Congregational History

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The first Unitarian minister in St. Louis was William Greenleaf Eliot. Having just graduated from Harvard Divinity School at the age of 23, Eliot was persuaded to come to the frontier town of St. Louis to organize a Unitarian Church.

William Greenleaf EliotWilliam Greenleaf EliotEliot's sense of duty and commitment was strong. He said ". . . if I come, I come to remain, and to lay my ashes in the Valley of the Mississippi." By unflagging religious leadership and community service, he helped shape the history of St. Louis in ways that endure to this day. He died here in 1887.

Eliot founded the Church of the Messiah, the first Unitarian church west of the Mississippi—and the predecessor of our church—in 1835. In 1868 a second Unitarian congregation, the Church of the Unity, was founded with the assistance of Eliot and the Church of the Messiah. These two churches merged in 1938 to form the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis.

With members of his congregation, Eliot founded Washington University in 1853; he was its first President and third Chancellor. In its early years, the University was maintained almost entirely through the beneficence of Unitarians.

Elliot plaqueBesides the University, ministers and members of this church have been instrumental in the founding of many other institutions, including the St. Louis Public Schools, the Art Museum, Mission Free School, South Side Day Nursery, Social Health Association, Mary Institute, and the St. Louis Urban League.

As one of the first and most important churches in the Western Unitarian Conference, this church was instrumental in the expansion of liberal religion in the Midwest and in the creation of new churches in the St. Louis area.

Today, by expressing our beliefs in action we aspire to continue the faith of Eliot who said to his congregation more than a century ago, “The past has much for which we may be reasonably grateful, but the future must and will have better things in store.”

To see a list of Ministers of the St. Louis Unitarian Line click here.

First Unitarian Church maintains an Archive, available by appointment only. We collect all materials related to Unitarianism in the St. Louis area and specifically to the Church of the Messiah, the Church of the Unity, and First Unitarian Church of St Louis. Some of the more important record groups include American Unitarian Directors and Associate Directors, (1917-1961); Unitarian Universalist Directors and Associate Directors, (1961- ): Weekly Bulletins, (1904- ); minutes of the Board of Trustees, membership books, and records of births, deaths, and marriages, (1835- ); ministerial correspondence and sermons; architectural plans and photos: records of organizations within the churches; and Mission Free School records and history. Contact the church archivist through (email hidden; JavaScript is required)

or call the church office (314-361-0595) to make arrangements.

Honor Roll

Suzanne Meyer