Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 1909-1915

Rev. Clarence Reed served longer than any of the other ministers of the old Palo Alto Unitarian Church, for six years from 1909-1915. Arguably, these were the best years for the congregation: they built the social hall that had been originally planned; the Sunday school grew to perhaps 60 children and teenagers; the Women’s Alliance had perhaps 40 members; and perhaps 200 adults were affiliated with the congregation. Here are documents that tell the story of the congregation during these years:

Rev. Florence Buck in Palo Alto (1910)

[Rev. Florence Buck was one of the better known women who served as Unitarian ministers in the early part of the twentieth century. During her brief stay at Palo Alto, she inspired at least one teenaged girl to become a minister — more on that teenager in a subsequent post on the Palo Alto Unitarians.]

Rev. Florence Buck has been given a year’s leave of absence at Kenosha, Wis., and is supplying the pulpit at Palo Alto, Cal.
— Unitarian Word & Work (Boston: American Unitarian Association), October, 1910, p. 5.

Mr. Reed, the minister of the Palo Alto Society, has been ill, but hopes to take up work again in December. His pulpit mean-time is being supplied by Rev. Florence Buck.
— Unitarian Word & Work (Boston: American Unitarian Association), November, 1910, p. 8.

Rev. Florence Buck Has Been Chosen Pastor of Unitarian Church of Alameda

Alameda, [Calif.,] Dec. 19. — Rev. Florence Buck has accepted a call to become the minister of the First Unitarian church of this city. She will begin her pastorate Sunday, January 1, on which date she will conduct services and deliver her initial sermon. She will be the first divine of her sex to take permanent charge of a local church and will be one of the few women ministers in service on the Pacific coast.

The new minister is unmarried. She has had extensive experience In religious work and has been a preacher of the Unitarian faith for some years. She was associated with Rev. Marian Murdock in conducting a church in Cleveland, O. She also filled the pulpit of a Unitarian church in Kenosha, Wis. Of late Rev. Miss Buck has been temporarily occupying the pulpit of the Unitarian church in Palo Alto in the absence of the regular minister, Rev. Clarence Reed, former pastor of Alameda Unitarian church, who is on a vacation in Japan. Since Rev. Mr. Reed left here and went to the Palo Alto church the First Unitarian church has been without a regular pastor. Rev. J. A. Cruzan, field secretary for, the Unitarian society or America, has been acting temporarily. Rev. Miss Buck was heard here twice in the pulpit: of the Unitarian church last month. On both occasions she made a good impression and the trustees decided to extend her a call.

— San Francisco Call, vol. 109, no. 20, December 20, 1910, p. 11.


Above: Rev. Clarence Reed and the Baha’í prophet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Palo Alto, 1912

A Baha’i Prophet Speaks in a Unitarian Church (1912)

[On his tour of North America, the Baha’i prophet ‘Abdu’l Bahá came to the Bay Area, and spoke wherever he could — in churches, to YMCA groups, in high schools, etc. On October 8, 1912, he spoke at Stanford’s Memorial Church, at the invitation of David Starr Jordan, and that evening he spoke at the Palo Alto Unitarian Church. The address at the Palo Alto Unitarian Church, along with brief welcoming remarks by Rev. Clarence Reed, was eventually reprinted in the August, 1921, issue of Reality, the American Baha’i periodical. The entire 2,500 word address is not of sufficient interest to reprint in its entirety; but here is enough to give the flavor of what Palo Alto Unitarians heard on that Tuesday evening in 1912.]

Address by Abdul Baha, Unitarian Church, Palo Alto, California, (Mr. Clarence Reed, Minister), Tuesday, 8 P. M., October 8, 1912.

Introduction by Mr. Reed:

It is a great privilege to have with us tonight one who calls himself a “servant of God,” and one who also is a great lover of mankind.

Abdul Baha:

Praise be to God, this evening I have come to a Unitarian Church. This Church is called Unitarian—attributed to unity. Hence I desire to discourse on the subject of unity, which is a fundamental basis of Divine teachings.

In all the religions of God there is an exposition concerning unity. What is the basis of this oneness? It is evident that the reality of Divinity can not be brought within human grasp. Man can not comprehend the reality of Divinity, because man is accidental, whereas the reality of Divinity is eternal. Man is limited, whereas the reality of Divinity is unlimited. Assuredly, the limited can not comprehend the unlimited, and the accidental can not comprehend the eternal. …

So long as differences in degrees hinder comprehension, to wit: every inferior degree is incapable of comprehending the degree superior thereto, then how can we ever comprehend God Who is transcendental? We are accidental, whereas He is ever-lasting. We are weak, where He is almighty. We are poor, whereas He is rich. We are needy, whereas He is independent. We are finite, whereas He is infinite. We are mortal, whereas He is immortal. How can we, therefore, ever comprehend His reality, or even offer a word of praise or do homage? …

These superannuated, blind imitations, or religious dogmas, which are ever the cause of enmity, the cause of destruction, the Cause of darkness, the cause of bloodshed, the cause of tyranny, the cause of despotism — these blind imitations must be cast aside, and the mysteries of reality shall be revealed.

That foundation which was meant to be the underlying principle of all the prophets, that foundation which Christ Himself laid — that is the basis of the oneness of the world of humanity.

That foundation is universal love.
That foundation is universal peace among the nations.
That foundation is universal peace among the countries
That foundation is universal peace among all the races.
That foundation is the universal peace which shall weld together all the religions, and that foundation is to do away with all sectarianism.

At a time when the Orient was enveloped in the gloom of prejudice and fanaticism, and thick clouds had befogged the horizon of reality, among the nations of the Orient there was religious prejudice, sectarianism, political prejudice, racial prejudice and patriotic prejudice, and the Oriental nations were in constant conflict and state of war.
The religionists considered each other as contaminating and they shunned each other, exercising the severest enmities against each other. Darkness was so dense that not a trace of light was ever visible.

Under such circumstances His Holiness Baha’o’llah dawned from the horizon of reality, and He laid institutes and teachings which united all the nations, which caused fellowship among the various religions, which dispelled religious prejudice, which dispelled political prejudice, which dispelled patriotic prejudice and which dispelled racial prejudice, having ushered under the tent or tabernacle of the oneness of humanity all the peoples of reality. They were souls representative of the religions and of the denominations thereof who had hearkened to the call of Baha’o’llah and who had become informed of His teachings. Such souls, in Persia, are living together in the utmost of love and amity. They are in a state of the utmost kindness toward one another. It is just as if they were one household. …

Therefore it is not allowable that among human individuals there should linger any strife. Let no sedition tarry. Let no hatred or rancor prevail. All must live in the utmost kindness, in the utmost love, the utmost of fellowship, and must pass their days pleasantly, for this will win the bounties of God and the bestowals shall surround them, and the Kingdom of God will become personified in the human kingdom. And this is our wish in its entirety.

Closing Remarks by Mr. Reed:

I feel that a man of God has spoken to us tonight. There is no way I know to close the service than with a prayer—not a prayer in spoken words, but a prayer in silence. Let each person pray in his own way for the coming of the universal religion — the religion of love, the religion of peace, a religion of the fullness of life.


You are dismissed.

— Reality [a Baha’i periodical], vol. 4, no. 8, August, 1921 (New York: Reality Publishing Corporation), pp. 4-10.


New Social Hall (1914)

The Unitarian parish of Palo Alto, under the direction of the Rev. Clarence Reed, has started a three thousand-dollar addition to the church building. The addition will be in the nature of an open air pavilion, surrounded on two sides by a pergola, where the children can receive instruction in the out-of-doors. The building will be artistically constructed with the al fresco element catered to almost entirely. The purpose of the addition is to provide a specially equipped room for the Sunday-school when the weather will not permit its sessions to be held out-doors, and a meeting place for the social activities of the church. The Sunday evening lectures which have often taxed the capacity of the present church will be held in the new hall, as well as occasional dances by the young people. The addition will have a stage 33 feet wide and 16 feet deep for dramatic performances by the Sunday-school and church.

— The Pacific Unitarian (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), vol. 22, no. 9, July, 1914, p. 233.


Ninth Anniversary of the Church (1914)

Nine years ago a little group of Unitarians started a church in Palo Alto, and Wednesday night 130 of the well-grown organization sat at supper in the new Unitarian hall and celebrated the record of progress, especially that of the past year.

Apart from the general felicitations and reports of accomplishment there was a general note of sadness when the whole meeting united in expressing and sending greetings and good wishes to Professor Ewald Fluegel, now very ill at his home on Cowper street and for several years president of the board of trustees of the Unitarian Church.

Professor W. H. Carruth, president of the trustees, presided and acted as toastmaster. The participants each paid 25 cents, and a committee had charge of the preparation of the supper, which, with co-operation of the ladies of the congregation and donations and the small charge, cleared expenses, which was all that was intended.

Professor H. D. Gray, a trustee, spoke of the history of the church. Professor Rendtorff and he were in the first little group. The first preacher was Rev. Stone, since then mayor of Santa Cruz. The second minister was Sydney Snow, now associate minister of King’s Chapel in Boston, the oldest Unitarian Church in America. Next came Rev. Clarence Reed, the third and present minister.

Professor L. M. Hoskins, as chairman of the building committee, reported that about $3,600 had been expended upon the construction of the new Unitarian hall, next to the church, that the building is all paid for but that there remains to be paid a loan of $1,000 secured from the Unitarian Society of Boston.

A. C. McLaughlin, treasurer of the Unitarian Society, reported financial affairs in fair condition and urged the need of further subscriptions.

Mrs. R. P. Stevens gave an account of the work of the Unitarian [Women’s] Alliance and the money it had raised during the past year, partly toward the building fund for the new hall, partly toward the fund for paving the street in front of the church property and partly for other purposes. Its activities had been varied, considerable and successful.
R. T. Marble spoke of the young people’s society.

Finally Rev. Clarence Reed himself told of the growth of the Sunday School and the work of the society in general. The Sunday School is especially flourishing, the membership attendance having increased to between fifty and sixty, with a pronounced growth following the completion of the new hall and its adjacent garden.

— The Palo Altan, November 13, 1914.


Ewald Fluegel Memorialized by Karl Rendtorff (1914)

[The following is excerpted from remarks made by Karl Rendtorff at the memorial service for Ewald Fluegel, on Tuesday, November 17, 1914; Fluegel had died on the 14th.]

Ewald Fluegel, the eminent scholar, the faithful and inspiring teacher, the loving husband and father, the rare and loyal friend, has gone from us. Those who have known him feel that his place can never be filled.

Others here today are to speak of him in his relation to his university duties and to his church. I am to speak of Ewald Fluegel, the man, and what he meant to me as a friend. It is impossible for me to do this without becoming personal, for I am under the spell of that friendship which so enriched my life and to which his death has only given a different meaning.

Our acquaintance, which began on the day I first came here twenty-one years ago, soon ripened into friendship. It was during the pioneer days of our university and of our town and the inconveniences and even hardships that naturally go with pioneer days lead to the formation of friendships, friendships based upon real acquaintance with one another, upon mutual help and co-operation. In our case the fact that we were both foreigners in a strange land, that we spoke the same mother tongue, was a bond of sympathy from the very start. He was the only one in America with whom when speaking German I exchanged the friendly “thou.” …

Much in Fluegel’s life and character can be explained from his ancestry, his early environment. It was only natural that he, the son and grandson of a lexicographer, should become a philologist and lexicographer himself; the atmosphere of his father’s house in Leipzig gave him his scholarly habits and turn of mind; the close companionship which he held with his beloved mother for years gave him that almost feminine sympathy and intuition which was his; the musical life of his German native town gave him his enduring love for music; the great art galleries of Leipzig inspired him with enthusiasm for art in every form; Ludwig Richter, the painter of Saxon home life, Sebastian Bach, whose fugues he heard in the Thomas Kirche from childhood on, remained his favorites to the last. …

The cheerful optimism by which he helped not only himself but many others over the rough places in life did not desert him when dealing with human nature. He found something to interest him even in those people who to others had seemed hopelessly unattractive. I cannot say whether he merely idealized these people or whether, through the power of his own nature, he brought out in them qualities which none of us had discovered, but I know that scattered wide over California and throughout the world are people in all spheres of life who gratefully remember the encouragement and new grip on life which they gained from his faith in them.

With admirable courage and frankness, he stood up for what-ever he considered right or true. While his impulsiveness often led him to brusquely condemn opinions different from his own and while he sometimes in his judgment of people allowed personal prejudices to override his natural charitable inclinations, an appeal to his emotions, to his sympathy was never made in vain.

Another remarkable thing in his nature was that his joys in life were never only of the moment, in his memory they received a permanent place and a permanent value. He hoarded his joys and had, as his friend, Professor Anderson has said, “the faculty of drawing compound interest from them.”

A visit to his study revealed how closely he associated the past and the present. His study did not only contain his vast and wonderful library; it was a veritable museum. Every book, every picture or portrait, every keepsake recalled to his mind incidents and feelings of the past as vividly as though they were experiences of the moment. What they stood for were not always matters of importance in themselves, but they acquired for him significance as minute parts of a harmonious whole. Facts which to the outsider seemed separate and unrelated were in his being woven into a close fabric furnishing him a rich background for new experiences in mind and soul.

In his self-constructed world of images he lived and moved, from it he drew inspiration and hope, consolation and strength, and the reason why the European war proved so disastrous to his nature was, perhaps, because it found in the whole background of his life and thought nothing kin to it. Its brute force tore the delicate fabric of his philosophy of life.

If Ewald Fluegel was prodigal with friendship and love for those about him, he was also rich in the love given him. He has never lacked in appreciation and affection from friends. We may apply to him some words that he himself wrote about the great English scholar. Dr. Furnival, who had been to him a friend and an ideal. When Furnival passed away, Fluegel wrote: “Everywhere there are warm hearts who feel the loss, not only of a leader in English scholarship, but of a man whose like they will not see again. The memory of him will accompany them through life like a constant blessing.”

— as reprinted in The Pacific Unitarian (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), vol. 23, no. 3, Jan., 1915, p. 68-70.

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Above: Illustration from “The Outdoor Sunday School,” The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 24, no. 9, July, 1915 (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), pp. 238-239. The caption reads: “Pergola surrounding Garden in rear of Palo Alto Church.”

The Outdoor Sunday-School (1915)

When the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto built their Social Hall during the summer of 1914, the minister worked out a plan to construct a pergola around the unoccupied part of the lot belonging to the church, and lay out the ground as a garden to be used as the meeting place of the Sunday-school in pleasant weather.

The garden is fifty feet by seventy feet. By the pergola have been planted climbing roses and vines, which with careful attention have grown rapidly. On the Social Hall wistaria is growing and Boston ivy covers the side of the church which faces the garden.

In the center of the garden is a graveled court twenty-five feet by forty feet, where the Sunday-school may gather for their opening or closing exercises. A sand box in a corner of the garden is large enough for all members of the primary class to be in it at one time. Other classes meet in different places under the pergola.

One attractive feature of the garden is the fishpond and the fountain. During the session of the Sunday-school the fountain is always playing. Clumps of bamboo, a redwood and acacia trees, varied kinds of shrubbery and flowers, add to the charm of the garden. In one secluded nook is a collection of ferns, and in a corner of the court is a sun dial.

Around all the walks and the court hundreds of bulbs were planted in the fall of 1914, and during the past spring the garden attracted much attention by the beauty of the daffodils, tulips, narcissi, hyacinths, and Spanish iris. Recently a number of seedlings have been planted that will be in flower in the fall months.

The garden is not only a place of beauty but it is also an expression of love. One side of the pergola was given as a memorial to one of the founders of our society, who was a great lover of children. The sun dial was presented by one of the pupils, the concrete base on which it rests was made by a member of the adult class of the Sunday-school, and the fountain and fishpond by the parents of two of the pupils. Flowers, ferns and shrubbery, as well as money, have been freely given to help work out this plan. Most of the flowers and shrubbery have been planted by the minister in order to preserve unity in the plan and to secure mass effects.

One purpose of the outdoor Sunday school has been to discover the symbolism that will make religious ideals real to boys and girls. Ant and spider houses were constructed in order to teach industry by the observance of the habits of ants, and perseverance by the study of spiders. A bird’s nest in a rosebush has been guarded by the pupils as a sacred trust. A class of boys has been held spellbound by a graduate student of Stanford University, through the teaching of religious ideals by means of a series of experiments illustrating the great discoveries of science. Artist’s clay has been used to make a map of Palestine, and to build and Oriental house.

The results of these experiments in connection with the outdoor Sunday school have been to double the attendance, one-half of the pupils coming from families not previously interested in the church: to greatly increase the interest of the pupils in the lessons, and to develop a strong devotion to the Sunday-school.

— Rev. Clarence Reed, in The Pacific Unitarian (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), vol. 24, no. 9, July, 1915, pp. 238-239. This article was also reprinted in The Beacon, another Unitarian periodical.

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Above: Illustration from “The Outdoor Sunday School,” The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 24, no. 9, July, 1915 (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), pp. 238-239. The caption reads: “A Class of Girls and Boys not too Large to go to Sunday school.”


Prof. Rendtorff’s Farewell to Rev. Clarence Reed (1915)

[Rev. Clarence Reed resigned in 1915, delivered his final evening lecture on June 27, and preached his final sermon on June 29, 1915. On June 27, Karl Rendtorff spoke these words of farewell:]

The last of the many lectures you have given in this hall has come to a close, and I ask the privilege of telling you how deeply we regret your decision to leave us. The Board of Trustees has not delegated anyone to speak officially for the Church. We have not passed formal resolutions to present them to you beautifully engrossed on parchment. All of this is unnecessary, for what you have done for us speaks for itself.

You have been with us for six years. For six years you have had no other thought than the welfare of our little Church. Sunday after Sunday you have voiced in your sermons the principles for which the Unitarian Church stands and your own ideas and aims of religious life. And what you have preached you have practiced. Your sincerity and genuineness, your idealism and your optimism have made yon beloved among the members of our Church, they have made you a power in our community.

In your evening lectures you have given us with generous liberality the benefit of your wide travels and of your manifold studies and interests. Your lectures on art have opened to many the gateway for an appreciation of art in its various manifestations. They have taught that beauty is but the revelation of the Divine, that art, if truly understood, is not merely an ornament of our daily life, but a vital force.

You have worked with unceasing energy for the welfare of your ‘adopted child,’ the Sunday-school. The healthy growth of this branch of our Church bears witness to your efforts, and the love of our children will follow you wherever you go.

You have been our friend in our daily life. You have shared our joys and our sorrows. You have never failed us when we needed you. Your manliness and your sympathy have meant much for many a one among us.

We deeply regret that we have been unable to keep you among us. To you and your wife we extend our best wishes, trusting that whatever you may choose as your work may bring you the satisfaction of real success and the appreciation which your devotion to your work so richly deserves.

—Prof. Rendtorff’s words were reprinted in The Pacific Unitarian (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), vol. 24, no. 9, July, 1915, p. 241.


In Memoriam: Annie L. Corbert (1916)

Although Annie Corbert died after Clarence Reed resigned from Palo Alto, this brief memorial refers to the time when Reed was minister, and so is included in this section.

The Palo Alto church has lost recently in Mrs. Annie L. Corbert, one of its earliest and most devoted members. Throughout the history of the church there has been no more earnest nor un-selfish support than that given by Mrs. Corbert, whether in the Women’s Alliance, where her clear and logical mind has been a guide and balance, and her enthusiasm an encouragement at all times, or in the church councils and services in which her earnestness and conscientious attendance were a stimulus always.

To the church choir also her help was given, her voice (a clear true alto), in spite of advanced age, being always a power in the quartette singing, even to the time of her last illness. Devotion to music was indeed one of her strong characteristics.

Another special interest was that in the Post Office Mission work which she was obliged to carry practically alone for several years, and in which her accuracy and attention to detail where invaluable.

Mrs. Corbert’s public work was not, however, confined to the church alone. Since the early days of Palo Alto (at present twenty-five years old), the schools, the library, the Woman’s Club, Suffrage Club, Civic League, Peace Society and Historical Society — all of the fine public movements in the history of the young city have felt the stimulus and guidance of her keen and open mind, and the benefit of her clear, unbiased vision.

Mrs. Corbert was a woman of mature age at the time of coming West, Nantucket, Mass., having been her early home. Her time in the West has been divided between San Francisco and Palo Alto, both of which she loved, and with whose pioneer and energetic spirit she was in full harmony.

Her whole-hearted interest was given to the church of her choice and she saw in it hope for the social betterment of the future. Not many weeks before her death, she said to a close friend: “As a church we should ask ourselves, continually, What is the church for — are we doing something worthy, or are we marking time.” Again, “I have found that we must not judge people. Minds are different, and we must not condemn as unworthy that which does not suit our own ideas. I have not always realized this, but I know it now,” and “The human soul is a lonely thing. It must stand by itself at the last”.

— The Pacific Unitarian (San Francisco: Pacific Unitarian Conference), vol. 25, no. 10, Aug., 1916, p. 262.

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