The first Unitarian Church of Dallas was located at the SE corner of Commerce and Pearl streets. On May 12 , 1899, at the invitation of Rabbi Dr. George Alexander Kohut, Mr. Daniel Christian Limbaugh gave a talk on the Unitarian religion at Temple Emanu-El.
On December 3, 1899, after several months of preliminary work, the First Unitarian Church of Dallas was formally organized with thirty-two members. Little could they have imagined that in 100 years the church would grow to over 750 members, and would remain a haven of hope for those “at sea without a chart or compass” for their religious natures. By 1903 the church had a building, had established a Women’s Alliance Group, adopted a constitution and by-laws, rented an organ and bought hymnbooks. The object of the church, said the constitution, was to “maintain regular services of Christian worship. . . and to upbuild in the hearts of its people the high ideals of a rational, progressive, and exalting religion in the love of God and the service of man.”He said, in part, “The time has come in the history of Dallas when a broad and liberal Christianity should be declared here. Many souls are hungering and thirsting for religious knowledge, truth, and righteousness. To them the old dogmas, doctrines, and creeds appear outgrown. These persons are at sea without a chart or compass, and many are making shipwrecks of their religious natures. The old creeds seem to them unworthy of the character of God, the nature of man, and the highest conception of human duty and destiny. . . We need a liberal platform which does no violence to religion but which, while perfectly rational, is at the same time expressive of the highest conception of a life of spirituality.” Daniel Limbaugh was invited back several more times to the Temple to speak and during that summer became acquainted with several people who were interested in forming a new church.
Early 1900s – A Growing Liberal Religious Community
In 1913 they moved to a larger church at the northeast corner of South Ervay and St. Louis Streets. Rev. Gilmore, who followed several short pastorates, came to be their minister for the next eleven years. The Dramatic Club of the church was established, flourished, and became the nucleus of the Little Theater of Dallas.
In an event unprecedented in the history of Dallas, Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize recipient in literature, poet and philosopher from India spoke at the church in 1921. In his long cream-colored robe and sandals, he gave Dallas, by his presence, a glimpse of a larger world of faith than had been previously experienced. One thousand people heard him at the morning and evening services, with the newspaper reporting over six hundred others turned away. Years later, in the early 1990s, the Minister of Religious Education, Rev. Norma Veridan, along with leaders at Thanksgiving Square would establish the Multi-Faith Explorations and Exchange program, which would provide opportunities for participants from around the city to visit each other’s churches and learn about their faith and practices, continuing to foster inter-faith understanding and wisdom begun so many years before.
1930s – The Depression Years
The church, like many, suffered the shock of the depression years. Unable to support a minister, the church ceased having regular services in 1931, with only the meetings of the Women’s Alliance continuing. Services and activities were not resumed until 1938. The church sold its properties in 1938 and began renting space in Scott Hall in downtown Dallas. While the process of rebuilding the congregation was not easy, the purposes of the church were realized to be more important than ever, and the commitment to its presence in Dallas was solidified.
1940s-50s – Rev. Robert Raible & First Church Find a Home on Preston Road
In 1942 Rev. Robert Raible was called to be the minister of the church and began what was to be twenty-two years of growth of membership, strength and effectiveness in serving the city. Rev. Raible and Rabbi Olan, of Temple Emanu-el became close friends and worked tirelessly together to speak to the spirit and soul of the city. Rev. Raible was in demand as a speaker, and was elected President of the Dallas Mental Health Association and the Dallas Council of Human Relations.
In 1944 the church bought land on Preston Road and built what they hoped would be a permanent church home. The chapel, kitchen, wing for classes, offices, library and nursery and a church auditorium were dedicated in 1950 as part of the Southwestern Unitarian Conference meetings.
While plans were being made for the new church, Dr. Raible continued preaching his strong message. He preached that the development of the atomic bomb had changed their lives forever. At Brotherhood Week in 1946 he preached on the fear of strangeness that had created the “loose statements” about minority groups bandied about in Dallas and cautioned against the effects of such statements. He preached that science was not an opponent but a handmaid and servant of religion. He preached in favor of evolution and acceptance of the new field of higher criticism of the Bible. He preached about peace and social justice and the central place of democracy in the Unitarian religion. He preached about the importance of human dignity and the value of each individual.
As soon as the congregation occupied their new church home attendance grew dramatically. By May of 1951 the church had 371 members. The Laymen’s League had sponsored a Boy Scout troop. The library had expanded and several groups in the city made use of the space when it was not in use by the church. Over 275 children were attending the church school on Sundays quickly necessitating the building of more room for the children. Ministerial Interns regularly served the church as part of their training.
Courtesy First Unitarian Church of Dallas and Legacies Magazine, Spring 2016 edition.