A Home for Our Universalist Heritage
Imagine an elegant, historic building in which pictures, documents and carefully selected artifacts of our Universalist heritage are lovingly displayed, and both oral and videotapes celebrating that heritage are available.
Imagine that people from the area gather there regularly for worship, meetings, musical events, conferences, retreats and educational opportunities. Imagine that young people from around the country travel there with their Coming of Age classes. Imagine that tourists visiting in that scenic area stumble upon this place and have their minds and hearts opened to the good news of Universalism.
that the deep, faithful message that “God is Love,” that hope and
forgiveness are powerful and are possible, is kept alive and fresh, and
applied creatively to our contemporary realities.
Here is the story of how this imagined vision is becoming real.
The Winchester Profession of Faith, adopted in 1803 by Universalists gathered in Winchester, New Hampshire, was a defining theological statement. It focused and identified the fledgling Universalist denomination, and, although the theology remained fluid even sometimes controversial throughout the course of history, that particular statement grounded and shaped the future conversations.
The 200th anniversary of this historic event was celebrated in 2003 at this same site in a handsome building that was rebuilt in 1909 after a fire destroyed the original. This later building was erected as a memorial to the adoption of the Winchester Profession, with contributions received from Universalists across the country. Two brass plaques in tribute to that event flank the front door.
As happened in many small New England towns, in time the Universalists of Winchester, NH joined with other local congregations to form a federated church and have been joined with the United Church of Christ and the United Methodists for many years. This federated congregation, The United Church of Winchester, maintained two old buildings for many years, but could not sustain that endeavor and determined that they needed to sell the Universalist church. The building is in fine condition, is structurally sound and has beautiful stained glass windows and a new heating system
By deed the New Hampshire – Vermont District of the UUA had the right of first refusal to purchase the building. An ad hoc group of the District, called the Winchester Universalist Explorers, formed to explore the feasibility of preserving this Universalist landmark and the possible uses that the building might serve. A vision of a Universalist Heritage Center to preserve and celebrate our rich history began to emerge, but it was hard to imagine that we could ever afford to purchase the building.
Simultaneously the Ten Talents Team of The United Church of Winchester was meeting to discern the terms of the sale. They were delighted that the building might continue to be used in a way that would honor and preserve its historic nature and the Universalist message of hope and love. Grounded in a clear sense of mission, that group decided to make the building available to the New Hampshire – Vermont District to be used as a Universalist Heritage Center at only a fraction (2%) of its appraised value. Because of this act of generosity, and through the added generosity of three donors, the full amount of the purchase price was quickly raised.
Soon thereafter, the Winchester Universalist Explorers became The Universalist Heritage Foundation, incorporated as a non-profit corporation, a board of directors was named, and the following Mission Statement adopted:
The Mission of the Universalist Heritage Foundation is
to celebrate and preserve the rich legacy of the Universalist faith,
to educate future generations in the Universalist tradition, and
to continue to put forth the Universalist message as an agent of
hope for a fractured world.
In the fall of 2006 purchase of the building was completed and a moving Sunday morning service in that facility celebrated the transfer of ownership from the United Church of Winchester to The Universalist Heritage Foundation. In the summer of 2007 five services, all reflecting the Universalist message, were held in the building.
The vision has expanded to include:
- A Universalist Heritage Visitors’ Center housing a small collection of historical books, pictures and artifacts; displays, some of them interactive, to lift up significant pieces of the history of Universalism; a collection of oral histories to be recorded from people with firsthand experience of Universalism in the 20th century. An introductory video would be run and a Gift Shop would make available printed materials, postcards, etc.
- Meetings, events and conferences would be hosted, including summer religious services, UU RE programs and meetings of UU organizations.
- A guide to a Universalist Heritage Trail, with maps and commentaries would be available at the Heritage Center, telling the story of Universalism through people and events from the Winchester area.
Our understanding of the possibilities for achieving our vision continues to evolve. We are eager to hear from many voices as the vision continues to grow, that this work may reflect the hopes and dreams of all those who continue to cherish the Universalist faith.