By James Marten
This year two parts of my lives collided: my work as a historian of the Civil War era and my membership in the First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee. First Church is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, and I’m helping the congregation commemorate the milestone by organizing speakers and writing a monthly blog.
First Church was formed in the spring of 1842, but a few months earlier a notice had appeared in a local newspaper asking Unitarians interested in starting a church to gather at a local meeting hall “at early candlelight” to talk it over. Although the congregation has had its ups and downs–in fact, it suspended services at least twice in the nineteenth century, and once had its mortgage foreclosed–since 1892 it has been housed in a brick church at Ogden and Astor, on Milwaukee’s lower east side. The denomination as a whole and our congregation in particular is noted for its social activism; today it is one of the largest congregations in the denomination with around 800 members.
My January blog highlighted the unique life of one of our earliest ministers, N. A. Staples. He was an unusual character–kind of hard to live with, it seems–but he represented the radical abolitionists who helped spark the Civil War in 1861. The blog is based largely on a biography and collection of sermons written and compiled by one of his close friends, but Staples’ complicated personality comes through as clearly as his passion for reform and his belief in the liberal Christianity promoted by Unitarians.
You can read the blog here.
Jim Marten is chair of the MU History Department and has been a member of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee for over twenty years.