North Unitarian Church in New Bedford, Mass. (part one)

North Unitarian Church was established in 1894 by First Unitarian Church as a Unitarian mission, or settlement house, in the North end of New Bedford. Operating in rented space at first, First Unitariana built a building to house this mission in 1903. Beginning in 1920, it became a separate and legally incorporated institution under the name “The Unity Home Church,” although First Unitarian continued to own the building. The Unity Home Church included large numbers of immigrants and children of immigrants in its membership. North Unitarian Church merged back into First Unitarian c. 1971.

I’ve been doing some research into this small Unitarian church of immigrants, and I’m going to include some of the results of my research here in a series of posts. This first installment is an incomplete list of ministers who served the church….

Some of this information comes from an unsigned manuscript in our church archives, and the rest from various published or online sources.

Unity Home, a mission of First Unitarian Church

1904-1904 —- Brunton. Worship services began at Unity Home in 1904: “In 1904 we start [sic] having the first church services at night. Mr. Brunton was the minister….” [unsigned manuscript] Could this have been Rev. William Brunton, then minister of the Fairhaven Unitarian church?

1904-1904 —- Ives [unsigned mansucript]

1905-1906 Rev. Bertram D. Boivin. “In 1905 Mrs. & Mr. Boivan came to Unity Home.” [unsigned mansucript] Who’s Who in New England (A. N. Marquis, 1915) has the following information: “b. Athol, Mass., Oct. 16. 1873; … descendant on maternal side of William Cox, of the Boston Tea Party; … student Tufts Coll.; S.T.B., Tufts Div. Sch., 1901; post-grad. work Harvard Div. Sch., 1904-5; m. Carrie E. Fairbanks, of Leominster, Mass., June 18, 1901. Ordained Unitarian ministry, 1898; pastor Annisquam (Gloucester), 1901-4, New Bedford, 1905-6, East Bridgewater, 1906-12, Mlddleboro, 1912-15, 1st Parish, Gloucester, since Feb. 1, 1915.” The 1915 General Catalog of Harvard Divinity School says he was ordained as a Universalist minister in Hinsdale, N.H., in 1898, and served in Southold, N.Y., from 1898-1899.

1906-??? Bernard Morrison. In the December, 1906, issue, the Quarterly Bulletin of Meadville Theological School, has the following notice: “With the church in New Bedford, Mass., is connected Unity Home, of which Bernard Morrison, who graduated here last summer, has just been made pastor or superintendent.”

1906-1910 Further research needed.

1910-1912? George H. Howes. In 1910, “Mr. and Mrs. Howes took charge.” [unsigned mansucript] Howes is listed as minister in the 1911 AUA Yearbook; ordination date 1905; settled at New Bedford 1910.

1913-1915 Rev. Louis Henry Buckshorn. “In 1914 Mr. Buckshorn came he was minister for about 2 years.” [unsigned mansucript] The 1915 General Catalog of the Divinity School of Harvard lists Buckshorn at Unity Home, New Bedford. Buckshorn was in the class of 1896 of the Divinity School, having graduated Meadville Theological School in 1895. He served Westford’s First Congregational Parish (Unitarian) 1896-1900; and (probably Unitarian) churches in Concord, N.H., 1900-1909; Vineyard Haven, 1909-1913; and back to Westford 1915-1919. A posting on an amateur genealogical Web site states: “He was minister of the First Congregational Parish (Unitarian) here in Westford from 1896 to 1899, and again from 1915 to 1919. Louis d. 7 Jul 1919, suicide, at Westford.”

Reorganized as North Unitarian Church

According to a story written for the New Bedford Interchurch Council by David O. Rankin, “It was in 1917 that the members, apparently feeling that religion should play a more integral part in the affairs of the Home… voted to form a religious society. The Rev. Leon Pratt was installed as the minister and regular worship services were conducted in the chapel on Sunday mornings. It was not until 1920, however, that the organization was legally incorporated as the North Unitarian Church of New Bedford.” Rankin’s dates may be inaccurate; the 1916 AUA Annual Report states that Unity Home in New Bedford “has been greatly enlarged and improved, and has been re-organized as the North Unitarian Church of New Bedford.”

1916-1917? Rev. Leon Sherman Pratt. From the Harvard Graduates Magazine, vol. XXVI 1917-1918 (Harvard University, 1918): “1916 Rev. L. S. Pratt is minister of the North Unitarian Church, New Bedford, Mass.” The 1917 AUA Yearbook lists Pratt at North Unitarian. The unsigned manuscript inaccurately places Pratt’s tenure c.1923-1924: “After that [i.e., after 1923] Mr. Pratt came and he was ordained a minister at Unity Home.” The 1919 AUA Yearbook lists Pratt at Andover, N.H., 1917-1919.

1917-1919 Further research needed.

1919-1923 Rev. Samuel Louis Elberfeld (1869-1953). “In about 1919 or 1920 Mr. Elberfeld came…” [unsigned mansucript] AUA Yearbooks have Elberfeld at Peterborough, N.H., 1913-1919; New Bedford 1919-1923; East Boston, 1923-1939; Warwick, Mass., 1940-1944; Bernardston, Mass., 1944-1946; and East Boston again 1946-1953. According to The Boston Religion by Peter Tufts Richardson (Rockland, Maine: 2003), Elberfeld served First Unitarian Society of Hyde Park (Boston) from 1906-1907. An amateur genealogist’s Web site gives the following information: b. in Pomeroy, Ohio, the son of German immigrants; m. Isobel Ross Holton in 1901 in Quincy, Ill.; d. in East Boston; graduated from Meadville Lombard, and later also attended Harvard Divinity school; ordained Unitarian 1897; and according to an unsourced obituary, “He has held pastorates and youth work positions in Revere, New York City, Quincy Illinois, Salem, Danvers, Hyde Park, Charlestown N. H., New Bedford, Warwick and Bernardston, Massachusetts.”

1923-1924? —- Wood. “…then in 1923 Mr. Wood [came].” [unsigned mansucript]

1924-1939 No minister. “…during that time there were no church services.” But the Sunday school continued under Mrs. Florence Cross. [unsigned mansucript]

1939-1940 Robert J. Holden, student minister. With help from Rev. Duncan Howlett of First Unitarian, church services began again in 1939. Howlett assigned student minister Holden to serve North Unitarian Church. Holden became minister of First Unitarian after Howlett left, from 1948-1953. Holden worked at M.I.T. from 1953-1982; he was associate dean of students from 1962-1982. He died in 1988.

1940-1943 Rev. Maja Capek (1888-1966). More on Maja Capek here, and about her husband Rev. Norbert Capek here.

1943-1944 Max Gaebler, student minister. Max Gaebler (1921-   ) became one of the most prominent Unitarian ministers of his generation. Gaebler served as minister of First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wis., from 1952-1987. The Madison congregation grew substantially during his ministry there. After the merger of the Unitarians and Universalists in 1961, Gaebler spent a year at the UUA helping deepen relations with Unitarians and Universalists around the world. Along with Dana Greeley, Gaebler was invited to be a Unitarian Universalist observer at Vatican II. More on Gaebler here.

1944-1946 Rev. Orval Clay. Clay tried to grow the church to the point where it could sustain a full-time ministry, but apparently became discouraged and soon resigned. He was a teacher at Beamer School, Woodland, Calif., in 1946-47, then was called as minister of the Community Congregational Church in Salida, Calif., in 1948. He last appears in the 1950-51 directory of the American Unitarian Association; presumably after that he was in fellowship with the Congregationalists.

1946-1947 Dewey Pruett, student minister. The unsigned manuscript says, “Mr. Lovell and Dewey Pruett were with us a short time both being students,” but I find no other record of Mr. Lovell.

1947-1949 Charles J. Speel II, student minister. Speel (1916-2000) graduated from Brown in 1939, worked as a machinery designer in Providence, R.I., and joined the U.S. Navy Aircorps during the Second World War. After the war, he attended Havard Divinity School from c.1947-1956, earning his B.T.S., M.T.S., and Ph.D. He was ordained and installed as pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Cranston, R.I., and after a few years there became professor of Bible at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill., where he stayed until his retirement in 1986. [from Monmouth College Web site]

1949-1951 Henry Niles, student minister.

1951-1952 Donald A. Stout, student minister. Stout was ordained 1953 Louisville, Ken., later minister of the Unitarian Congregation of South Peel, Ontario.

1953-1954. Rev. A. Robert Shelander. Shelander had retired as minister of the Sharon, Mass., Unitarian church in 1949.

1954-1955 David Wellington Brown, student minister. David W. Brown is still listed in the UUA directory. After being ordained in 1956, he went on to serve congregations in West Upton, Mass., Dallas, Texas, Orlando, Flor., and Northampton, Mass.

1955-1956 W. A. Stevens, student minister. The unsigned manuscript has his name as “Warren Stevens.”

1958-1965 Rev. Charles Hodges. Not listed in the A.U.A. directory. From the financial records, Hodges appears to have been hired to preach, but nothing more.

1965-1968 Rev. Donald James. Again, preaching only.

1968 on, no minister.