1915-1945, Two World Wars and the Great Depression Test Our Mettle
At the church's 25th Anniversary Celebration, September 1916, Rev. C.S. Dutton of the San Francisco church titled his sermon "A Transfigured Church." He was probably speaking of all Unitarian churches, the Berkeley church included. Events and changes in people's thinking generally seemed to make this a turning point in the church's history. A leveling off of growth was reached, and it was difficult to maintain an average plateau of existence.
1915-1921 - Rev. Harrold Speight
Harrold Speight, selected from three well-qualified candidates, came to Berkeley from Vancouver, Canada in October 1915, an English citizen. He got busy immediately. In his first ten months, he included 435 calls on parishioners, finding 309 of them at home. The statement was abroad: "Maintenance of a strong liberal church in this university center is important," and Speight concurred.
His salary was increased to $200 a month and an assistant, Harley Begin, seminary student, was hired at $100 a month. Especially when he accompanied the young men to outings at Inverness, Speight was called "Spaytie," shocking many members. In 1916, the Unitarian Club of Berkeley voted itself out of existence, to be succeeded by the Laymen's League, Hosmer Chapter. The League paid $1,000 a year toward the minister's salary, for work done among the students on campus. Not advocating free speech as the church does today, it petitioned UC to "restrain or suppress" the student magazine, which was ridiculing the Law Dean, Chair of our Board of Trustees, with "Father William" cartoons and many editorials.
The church hired the first custodian to live on the premises, and added to the salaried staff a Religious Education Director, at $60 a year. New hymnals were purchased. Speight urged changing the name to "Unity Church" and adding some sacraments, but both of his proposals failed. The Board decided "henceforth memorials yes, memorial plaques no."
Soon Speight became chairman of Berkeley's Red Cross Chapter and organized other chapters. Next, he was sent to France to do some special work, taking a six-month leave, and was followed by Begin, who went into the Ambulance Corps. Church members rolled bandages, sewed, knitted, sent contributions to Belgian Relief. For several years, the church sent $100 a year to a sister church in Transylvania, in the village of Homovoijfalfa.
In the fall of 1918, the influenza epidemic raged and our church was closed. Hospitals were filled, and everyone who could helped out. Though rarely making political resolutions, the congregation, in 1920, vigorously protested the massacres of Armenian people, sending the protest to the President, California members of Congress, and the Near East Relief Agency.
Eventually, the war ended, most who had left for it returned, and the U.S. refused to join the League of Nations. Another East Coast church hired a good man away, and "to our sorrow," Speight left for King's Chapel in Boston.
1922-1925 - Dr. Robert French Leavens
Dr. Robert Leavens, with his wife and eight-year-old daughter, came promptly from Omaha on a six-month "minister-in-charge" trial basis and they stayed. Leavens had requirements, which were complied with. One was that couples to be married must have medical examinations - perhaps another Unitarian first. It made a splash in the newspapers. Another of Leavens' requirements was that a lay assistant must be hired as secretary, custodian, gardener, publicity person and record keeper, at a salary of $100 a month. It proved an excellent investment. The Laymen's League withdrew its $1,000 a year for on-campus work, but there was no crisis this time - members' war prosperity continued in cities, though farm prosperity did not.
Reported in the 1922 Annual Meeting: 70 students, 4 to 20 years of age; 209 members; 340 in parish; 140 average Sunday attendance. Dignified Dr. Leavens spent some time with the young men at Inverness, where they called him "Skipper," again annoying many members. Times were changing.
In the spring of 1925, the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley and other Unitarian churches in the East Bay cooperated with AUA in sponsoring a "Preaching Mission." Rev. Horace Westwood, later our minister, managed the mission. A former Catholic priest spoke at eight meetings in seven days, first in the large Oakland church, then, because crowds were so large, in the Oakland Auditorium. However, no one ever noticed any results in the signed-the-book members.
More Evidence of Changing Times
In 1923, an old friend, Rev. R. Dodson, from Alameda's First Church, gave a series of nine lectures on "The New Psychology." At that early time, it was amazing and the newspapers scooped it up, printing all nine: "The diagnoses of the new medical psychology are far truer than Calvinism." "Science explains the tendencies in human nature that have been called 'original sin'." "The Puritan therapeutics of mere repression are wrong, cause civil war in human nature, make life one long fight." Titles of talks included: "Relation of Religion to the Sub-Conscious," "New Astronomy and the Idea of God," and "Biology and Kinship of Life."
After an extended leave of absence in 1925, Speight did not return to the church. At this time, the Channing Club, unable to create club rooms in the church basement, borrowed tools and pooled resources and gifts of lumber, and built a cabin at Inverness on land owned by member Everett Dempster. He took the necessary legal steps to make the church "holders" of the property. Later, he and his family gave this property to the church.
Also, that fall, a new organization, young people past the age of Channing Club members and calling themselves the Inverness Club, asked permission to meet. They were the equivalent of the present Singles Group. For many years, it was a sizable and vigorous organization but a constant vexation to the church because its members demonstrated no particular interest in the church. In America, as in all post-war European societies, there was a certain rebelliousness among young people and it continued to some degree for twenty years. Finally, two ministers later, the group, then calling itself the Emerson Club, resigned in a body from the church.
1926-1932 - Dr. Eldred C. Vanderlaan
Dr. Eldred Vanderlaan was a good speaker, a well-known Humanist and a Socialist who was sometimes called a Communist. (But so were other liberal, progressive ministers, including the notable Dr. Ernest Fremont Tittle of the large First Methodist Church of conservative Evanston, Illinois.)
Before Vanderlaan began, Dean Wilbur of the seminary announced that Vanderlaan had been elected to the Chair of Church History and the seminary would pay $2,000 of his salary. Because he would be serving two masters, the church commitment dropped from $3,000 to $2,000 and his total salary was $4,000. The following year, as the stock market boomed, the church had $1,000 left over and agreed to split it with him.
But as Vanderlaan focused on his Humanist sermons ("too intellectual, not inspiring enough" except perhaps to the Humanists in the congregation), church programs died and too many members stayed away. As the Great Depression deepened, his seminary salary stopped and church income was strained. A strong voice, Constance Daggett, advocated and sternly led every-member canvasses. She also inaugurated a memorial fund program that brought in $750 a year.
In a desperate effort to help minister and church, the Board authorized a large Church Council...there were tumultuous all-congregation meetings...at one point, the whole Board resigned...Eventually, in December 1932, Vanderlaan resigned.
In the midst of these hungry times, a check for $10 came "to take care of the wisteria vine," a church trademark known throughout Berkeley. Vines, shrubs, flowers and redwoods, which always enhanced the church, became one continuing note of cheer.
Dr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, who grew up in the church, became the first woman president of a major college (Mills in Oakland). She held "dual membership" in the Berkeley and Oakland churches and preached frequently in both. Our church especially needed a close-by and integral Sunday School facility and the University needed more land...relocation of the church was mentioned for the first time.
The church was without a minister for a whole year in 1933. Highlight of that year was a series of twelve forums. Notables such as John Hayes Holmes, Richard and Ella Cabot and Dr. Henry Newmann spoke to audiences of 500 and 600, with net proceeds of $50.58. Did it help the church of the church's prestige in the community? Members hoped so, but wondered.
1934-1945 - Dr. Horace Westwood
Dr. Horace Westwood had impressed the membership when he managed the Preaching Mission in 1925. He arrived with a long list of requirements and, as one member observed, "ideas to burn." He wanted "an atmosphere of worship...definite objectives...young people attending services...make ours the Cathedral Church of the area...courses on Unitarianism and its history...regular pamphleteering and advertising...attendance because of convictions and church's worthiness..." Most of these, he explained, would be accomplished by volunteers while he focused on sermons.
At the end of his first year, Westwood, discouraged, scolded the congregation: "Lack of a sense of churchmanship...audience psychology rather than congregation psychology...subject matter as implied in sermon topics rather than attendance based upon the desire for fellowship and a feeling of abiding loyalty..." etc., etc. How many more scoldings were given is not recorded, except that a particularly severe blast was mailed to the members in January of 1940.
To these, Board member Frank Lawrence responded: "All that he has said, we find familiar in our own questionings...scolding doesn't make a member worshipful...perhaps we don't understand what is happening inside our members when they come to church...allowing our members to be honestly what they are is the only way we can get anywhere..."
In the fall of 1936, members learned that the orthodox churches were following their lead, becoming more liberal, thus more competitive. The church records for the eleven years are dull, focusing on financing. AUA's Building Loan Fund sent another $6,000 to add to this $1,500 debt already owed, again the "hope this is the last." The whole Unitarian denomination, the church was told in 1941, was at its lowest ebb in this century.
World War II came and went and at this time, the church helped with canteens and with the Red Cross. All were very difficult years. Westwood tried hard but was not in tune with the times. He especially did not understand young people, nor they him. Early in 1945, Westwood left for the Charleston, South Carolina church where he promptly had a wish fulfilled: a new letterhead said it was "The Cathedral Church of the South."
That our church persisted and survived is a special tribute to the members and leaders. The different groups continued to be active: the Elliot Club for highschoolers; the Channing Club for college and recent graduates; a chapter of AUA's Young Peoples Religious Union. The Laymen's League continued, reaching its peak of 95 members (men) later. The Women's Alliance (formerly the Women's Auxiliary) was as solid, industrious and dependable as ever.
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