obtain and consider with earnestness and deliberation all possible facts pertinent to the question. The Commission has felt from the beginning that its task is to be as impartial as possible and to present all sides of the question in such manner that the people of the churches in both denominations may make their decisions as objectively as possible. Accordingly, the Commission has not taken a vote for or against merger but leaves the whole question to be set­tled in the two plebiscites and in the national meetings of both de­nominations.


Since the Commission was charged to present a plan of merger and because the details and implications of merger are obvious, more space must necessarily be given to the consideration of merger than to other alternatives. This must not, however be interpreted as expressing preference for merger on the part of the Commission.


This Manual represents a comprehensive effort to bring together in one place many salient facts about each denomination. Facts can only go so far, however, in making it possible to understand a de­nomination. There is no way of measuring the spirit, the degree of unity, the amount of aggressiveness, and the level of actual daily implementation of a liberal faith in the lives of the members of a denomination. Care needs to be exercised in making final decisions based on facts alone. They are useful, however, in correcting mis­information, minimizing prejudices and rumors, and making it possible to discern the approximate size and resources of each denomination.


The Merger Commission urgently recommends that each church and fellowship conduct a series of discussions, involving as many of its members as possible during the October—February period, 1958-59. This Manual and the accompanying Discussion Guide have been prepared to facilitate this discussion program. Ministers, members of official boards, heads of various church activities and those appointed to conduct discussion sessions should find much useful material herein. Group criticisms and differing ideas about proposals and plans will be welcomed by the Commission.


The end we all seek is careful decisions on how best to strength­en the program and impact of liberal religion for the future. With the help of our 200,000 Unitarians and Universalists the right answers can surely be found.





The Joint Commission on Merger was established by the votes of delegates at the Joint Biennial Session (A.U.A. and U.C.A.) in De­troit in 1955, and the A.U.A. May, 1956 meetings at Boston.


Enabling Resolution


The resolution passed at the above meetings is the mandate under which the Commission operates, and its exact wording taken from denominational reports, is as follows:


1.         This Merger Commission (of and responsible to the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America) shall prepare one or more outline plans for merger.

 2.         These plans, with other possible alternatives, shall be submitted to the member churches and other local groups of both denominations in an open plebiscite conducted by the Commission.

 3.         A detailed plan or plans taking into consideration information received in the plebiscite shall be pre­pared by the Merger Commission.

 4.         Such plan or plans will be submitted for study to the member churches and local groups well in advance of the next Joint Biennial following its preparation. Delegates to the Biennial, after discussion, will approve a definitive plan (or reject all plans).

 5.         Any approved definitive plan shall thereafter be re­ferred by the same Commission in a final plebiscite to the churches and other local groups.

 6.         The Merger Commission will report such final plans with results of the final plebiscite to the next available business meetings of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America for adoption.


The Merger Commission, via resolution of the Unitarian May Meet­ings of 1956, was also requested to consider:


(a)       As an alternative to inclusion of the Council of Liberal Churches in any proposal for merger, the re-organization of the C.L.C. so that it may become a service organization to liberal religions, opera­ting for them the three services of Education, Publi­cations and Public Relations under a membership plan permitting admission of churches or groups of churches desiring to use its services and to contribute to its expenses;

(b)       The necessity of preserving freedom of decision on all proposals for merger of the A.U.A. and the U.C.A. until the members, churches and fellowships of both denomina­tions are in possession of the full facts concerning the organizations to participate in such merger; and

(c)        The advisability and feasibility of obtaining the ser­vices of a competent independent research firm to make a survey of the business and administrative operations of all organizations to participate in such merger, and distribution of a full report of such survey to all members, Churches and Fellowships of both denominations for study by them in advance of any plebiscite, conference, annual meeting or other occasion upon which a vote may he taken on such merger proposal.


Membership of Commission


Commission members were appointed by the Boards of the A.U.A. and the U.C .A. and began to meet in the Fall of 1956. There have been some changes in membership since that date, and some members living at a great. distance, have been unable to attend every meet­ing, but have been kept fully informed of deliberations.


The present membership of thie Commission is:

Dr. William B. Rice, Mass., Chairman       

Rev. Raymond C. Hopkins,  Mass. Secretary *

Dr. Max A. Kapp, New York

Dr. Robert Killam, Ohio       

Mr. Lloyd Luther, Washington, D.C.           

Mrs. Virginia McGill, New Jersey

Mr. Robert McLaughlin, Washington, D.C . **

Mr. William B. Norris, Ohio #

Mr. Wilson C. Piper, Mass. Treasurer

Mr. Alan F. Sawyer, Mass.

Rev. Harry B. Scholefield, Calif.

Rev. Carl Westman, Ohio


*           Replaced Rev. Robert S. Wolley, October 1, 1957, who resigned due to being appointed Director of Extension at U.C.A. headquarters.

**         Replaced Rev. Carleton M. Fisher, November, 1957, who resigned when he was elected President of the U.C .A.

#          Replaced Mr. Kenneth McDougall, September 8, 1958, who died August 14, 1958. Mr. McDougall had replaced Mr. Charles S. Bolster in February, 1957, when he resigned to become a Judge of the Superior Court of the Common­wealth of Massachusetts.



Structure of the Commission


Most of the work of the Commission is done by the committee of the whole method. However, in selected areas, three sub-committees looked into pension plans, legal feasibility and problems, and fi­nance, respectively. Early in its existence the Commission selected an Executive Committee which acts between meetings.


Shortly after its initial meeting, in accordance with its man­date, the Commission selected and appointed Institutional Consulting Associates of Englewood, New Jersey to serve as its research arm and general counsel except in legal matters. This firm had just com­pleted a survey of Universalist headquarters.


Progress of the Commission


All that the Commission has done up to now has been in prepara­tion for the participation of the churches and fellowships of the two denominations. This Manual and its accompanying Discussion Guide re­present to date the culmination of the work of the Commission, its sub-committees and its consultants. In addition to the very helpful work of the sub-committees in the areas mentioned previously, the consultants made several studies for the Commission’s consideration. These included the following:


1.         The Comparative Resources of and Operations at the Two Headquarters

This study brought up-to-date information to the Com­mission on the general resources, activities and opera­tions at both headquarters, including national auxiliary bodies, Regions and State Conventions.

2.         The Opinions of Selected Unitarians and Universalists Regarding Merger

This work resulted from the desire of the Commission to involve leaders in both denominations, so as to get as wide a range as possible of attitudes, viewpoints, and feelings of key persons, particularly those thought to have reservations about the practicality of merger. The results of these interviews indicated a large vari­ety of problems to consider.

3.         A Plan for Functional Merger of the Two Denominations

This report resulted from the desire of the Commission to have a vantage point to gain perspective and to learn the types and comprehensiveness of problems that would be involved in a functional merger. This study in no way committed the Commission to merger or to any particular plan for merger.

In addition to the foregoing studies, the consultants, at the Commission’s suggestion, prepared a number of memoranda and a com­prehensive statement on the advantages and disadvantages of merger.



Unitarians and Universalists have been increasingly conscious of each other during the past 100 years. Numerous cooperative ven­tures at the national and other levels have given witness to areas and problems of mutual concern. A number of efforts have been made to bring the two denominations close together. These efforts have taken three forms: higher councils, leaving the denominational bodies intact; increased cooperation; and organic union. The brief histor­ical recital which follows indicates the various efforts toward clo­ser relationships and what became of each of them.

1865   Resolution offered in the American Unitarian Association calling for union with the Universalists. This was defeated.

1865   Resolution offered in the American Unitarian Association to establish a higher council consisting of denomination bodies and other members. Christians, Universalists, Methodists and Congregationalists were approached. Nothing came of this effort.

1867   The Free Religious Association was formed, with at least six different religious groups repre­sented; about half were Unitarian Ministers. Very few Universalists affiliated. This association apparently lasted about 25 years. Its chief product was a liberalizing influence, principally on Unitarianism.

1899   Resolution offered in the American Unitarian Association, to appoint five persons from each denomination to form a committee “which shall con­sider plans of closer cooperation, devise ways and means for more efficient usefulness . .“ This re­solution was approved by business meetings of the Unitarians and the Universalists. The report of this Committee was adopted by both denominations. The report recommended closer cooperation and avoid­ance of duplication of effort, suggesting collaboration in extension, tracts, and occasional joint meetings of local churches. A permanent Conference Committee was also recommended. The guiding prin­ciple of this whole effort was: “We seek coordina­tion not consolidation; unity, not union”. No major results appeared to arise from this effort, although it did bring the two fellowships closer together.

1908   The National Federation of Religious Liberals was formed. Its membership included the Unitarians, Universalists, Religious Society of Friends, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The organization ceased its existence with the advent of the Free Church in the 1930’s and was of minor significance in Unitarian—Universalist relations.

1923   Universalists received overtures from the National Convention of Congregational Churches. Each body established a Committee on Comity and Unity. In 1927, the Universalist Committee met with an inter­ested group of Unitarians with the thought of es­tablishing a Congregational—Universalist—Unitarian structure but the whole move was defeated by Universalists who felt that the best course would be Universalist—Unitarian.

1931   Motion passed at the A.U.A. May Meetings ... “to look into the practicality of uniting these two communions”. This was approved by the Uni­versalist General Convention. A Joint Commission was formed and began meeting in 1931 but early came to the conclusion that: the churches and ministers are not ready; business and administra­tive details of the two denominations are not similar; and a mere merger would be narrow in not including other liberals. This Commission in its report in May, 1932, recommended the formation of a higher body, similar to the Federal Council of Churches, which resulted in the forming of the Free Church of America, incorporated in Massachu­setts in 1933. The total number ever affiliated with the Free Church included:

The A.U.A.

The U.C.A.

57 Unitarian churches

28 Universalist churches

5 Uni—Uni churches

1 Methodist church,

1 Independent church

3 Community churches


The Free Church movement was unable to attract any sizeable proportions of the Unitarian or the Universalist denominations, it failed to interest other denominations or liberal wings thereof, it could not raise money to establish either a staff or a program.


The last annual meeting of the Free Church was held in February, 1938.

            1935   Unitarian youth (Y.P.R.U.) at 1935 May Meetings

                        approve idea of organic union of A.U.A. and U.C.A.

                        youth groups, but move was defeated by Universalist

                        General Convention.

            1947   A.U.A. General Conference — motion passed to ­

                        explore possibility of church union (AUA and UCA)

                        which was also approved by the U.C.A. business

                        meeting. A Joint Commission was appointed and

                        its report in 1949 laid the groundwork for Federal

                        Union. After a favorable plebiscite, a Joint

                        Commission on Union was appointed.

            1951   Joint Commission on Union presented its plan which

                        called for federal union of religious education,

                        publications and public relations and gradually

                        a complete merger. The report was accepted by

                        both denominations. Following a favorable

                        plebi­scite, ratification occurred at national business

                        meetings and the Council of Liberal Churches was

                        created. A Joint Interim Commission was then

                        appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws.

                        The Council of Liberal Churches was established

                        in 1953.

            1953   Unitarian and Universalist youth, in joint ­

                        convention, vote to dissolve their respective

                        denom­inational youth organizations in favor of

                        establishment of a merged youth movement. This ­

                        resulted in the Liberal Religious Youth organization.

            1953   Another Joint Interim Commission was appointed to

                        review the operations of the C.L.C. and to consider

                        other departmental mergers. This Commission ­

                        reported in 1955, recommending that although the

                        merging of religious education efforts had been

                        successful, no further mergers of departmental

                        functions should take place principally on the

                        grounds of high administrative costs. The ­

                        Commission also recommended that delegates to the

                        next biennial meetings should vote on whether or

                        not the two denominations should sooner or later

                        be merged.

            1955   By resolution, the A.U.A. and the U.C.A. voted

                        to establish the present Joint Merger Commission.


One of the facts revealed by the foregoing historical recital is that four distinct attempts brave been made to bring about a union of all religious liberals, and while two of them resulted in more or less paper organizations which lasted from 20 to 25 years, all ulti­mately failed. The principle reason for these failures appears to be that there have never been enough liberal religious denominations or liberal wings of other denominations to constitute a higher body large enough to operate even if they could be “coordinated". Furthermore, strong sectarian interests among the few affiliated mem­bers of these experiments have shown competition to be stronger than collaboration.





Why is all of the present attention being paid to merger? Is it as significant and important as it is made out to be? What does merger mean? Is merger a clear yes or no question? These questions need answers as preliminaries to the main consideration.


Some Whys


The first and basic why has already become clear. It is no acci­dent that for one hundred years various rapprochements between the two denominations have been made. There is an affinity between them of which there is a growing awareness. The differences which separ­ate become of decreasing importance, the likenesses of point of view, purpose, organization and operation increase in significance. Such feelings have become so strong and have been accentuated by merger activities and especially the creation and operation of the Council of Liberal Churches to an extent that some individuals and churches have already taken it for granted that merger has been accomplished.


A second why is to be found in the strong tendency toward mer­ger in all possible areas of current American life. It has been found by experience that the competition of many small units frus­trates the attainment of goals, is costly, duplicates unnecessarily organization, equipment and personnel, and consequently is less efficient and effective. The ecclesiastical realm cannot escape the influence of this current thinking. While there are also seri­ous problems in bigness, liberal religion is still far off from this type of problem. One of the dangers in the present situation is that many may vote for the merger of Unitarian and Universalist denominations because they believe in the principle of merger and that it is a good thing in itself, without giving careful consideration to the specific issues and problems which are involved.


A third reason is common to all national organizations and is especially pressing in those made up of independent and self-sufficient local units. It is the constant questioning of the economy, efficiency and function of the national organization. There is a serious obligation on the part of such organizations to find all ways possible to operate on an increasingly efficient basis with all possible economy. This adds to the importance of considering what would be the best method for efficiency of the current permit.


There is a fourth, reason of which many deeply religions and serious minded people are increasingly sensitive. In a world de­manding considerable social and religious conformity within several large patterns of orthodoxy, it is obvious, that by their very natures, religious beliefs and professions, Unitarians and Universa­lists would be very aware of the existence of each other as individuals, churches and national movements and would gravitate towards each other in one or more respects. No one has cared to term such acti­vities as merger, but probably from many viewpoints, a kind of mer­ger or approach-to-merger has been occurring albeit without national institutional sanctions and blessings. There is evidence that each national office has been having a problem in maintaining strict de­nominational-sectarian lines in the face of this “coming-together­ness” at lower levels. Questions and problems arising from this situation are likely to increase rather than otherwise. Moreover, every step that can be taken to unite the religious forces of the world brings them nearer to a position from which the fulfillment of their mission in the modern world is possible.


A fifth reason is closely related to the fourth. Much time and effort have hitherto, as well as currently, gone into wrestling with the question of Unitarian—Universalist relations. In general, it is quite clear that both denominations wish to dispose of the question, one way or another as there is much to be done. Today liberal religion appears to be on the threshold of a new era, a new life where it seems imperative that the sooner this question is resolved the better.


These are the principal whys that are behind the work of the Joint Commission on Merger and its present activities. But what is merger?


What is Merger


The word merger does not have the same meaning for everyone. To some, it means a form of federal union of the two denominations, to others it means a complete, functional merger resulting in a new denomination. To still others it means the continuance of one of the denominations with the other dropping all its denominational apparatus and its churches simply becoming members of the continu­ing denomination. Some people think that merger would be in effect if a higher form of cooperation could be achieved while at the same time each denomination remained intact. The American College Dic­tionary says that merger is any combination of two or more enter­prises into a single enterprise. The recommendations of the Joint Interim Commission which were approved by the Unitarian General Conference in August, 1955, included the following:


We conceive merger to mean the establishment of one corporation which will perform for Universalists, Unitarians (and possibly others) all the functions now performed for them by the Univer­salist Church of America, the American Unitarian Association and the Council of Liberal Churches.


As in all past efforts, ideas about what to do were never unani­mous. Some persons think that functional merger into a single, new denomination would not be for the best for either denomination. How­ever, they do feel that close cooperation should be continued and therefore favor some form of alternative to outright merger. This Manual will bring out the prospects and implications of these plans as well as merger.




The future of liberal religion may be in ‘the lap of the Gods’, but it could rest in the decision of the members of the Unitarian and Universalist churches in the coming plebiscite. Certainly this de­cision will have an important bearing on the future.


Liberalism as a way of thinking and behaving throughout the ages has been closely related to the dynamics of all societies. Pressures are always towards conformity and the acceptance and pre­servation of the status-quo. It is the insight, understanding and faith of liberals which form the growing edges of any society and bring about the renaissances and reformations, and generate the enlightenment of any period in history, thus playing a great role and making a very significant contribution on in freeing men 's minds No better illustration exists than that of the United States, where liberalism from its very beginnings have played a monumental role in all the important avenues of life and activity. Liberal religionists have long pointed with pride to the forward - looking leaders in American history who have been related to the liberal churches. There is no denying the fact that throughout their history, the Unitarian and Universalist Churches have had a considerable role in inspiring and sustaining the liberal currents of thought and action so basically important in American society.


The United States has recently been in an extended reactionary period manifested by the resurgence of traditional orthodoxy, the astounding growth of a variety of literalist religious sects, the federal investigations into a very narrowly defined ‘loyalty’, witch hunting, the widespread growth of suspicion and thinking in terms of guilt by association, the reemphasis on absolutism in ethics and authoritarianism to the point where freedom has been in jeopardy and liberalism has taken cover. Pendulums swing and as the current swing is away from reaction, a virile, aggressive influence is need­ed to generate a resurgent liberalism and keep strong the basic atti­tudes of freedom.


If liberalism is to continue as a powerful factor in the life of America, there is no doubt that the Unitarian and Universalist denominations will continue to be one of its major sources of strength. These are estimated to have a constituency of approxi­mately 250,000 persons. Other important organized groups: Quakers, members of Ethical Societies, Reformed Jews, together with an un­known number of religious liberals who have maintained their con­nection with the orthodox denominations and the many like thinkers who are unattached might well bring the total number to at least 2,000,000.


In recent years, sparked by the Report of the Commission on Appraisal issued in 1936, the Unitarians have made very signifi­cant strides, which reversed a downward trend of some previous years. The Universalists, concerned over downward trends, had a stock tak­ing of considerable magnitude in 1956 and are giving evidence of a resurgence of some promise, featured by a Four Year Advance Program.


As the problems of a highly industrialized atomic society be­come more complex and compounded, there will he greater need for a religion that stresses the worth of the individual, full democratic procedures, an unceasing search for truth and freedom of worship. Coming decisions will have a far-reaching effect upon the future of liberal religion as a movement.




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