I have debated and debated about starting a blog offering my Unitarian Universalist perspective as a minister in Mississippi. There have been many things that have been happening in Mississippi that when they occurred, I thought, I have some thoughts about that.
First things first, I suppose, my username serenityhome is a loose translation of my birth name, Fred L Hammond. Fred is my full first name and means peace. L, well that is another story but it is my full middle name and therefore does not have a period after it since it is not an abbreviation. Hammond means home on a hill. Hence my username.
There are currently six Unitarian Universalist congregations in Mississippi. I currently serve two of them. I am half time in Jackson and half time in Ellisville. The other congregations in the state are located in Oxford, Tupelo, Hattiesburg, and Gulfport. The congregation in Ellisville is the oldest at 102 years.
Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church in Ellisville was founded in 1906 by Orange Herrington and family. It was a Universalist congregation. When Orange heard about Universalism he said that he would form a congregation in Ellisville even if it had to be in “our home” and thus the congregation began.
Gulfport and Jackson rival each other for being the next oldest. I am not sure which congregation has that claim. Both were started during what is called the Fellowship era in the late 1940’s /1950’s of the Unitarian Church, then known as the Association of Unitarian Church of America (AUA).
The Gulfport congregation is the only other congregation that currently has at least half-time professional ministry. They have been rebuilding themselves after Hurricane Katrina. They lost many of their members to other states after this ill-fated historic event. They are a hardy bunch and I am confident that they will continue to rebound to surpass their pre-Katrina state. Their story in the aftermath of Katrina is one way too familiar in Mississippi and Louisiana.
The Jackson congregation, which I am more familiar with its story, began in 1951 when the AUA contacted some faculty at Milsaps College about setting up a liberal religious presence in response and in support of the civil rights movement taking form throughout the south. The congregation was among the first in Jackson to be integrated. Its first minister was Rev. Donald Thompson who served the congregation in the mid-1960’s. He was active in the civil rights movement and was critically wounded by sniper fire by members of the KKK in August of 1965. This was just several months after Unitarian Rev. James Reeb was killed in Selma for his participation in the voting registration protests there. Rev. Thompson survived and returned to serve the congregation, only to have renewed death threats aimed not just at him but against other people as well because of his presence in Jackson. He left the state in December of 1965.
I know very little about the congregations in Hattiesburg, Oxford and Tupelo. Hattiesburg celebrated their tenth anniversary this year. Oxford is a few years older than Hattiesburg. Tupelo is the newest affiliated congregation with the UUA. You may find more information about the Unitarian Universalist congregations in Mississippi by going to www. uums.org
In future posts, I will write more about my reflections on Unitarian Universalism and Mississippi.
Rev. Fred L Hammond