History of Our Congregation
The Unitarian Church of Los Alamos began in 1953 when a small, dedicated group of individuals passionately wanted to start the first Unitarian Fellowship in this rather secluded, out-of-the-way place. This group included some who had been Unitarians in other places. They got together and, with the help of Rev. Frank Smith of Albuquerque, started the ball rolling. In those days, the fellowship had no building of its own and so our founders met every other Monday night in the Chapel of the United Church with Rev. Smith delivering the first sermon. He continued to help out on a voluntary basis for the next two years. Even without a building, the fellowship was able to run a Religious Education program under the directorship of June Matthews. Classes from nursery school through 6th grade began by meeting in the homes of volunteer Sunday School teachers almost right away, with youth groups for High School and Junior High to follow a few years later
Operating on a very small budget, the fellowship managed to set aside enough for a building fund in 1954 to rent, and later buy, what during the war years had been an officers’ dormitory.
This allowed the meetings to be changed to Sundays and Sunday School classes to meet in one place. The building was upgraded and remodeled in subsequent years, so that now it is a favorite meeting place for many organizations in town. Individual and small group music lessons are held in Sunday School classrooms during the week. Dance, Yoga, Gymnastic, Qigong and Taiji classes are in one of our rooms with a hardwood floor and equipped with a wall-sized mirror.
For a few years, the congregation managed without a minister, relying on volunteer efforts. A summer in which Rev. Jack Mendelsohn visited and conducted services convinced the Fellowship that they wanted professional leadership and church status. The first called minister was Elmo Robinson, a Universalist and a retired philosophy professor, who came in 1959. The membership grew and the fellowship was changed to church status in 1960. Robinson remained active with the church as minister emeritus until his death in 1976.
Our second minister was Rev. Robert Lehman, who served from 1962 to 1966. In 1967, Rev. Richard Kelly was called. He was followed by Rev. Doug Gallager, who served from 1971 until 1976. From September 1976 until June 2000 the Rev. Dale Arnink was our settled minister. In 1996, we had a full weekend devoted to a Twenty Years Together celebration of Dale’s ministry.
In September, 2000 the Rev. Elizabeth McMaster began serving the Church as an interim minister. In 2002 the congregation called Rev. Dr. James Macomber, who served until August 2006. Rev. Dale Arnink (Minister Emeritus) served as a part-time transition minister for the 2006-2007 church year.
Our congregation called Rev. John Cullinan to our church in September 2007.
In May 2009, we celebrated the retirement of Joyce Zaugg, CDRE. Joyce was the church’s Director of Religious Exploration for 23 years.
Beginning with a membership of 25 active members and 17 friends, our church has grown to the current 150 active members. We have seen many changes through the years in service format, church policies, membership profiles, and social concern trends, which are in part guided by the ministerial and church leadership. Many dedicated UUs, however, have stayed with us through thick and thin, and we still have some of our founding members active in the church today.
Our church has been the place where many projects were started that now benefit the community as independent organizations. Among these projects are Casa Mesita (a thrift shop that raises money for a group home for troubled teenage girls), Arts and Crafts Fair of New Mexico (a place where artisans of this state can exhibit and sell their products) and the PFLAG Chapter of Los Alamos.
We started a community-wide project of support for local farmers, a project called Community-Assisted Agriculture, which works with local farmers and guarantees them an outlet for their organic produce. We participated in the Civil Rights movements when some of our members, including our minister, went to jail in the 60′s. In the 70′s, we sponsored Vietnamese refugees who now run two restaurants in town. We have been involved with Jemez House (a home for boys), Esperanza (a shelter for battered women), and Habitat for Humanity (a house building project). Some members have been active in PFLAG and/or have marched in Gay Pride parades in Santa Fe. Our efforts continue to grow and expand, often not so much through organized church policies, as through individuals with the support of members of the congregation. In the summer of 2000, a congregational meeting overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of civil rights for Dr. Wen Ho Lee, who had been held in solitary confinement and frequently shackled while awaiting trial. This resolution sparked others in the community to action. Through our varied efforts to help the poor and downtrodden both locally, and globally through the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, we are truly sharing our vision of justice.
- Originally written by Kok Heong McNaughton in 1990.
- Gordon Olson and Kok Heong McNaughton in 1998
- Richard Cooper and Kok Heong McNaughton in 2000
- Danise Begnaud in 2006
- Michael Begnaud in 2007/2009