In the Beginning
Based on a Long Range Plan by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, Northwest evolved from a third UUCA Sunday service to a fully established congregation in the greater Atlanta area. The Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation was formally established in June 1969 with the mission “to foster liberal religious attitudes and living through worship, group study, cultural activity, service, work and recreation.”
The new congregation initially held services in the Liberty Guinn School in Sandy Springs and later at Sandy Springs Middle School. By 1971, a five-acre lot was purchased on Mt. Vernon Highway to be the permanent home for Northwest.
Shortly after the purchase of the church property, but before a church building was constructed, Northwest called Rev. Bob Karnan to the pulpit (1974 – 1983).
With no church building in October 1974 to conduct the installation service for Rev. Karnan, the event was held in the Abbey Restaurant on West Peachtree Street in Atlanta. This church-themed restaurant was well matched to the original purpose of the building. The building, now restaurant, was the third Unitarian church built in Atlanta in 1915.
Covering the west end of the old church building were panels of stained glass windows known at the time of the building’s dedication in November 1915 as the Founder’s Windows. Included in artwork of the Founder’s Windows was the phrase “In honor of George Leonard Chaney, Caroline Isabel Chaney.”
Early Atlanta Unitarian & Universalist History
The Rev. Chaney was a Unitarian minister who arrived in Atlanta in January 1882 to establish a Unitarian presence in the city. The first Unitarian church, Church of Our Father, was dedicated in April 1884. The Rev. Chaney completed his Atlanta ministry in 1890, but continued service in the South as the American Unitarian Association (AUA) Southern Superintendent.
The Church of Our Father was sold in September 1899 to make way for the Carnegie Library. The Carnegie Library itself was razed in 1977 for the construction of today’s Atlanta Central Library. A second Unitarian church was built in 1900 on the corner of Spring and Cain Streets.
Universalists, whose earlier Atlanta presence in 1879 had faded, saw a revival of the faith movement in the mid 1890’s. In 1895, Rev. McGlauflin founded a new Atlanta-based Universalist congregation. The Universalists built and dedicated their church in 1900 on 16 East Harris Street.
Atlanta Merger of Unitarians and Universalists
In the early 1900’s, the Unitarians and Universalists had their periods of expansion and struggle. The Unitarians sold their second church at the corner of Spring and Cain Streets and built a third church on West Peachtree Street. It was in that church that the Founder’s Windows were installed by Atlanta Unitarians to show their appreciation to Rev. Chaney and his wife Caroline for their tireless efforts to plant a liberal religious community in the South.
The Rev. George Leonard Chaney and his wife traveled from their home in Salem, Massachusetts to attend the dedication ceremony on November 11, 1915. They stood together in the glow of the stained glass windows as the songs of dedication were led by the then-current Unitarian minister Rev. Conkling.
During World War I, the local Unitarians and Universalists merged as a single religious community and adopted the West Peachtree Street church as their joint religious home. The newly formed religious community was called the Liberal Christian Church. The Universalists and Unitarians continued to worship on West Peachtree Street, changing the name of their church to the United Liberal Church in 1926, and then later in the 1930’s renamed the church the Unitarian Universalist Church. Unfortunately, by 1950 the congregation had dissolved.
The building was soon sold and eventually became the Abbey Restaurant in the 1960’s.
The Unitarians regrouped in the 1950’s under the name of the United Liberal Church. By 1961, the Unitarians and Universalists had merged at the national level forming the Unitarian Universalist Association. By 1963, Atlanta’s Unitarians and Universalists had fully regained their footing.
The now combined religious movements renamed their church the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA) and broke ground for a new church building on Cliff Valley Way. The first service in the newest Unitarian Universalist church in Atlanta was held in 1966.
One year later, UUCA’s long range planning committee, noted earlier, put the formation of Northwest into motion.
But whatever became of the Founder’s Windows?
The significance in October 1974 during his installation as he stood as other long ago Unitarian Universalist ministers had stood in the glow of the Founder’s Windows was not lost on Rev. Karnan.
Three years later, when the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) razed the old Unitarian church building to make way for the North Avenue station, Rev. Karnan, with the cooperation with MARTA, preserved the Founder’s Windows and secured them on permanent loan from MARTA.
Northwest Making Its Own History
As part of its “Dreaming, Changing, Growing” program during the ministry of Rev. Rolfe Gerhardt (1984-88), Northwest completed construction of its Religious Education building called the Chalice House. The Chalice House provides dedicated facilities for guiding our children on their own religious journey.
Northwest launched the Hungry Ear Coffee House during the interim ministry of Rev. Ted Webb (1989). The Hungry Ear is Atlanta’s longest running coffee house providing local musical artists a venue to perform the first Saturday of each month.
During the ministry of Rev. Roy Reynolds (1992-99), Northwest’s active social justice program engaged members to participate in Common Ground (providing support for those with AIDS), Project Open Hand (preparing and delivering meals to people with AIDS or HIV-related illness), Trinity House (a halfway house for former drug addicts), and the Metro Atlanta Hunger Walk (to raise funds to feed Atlanta’s hungry).
With Rev. Don Southworth (2001-06) in the pulpit, the annual ReUUnion picnic was started. This event brings Atlanta-area UUs together for a picnic filled with fellowship, a great meal and an opportunity to come together to discuss and work on social action programs. The ReUUnion continues to this day.
In January 2009, Northwest reaffirmed our congregational commitment to the environment with the installation of solar panels on top of our sanctuary building. Two years later Northwest was officially certified as a Green Sanctuary.
Under our current minister, Rev. Terry Davis, Northwest has witnessed another surge in membership growth and community engagement. Our Social Justice ministry is engaged in public events that include providing comments to the Public Service Commission to support expansion of solar power generation, the raising of our voices to advocate for the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia, marching for equal rights and equal marriage in the Atlanta Pride Parade and being involved in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s wider social action program called Standing on the Side of Love.
There is still so much more history to be written. Come join us to be a part of creating history!
Called and interim ministers who have served Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation
- 1969 – 1970 Rev. William DeWolf (Minister-on-Loan)
- 1970 – 1971 Rev. John Burciaga
- 1973 – 1973 Rev. Mack Mitchell (interim)
- 1974 – 1983 Rev. Bob Karnan
- 1984 – 1984 Rev. Jim Hutchinson (interim)
- 1984 – 1988 Rev. Rolfe Gerhardt
- 1989 – 1989 Rev. Ted Webb (interim)
- 1990 – 1990 Revs. Andy and Andrea Ritan
- 1990 – 1991 Rev. Fred Campbell (interim)
- 1992 – 1999 Rev. Roy Reynolds
- 1999 – 2000 Rev. Kurt Kuhwald (interim)
- 2001 – 2006 Rev. Don Southworth
- 2006 – 2007 Rev. Maureen Killoran (interim)
- 2007 – 2010 Rev. Jim Macomber
- 2010 – 2012 Rev. Morris Hudgins (interim)
- 2012 – Present Rev. Terry Davis