This is the only sermon I’ve been able to find that was preached at the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, which existed from 1905 to 1934. It’s a sermon preached at the dedication of the new building of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, March 24, 1907. It was doubtless revised for publication, and then was printed in the Christian Register (later called the Unitarian Register) on April 25, 1907, pp. 465-466.
George Stone, who preached this sermon, was the first minister the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto ever had. He was actually the American Unitarian Association’s Field Secretary for the West coast, and part of his duties were planting new Unitarian churches; since Palo Alto was a college town, it was seen as a likely spot for a Unitarian congregation, and that’s doubtless why Stone went ot Palo Alto in 1905. He worked with the new Palo Alto congregation for about a year, until 1906, when they called their first settled minister, Sydney B. Snow. Evidence in the extant documents of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto show that they considered him their minister, even though he wasn’t a called minister. And in 1907, he returned to Palo Alto to preach the dedicatory sermon when their new building was complete.
But this sermon is of more than historical interest. True, we might not agree with some of the theology, and certainly the gender-specific language (e.g., “man” for “humankind,” male pronouns for the deity, etc.) now sounds dated. But Stone argues for the continual progress of organized religion; looking back at old forms of American religion, Stone says that our spiritual forebears “were passing through a stage of evolution which to us seems a sad one.” And he acknowledges that some day, he, too, will seem outdated: “Who knows but our descendants will look back upon the record of our lives with equal pity and tenderness?” Yet Stone has some powerful things to say about the purpose of public worship. A Unitarian congregation, says Stone, “stands for the solidarity of the race rather than for the single individual” — and yet, all these years later, we Unitarian Universalists are still overly individualistic, and reading Stone’s sermon might help us realize how far we have yet to go in our religious development.
“Public Worship” by Rev. George W. Stone
The mission of Unitarianism is to help mankind to a higher and more spiritual faith than it has had before; for Unitarianism is not a theology and a philosophy only, it is a life. It is, least of all, a negation or a denial of some other religion. It is a comprehensive religion, including the good in the older religions. No man is ready to become a Unitarian until he is able to do his own thinking. In order to be a Unitarian he may outgrow the old theologies, but he must not outgrow religion. Until he learns to use his freedom wisely, and not make it simply a license to reject everything he cannot understand, until then, he may not be orthodox, but he is not necessarily a Unitarian, for Unitarianism is a positive faith. It believes that love is the only divine power in the universe, and that at last all mankind will grow into it, that the process of man’s development from the animal, through the human, into the spiritual, is now going on, that it will one day be completed.Continue reading “A 1907 Unitarian sermon from Palo Alto”