History of the The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville
by Deborah Wilbrink
Unitarian ministers have preached in Nashville since 1851, and ministers preached Universalism in middle Tennessee even earlier. This congregation began at a meeting in 1946 on the Vanderbilt University campus, and became the Unitarian Fellowship of Nashville, Tennessee on May 26, 1950. With 79 members, and 43 children enrolled in Religious Education, it became the First Unitarian Church of Nashville on May 26, 1954. It was one of many congregations who voted to approve a merger proposal of two denominations. Unitarians and Universalists consolidated their denominations in 1961; this church changed its name in 1969 to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, known fondly as FUUN. We belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which represents the interests of more than one thousand Unitarian Universalist congregations.
In 1961, the congregation purchased property and began renovation and additions to an existing home located at 1808 Woodmont Boulevard, moving there in April. Member and architect Bruce Draper designed the building inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the First Unitarian Society in Madison, Wisconsin. Several renovations and the additions of two more neighboring renovated homes followed: the Morgan House in 1987 and the Norris House in 1999. These have adapted the FUUN campus to a growing congregation, more staff, an active religious education program, and community outreach.
Social justice has been an important thread in FUUN history. Some of the causes officially supported by the congregation were separation of church and state (1955), civil rights, sexual discrimination, human rights, sanctuary and immigration, fair wages, neighborhood integrity, and religious freedom. Congregants produced the first of the annual Palmer Lecture on Human Rights in 1983. FUUN members have been instrumental in reforming ministerial misconduct procedures in the denomination after using lay leadership and denominational procedure to address it within FUUN in the early 1990s. The importance of lay leadership has remained a strong differentiating feature of FUUN history. In 1994, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville and the new Greater Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville signed a covenant of support of Unitarian Universalist principles.
FUUN has always had a strong religious education program with nursery, classes, activities, events and retreats that assist lifelong learning and spiritual growth. The first Minister of Education was hired in 1978. The congregation was an area leader in ministry to singles in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2000, the UUA awarded FUUN the O. Eugene Pickett Award for its continued growth and living out to the fullest the principles and purposes of Unitarian Universalism. Musical opportunities reached a zenith with multiple choirs and the addition of an Associate Minister of Music in 2008. Art exhibits, drama, readings and coffeehouses are also part of the history of FUUN. In 2014, FUUN entered a formal partnership with the Pingwait Unitarian Church in Meghalaya, India.
HISTORY of Our History
In the 1980s, FUUN developed three formal ways of memorialization: a trust fund, memory garden and columbarium, which have evolved as needed. Church services marked history: a 10-year anniversary in 1964; 25-year anniversary in 1975; a double anniversary in 1983 (20 years for building dedication and 30 years for the Church); participation in the city-wide church Homecoming in 1986; and the 40th birthday of formation in 1987. A Women’s History Service in 1991 honored 25 year members, and inducted historically significant female leaders into Clara Barton Sisterhood. The 50th Anniversary was marked in 2001 and a service honored 25 and 50-year members in 2016. Several papers on the history of the earlier congregations are in the FUUN Archives, most notably two sermons by the congregation’s first minister, Reverend Bob Palmer, and a treatise by longtime member Gean Morgan.
In 2012, the FUUN Endowment Trust commissioned a congregational history book. Fire of Commitment by Deborah Wilbrink, with the help of an editorial committee and many volunteers, celebrated release on June 19, 2016. The 334-page, fully illustrated book can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are contributing any corrections or additions for a later edition, please email your written suggestion with the book page number to editorFOC@thefuun.org.
Settled Ministers, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville
2005-current Reverend Gail Seavey, Lead Minister
2008-current Reverend Jason Shelton, Associate Minister of Music
1998-2004 Reverend Mary Katherine Morn
1981-1993 Reverend David More Maynard
1978-1980 Reverend Jerry Wright, Minister of Education
1972-1981 Reverend William “Bill” Gardiner
1955-1971 Reverend Robert “Bob” Palmer