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175 years of Solemn worship - First Unitarian Church marks milestone

With great fanfare, one of the oldest congregations in the borough – the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn (First Unitarian Church), originally organized in a Brooklyn Heights living room in 1833 – celebrated its 175th anniversary.

The church has long been known as a “Beacon of Liberal Religion” and many clergy and members have been local and national leaders in important issues over the years.

The Rev. Dr. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, preached at a special service before a large congregation comprised of present and former First Unitarian members, in addition to many clergy and guests from other congregations.

The Rev. Bruce Southworth of the UU Community Church in Manhattan extended greetings from the six other UU churches in New York City, and Rabbi Serge Lippe of the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue spoke as a representative of the Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association.

A major part of the service was the congregation’s ordination of the Rev. Greg Jude Geiger, its current minister of Religious Education. As part of the ceremony, the Rev. Dr. Barry Andrews of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, LI, led the clergy and the congregants in the symbolic Laying On Of Hands.

At the Sunday service, the church’s senior minister, the Rev. Dr. Patrick O’Neill, preached on “Keep Bright the Flame,” recognizing the long and illustrious history of the congregation, which worships in the historic 1844 church designed by Minard Lafever.

Saturday night’s special dinner and play also highlighted the congregation’s history, with characters such as founding members Seth Low and Alfred T. White, and well-known ministers Samuel Longfellow (brother of Henry Wadsworth), John Howland Lathrop, who was a worldwide leader for peace in the 1930s and 1940s, and Donald W. McKinney, the Senior Minister Emeritus, who was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and helped to develop New York State’s “right to die” law under the Cuomo Administration.

Others featured included Walt Whitman, who covered events at the church for the Brooklyn Eagle, and Celia Burleigh, the first woman ordained into Unitarian ministry in the 19th century.

The First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn is located at 50 Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights. For more, go to

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