The Flaming Chalice
The very first Universalist congregation in our area was established by the Reverend Nathaniel Stacy in 1804 with a building at the corner of Genesee Street and French Road. That congregation, far south of the center of Utica, continued until 1824., when it dissolved. A small cemetery of members of that church still exists on French Road.
In the year the Erie Canal opened, 1825, the First Universalist Society of Utica was organized by the Reverend John S. Thompson. Forty-two people, including five women, were the initial members.
UU Utica Chalice
As a result of intense opposition and persecution that forced them out of public meeting places, a Universalist meetinghouse was built at the corner of Genesee and Devereux streets. A brick church was built with heat supplied by a wood stove and light by whale oil lamps, and the Universalist Female Charitable Society was formed to help with the housekeeping and social activities.
Dolphus Skinner
In 1829, Dolphus Skinner established the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate to counter attacks against the Universalist Church and its beliefs. Church members were active in the abolition and temperance movements, and in education. The organizational meeting of the New York State Universalist Sunday School Association was held in Utica in 1842. Financial problems in the 1840’s forced the church to sell the Devereux building. (photo from the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, an on-line resource of the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society
church with tree
In 1849, the Central Universalist Society was formed with four men and fifteen women who had been members of First Society. The Reverend Eben Francis was the pastor. A new church, seating 420 people, was built on Seneca Street in 1851. It was named The Church of Reconciliation-for all souls would be directed to God. By 1866, the building debt had been fully repaid.
Church with the Tree in the Tower
By 1887, the church was famous nationally as, “the church with the tree in the tower.” A mountain ash tree had taken root in a pocket of soil on the north tower and had grown to forty feet tall. It was symptomatic of general deterioration, and the church was given much-needed repair. A few years later, church membership was reported to be 200 and average Sunday school attendance was 150.
Church of Reconciliation
In 1906, 100 members and 25 children strong, the church sold the building to the Citizens Bank and Trust Company and laid the cornerstone of a new building on the corner of Genesee and Tracy Streets. There were 91 pledges at that time. In 1919, funds were raised to contribute to the World Drive for World Peace and to start a trust fund of $18,000 for the church.
John MacPhee
At a special meeting in 1926, the bylaws were revised and the name The Church of Reconciliation (Universalist Unitarian) was adopted. Twenty Unitarians joined the church. During World War II, membership declined to below 40. (Rev. John MacPhee 1946-1952)
Church pamphlet
Through the 1960’s, members were active in draft counselling and the establishment of Planned Parenthood of the Mohawk Valley. But, the church building, in need of repair, was too large for a small congregation. The congregation sold the building to the Church of God, a primarily Black congregation, and purchased a lot on Higby Road for a new church.
Church with Black Lives Matter Banner
In 1978, the new church was dedicated, with the President of the UUA, Paul Carnes, taking part. Reverend Timothy Behrendt was serving as part-time minister, beginning in 1970. When Tim retired in 2000, his ministry was the longest in the church’s history.  Since then, there have been a number of settled and interim ministers. Currently the minister is Rev. Karen Brammer.

Above is a slide show. Click to the left or right of the photo above to move through the slide show.

The history of the current congregation began in 1825.   The congregation will celebrate a bicentennial in 2025.  The founding members numbered forty-two including five women.  All were entitled to vote, though it was unusual to include women in voting at that time. Prosperous members included Andrew S. Pond, head of an iron foundry, and Esra Barnum who owned a business that supplied boats for the Erie Canal and was appointed a U.S. Marshall.  These benefactors made it possible to build a meeting house at the corner of Genesee and Devereaux Streets. 

History of Ministers

  1. John S. Thompson 1825-1826
  2. Dolphus Skinner 1827-1832
  3. Aaron Grosh 1832-1838
  4. T.D. Cook 1839-1842
  5. H.B. Soule 1843-1844
  6. Eben Francis 1849-1853
  7. Theophilus Fisk 1853-1856
  8. C.C. Gordon 1856-1859
  9. T.D. Cook 1860-1864
  10. D. Ballou 1864-1869
  11. A.J. Canfield 1870-1873
  12. C.F. Lee 1875-1879
  13. E.F Foster 1879
  14. M. Crossley 1880-1882
  15. O.A. Rounds 1882-1887
  16. Clarence E. Rice 1887-1892
  17. Caleb E. Fisher 1893-1895
  18. Frank Leland 1896-1899
  19. James D. Corby 1899-1906
  20. John Sayles 1905-1907
  21. George Cross Baner 1907-1914
  22. William C. Selleck 1915-1919
  23. Leslie C. Nichols 1920-1925
  24. Thomas J. Saunders 1925-1929
  25. Alfred S. Cole 1929-1931
  26. Stanart Dow Butler 1931-1935
  27. Robert Killam 1935-1941
  28. Alfred Lynn Booth 1942-1944
  29. John Stewart MacPhee 1945-1952
  30. T. Conley Adams 1952-1956
  31. Leon S. Simonetti 1957-1959
  32. Greta M. Worstell (Crosby) 1960-1961
  33. Herbert E. Hudson IV 1961-1966
  34. Derek Sparks 1967-1970
  35. Ralph N. Schmidt – Minister at Large 1971-1980
  36. Timothy Hume Behrendt 1970-2000
  37. 2000-2001 Mary Wellemeyer (interim)
  38. 2001-2004 Kaaren Anderson
  39. 2004-2005 John Marsh (interim)
  40. 2005-2007 Naomi King
  41. 2007-2010 David Blanchard
  42. 2010-2013 Lucy Ijams
  43. 2013-2014 David Blanchard
  44. 2014-2018 Eve Stevens
  45. 2018-2020 Erin Dajka-Holley
  46. Rev. Lori Staubitz 2021
  47. Karen Brammer 2022-

Left: Rev. Ralph N. Schmidt Right: Rev. Dolphus Skinner

Left: Rev. Erin Dajka-Holley Right: Rev. Lori Staubitz

Left: Scrip sold to finance early church Right: E.S. Barnum one of the first UU Utica church members

Left: Rev. John MacPhee Right: Timothy Hume Behrendt and Peggy Spencer Behrendt (former music director)

Left: Rev. Lucy Ijams Right: Rev. Naomi King

Left: Kaaren Anderson Right: Rev. Eve Stevens

In 1951, members of the Utica Church of the Reconciliation (Universalist Unitarian) were instrumental in the founding of Unirondack, a Universalist Unitarian camp in the Adirondacks.  A camp and land on Beaver Lake, 18 miles east of Lowville, New York were purchased.  A recreation building designed by Rev. Howard Gilman was added.  The camp is still in operation and features camps for different age groups as well as family camps and weekends for small groups.  A winterized building has been added to extend the use in spring and fall.

(Special Thanks to Still Free and Untrammeled by Eleanor (Peg) Hassett, Sally Carman for assistance on this page)