So what is this Mountain Desert District (MDD) anyway?
It is more than 50 UU congregations in eight states, grown in closeness 30 years of workshops, and other gatherings.
We are a district which measures distances in hours rather than in miles.
Until 1990, the Mountain Desert District was made up of two official bodies; the Rocky Mountain Area Conference and the Desert Conference.
The American Unitarian Association had a strong national office and divided the countly into regions, several unwieldy in size. Colorado Unitarians, for instance, were members of the Western Unitarian Conference which covered most of the central United States from Western New York and Pennsylvania to Salt Lake City.
The Universalist Church of America was organized in state conventions. First Universalist Church in Denver, the only congregation of the denomination in the entire region, stood alone. Although there were many hundreds of Universalist churches in the 19th century Midwest, migration further west was not as intense.
Prior to 1960, the year of the Unitarian Universalist merger, the two denominations had quite different forms of institutional of the UUA.
We are a people who gather in many communities as Unitarian Universalists. Some of us have developed a strong UU identity over long years; others, new to this family of faith, are not certain what it means to know ourselves as Unitarian Universalists. Like all families, DUs have many branches.
This district is an administrative structure within the larger association of Unitarian Universalist congregations in North America. But it is also our branch of the family tree. and defines our cultural within the larger UU tradition. In the mountain and desert west, the geography and the course of our have developed in us unique characteristics, some warm and open, a few and frustrating.
In these pages we attempt to relate some of our MDD past, to convey the vitality of our present, and to imaging the future. The tales and information included here have been gathered from scores of sources. They tell of faith, and persistence, heros, and socundrels; they tell of our work and our vision, our failures. Their accuracy is as dependable as membor and point of view allow. Thanks to all of you who have shared the adventures of our past and the hope of our future with use . - Ruth Hucks & Nan Hobart, eds.
This is a tale of our religious roots, of the people and events -- some legendary, some even factual -- that planted and nurtured our movement for some 150 or so documented years in this region of sand and cactus, blue sky and high country. Colorful figures began the Unitarian and Universalist trek west. The came with the discovery of gold and silver. They came with the construction of the railroad. In the 1840's Fracis Parkman, scion of an aristocratic Boston Unitarian family, found his way to the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River -- th site that would soon become Denver. He was tareling and gathering notes for his history, The Oregon Trail.
The Mountain Ute Tribe was visited in 1871 by the Rev. Jabez Nelson Trask. The Harvard School graduate was sent by Massachusetts Unitarians to serve as government agent to the tribe at Los Pinos, near Gunnison, Colorado. during that period many Protestant denominations pressured the U.S. government into allotting official posts to missionaries. Extremely confident of his righteousness and comfortably narrow in his view, Trask did not get along with the Utes, though they found him a great source of amusement because of his customary garb: large green goggles and flared trousers. Neglecting to spend any of the monies granted for the benefit of the Ute, Trask was removed from his post after one year. Following Mr. Trask was one General Charles Adams, whom the New England Unitarians were horrified learn was a Roman Catholic. Through political shenanigans the good general, well-liked the Ute, was soon succeeded by the Unitarian, Rev. Henry Bond. Mr. Bond left quickly when a shortage in the cattle fund was uncovered; he resurfaced in Wyoming in the late 1870s
In the 1830s and 1840s, the American Unitarian Association realized that attention needed to be paid to liberal religion in the rapidly expanding West. "The Frontier," defined in those times as anything west of the Allegheny Mountains, was demanding ministers for its new congregations, but Harvard was unable to provide enough graduates even for New England pulpits. In 1844 a school to train ministers "ready to preach in a church or a shed or a canal boat" (James Freeman Clarke, 1840) was founded at Meadville, Pennsylvania.
In 1852 the Western Conference included cities as far-flung as Buffalo, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Denver, and Salt Lake City. The independent attitudes of westerners was welcoming to the less traditional philosophy of the post-Civil War leadership of the Conference which stressed an ethical foundation for faith with no requirement of a creedal acceptance of theism.
The Secretary of the WUC during the time of Unitarian expansion to the Mountain West was Jenkin Jones. The Rev. Mr. Jones not only supported the birth of MDD's oldest Unitarian congregations, he was instmmental in bringing women ministers to the region. during the period from the late 1870s until the turn of the century, more than twenty Unitarian and Universalist women served churches across the prairies and plains. Although the Western Unitarian Conference no longer exists within the UUA, a body with representatives from all the districts of the old WUC continues to meet as the Midwest Unitarian Universalist Conference (MUUC). The most important task of the group is to distribute the earnings from funds remaining from the WUC and from the old Universalist Conferences of the region. A portion of our District revenue comes from this source MUUF (Midwest UU Foundation). Jenkins Lloyd Jones 2 Union up north on the had been founded by 1869, with a built Unitarian church in place shortly after. The colony would in time be renamed Greeley, to honor Universalist and benefactor Horace Greeley, the New York publisher. Although the church would these Iiberal colonists founded the forerunner of the University of Northern Colorado. Unitarian Universalism in Greeley was reborn in 1961 when two couples went door-to-door and advertised in the Greeley Tribune to stir interest. Today, the sixty member congregation has its own building and a five-year goal of a new home and a full-time minister. Meanwhile, Denver's Unity Church (First Unitarian Soci¬ety) was meeting for the first time in May, 1871, with the Rev. 1.E. Beckwith, newly ordained, of Boston, who became the congregation's first minister. Incorporated in August of that year, Unity met at several sites, including the Baptist's "Dugout," before building the first of its three structures. The first Unity Church was described as "resembling the average public library with streaks of variations." The financial storms of the 1870s threatened the young congregation until the Ladies Aid sponsored a series of city-wide "sociables." Freshly prepared food was made possible by transporting the Belden family stove to the festive site.
Posted Thursday, 04 February 2010 15:25 Written by Jess Cullinan