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History of Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religious tradition that was formed from the consolidation of two religions: Unitarianism and Universalism. The Universalist Church of America, was founded in 1793, and the American Unitarian Association in 1825. 


Since the merger of the two denominations in 1961, Unitarian Universalism has nurtured its Unitarian and Universalist heritages to provide a strong voice for social justice and liberal religion. Unitarian Universalists congregations covenant to affirm and promote seven principles and a 8th Principle has been adopted by more than 200 congregations, including Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater. UU congregations also share a 'living tradition' of spirituality and wisdom, drawn from many sources.

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Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater

In 1951, eighteen people founded a Unitarian fellowship, which in 1959 was incorporated as the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater. The following year the congregation purchased five acres of land on Nursery Road. In 1963, we dedicated the building (now called the Social Hall), added a school wing, and built the manse (later leased to the Zen Center). In 1980, the UUC Foundation was incorporated and funded with the proceeds from the sale of a donation of vacant land.


Between 1982 and 1984, the congregation broke ground for a new sanctuary (now called the Octagon), completed it, and dedicated it. The building includes gallery space for displays by local artists and UUC members.  In 1998 we paid the mortgage in full. In 2001, we changed our name from "Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater, Inc." to "Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Inc."














{Octagon's Front Doors}



A community garden, now called Beacon Food Forest Garden, was established in 2010 at the north section of our property.


In 2012, member Dr. Vansant Surti gave a generous gift of $250,000 as seed money for the expansion and upgrade of the Religious Education and Social Hall spaces. After a necessary hold on planning during a transition in ministry, the congregation launched the Beacon Project and by January 2017 had successfully raised $400,000 to fully fund the construction. The groundbreaking in May 2017 kicked off the building stage and in May 2018 the Community Center and Surti Hall held a gala to celebrate the grand opening.


In 2020, a generous anonymous donor provided $20,000 for a new digital sign on Nursery Road. The sign was erected in 2021.

Ministers at UUC

Rev. Dr. Horace Westwood (1952-1956)

Rev. Frank E. Smith (1957-1966)

Rev. Richard J. Norsworthy (1967-1972)

Rev. Wilbur Ingram (1973-1977)

Rev. John Burciaga (1977-1997)

Rev. Caroline Fenderson (religious education minister) (1981-1983)

Rev. Jan Knost (interim minister) (1997-1998)

Rev. Susanne Nazian (1998)

Rev. Abhi Janamanchi (1999-2013)

Rev. Millie Rochester (associate minister) (2005-2009)

Rev. Bill Welch (interim associate minister) (2009-2010)

Rev. Nicholas Ozuna (ministerial intern) (2010)

Rev. Rachel Christensen (ministerial intern) (2012-2014)

Rev. Dr. Anthony P. Johnson (interim minister) (2013-2015)

Rev. Patrice Curtis (2015-2019)

Rev. Dave Franks (pulpit and pastoral care minister) (2020-2021)

Rev. Roberta Finkelstein (transitional minister) (2020-2022)

Rev. Amy Kindred (developmental minister) (2022-present)

Patti Hanks (ministerial intern) (2023)


Click HERE to view UUC's 50-year history.

Octagon's Front Doors

Social Justice History

In the 1950s, there was no formal committee on social concern, but rather individual members were involved in organizations such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross, United World Federalists, and the Clearwater Association for Mental Health. Mrs. Julia Childs, secretary for three years, stated that Unitarians were the backbone of the United World Federalists and the mental health group. 


The UUC archives note that in the mid-1950s, a community service project gave about 1,000 books to three black elementary schools in Pinellas County, at a time when public schools were segregated and certainly not equal. In 1957 the recently formed Women's Alliance collected over 500 pounds of clothing and bedding, which was shipped to the Unitarian Service Committee for distribution to Hungarian refugees.

In the late 1950s, a group of members went to Clearwater City Hall to speak up for the "Greenwood Ghetto"; an African-American residential area in Clearwater. During this time the church also became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, offering draft counseling and considering sanctuary for conscientious objectors.

The 1960s brought many changes to the Clearwater fellowship. In 1958 it became the First Unitarian Church of Clearwater and in 1961 the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater. Under the leadership of the Rev. Frank Edwin Smith, a group of Unitarian Universalists created a formal standing committee—the Social Responsibility Committee—to develop a program for the education and inspiration of conscience.

Although the 1960s was a time of many issues, the civil rights movement and desegregation dominated the landscape of social concern in Florida. In 1966 the Rev. Richard Norsworthy became the minister and participated with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the famous voting rights campaign in Selma, Alabama. 

Members of the congregation continued social justice activism in the 1970s through 1990s under the leadership of the Rev. Wilbur Ingram and the Rev. John Burciaga. In 1968 the UU Church of Clearwater became a charter member—one of twenty-five Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and other faith groups—of Religious Community Services (RCS), to help the homeless and hungry in our community. 

Several times during the 1980s and 1990s the UU Church of Clearwater hosted and participated in anti-racism workshops. In 1991, it was one of the first congregations to go through the Welcoming Congregation program to assure lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people full membership in our faith community. The church formed a sister church relationship with a Unitarian Church in Kohalom, Transylvania (Romania), which later became part of the Partner Church Program. Individuals in the congregation continued to take on leadership in many social service agencies in Clearwater and the ministers continued to speak out on issues of human rights, the separation of church and state and the
peace movement. 


In 1997 Rev. Burciaga resigned as minister and Rev. Jan Knost served as interim minister until 1999. During this time, the congregation was rebuilding after a tumultuous time that resulted in a schism in the congregation. Our social concerns program needed time to rebuild.   

In 1999, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi became the minister and the Social Concerns Committee benefited from his active participation. In 2001 the church changed its name to Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater. At that point, the focus of the social justice group started to change from service work to systemic change, and in 2003 it changed its name to Social Justice Committee. The next major structural change followed in 2010 when it was renamed the Social Justice Council in order to make better use of our resources and meet the needs of a diverse congregation and community.

In 2012, the congregation became a certified Green Sanctuary in recognition of its strong environmental justice ministry, including the establishment of a permaculture vegetable garden. The following year, UUC received the 2013 Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action, which Dr. James R. Bennett instituted in 1999 to honor a Unitarian Universalist congregation that has done exemplary work in social justice. The $500 award accompanying it was
presented at General Assembly. In July of that year, UU World featured an article on UUC’s longstanding and significant social justice work.


Rev. Patrice Curtis became the UUC minister in the fall of 2015. With her support, there was a renewed focus on racial justice work and the formation of a Black Lives Matter Committee. The Social Justice Council is currently composed of representatives of committees that concentrate on specific areas of UUC’s social justice work, including racial, environmental, and worker justice. The council coordinates the work done in committees and handles council-wide work; among these are staffing the Social Justice table on Sundays, giving reports at Sunday services, managing Share the Plate and other philanthropic funds, encouraging social justice organizations to use UUC facilities, and making decisions about new initiatives brought to the council.

In 2018, Rev. Dr. Susan-Frederick Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, visited UUC to preach. She also joined UUC members and other Unitarian Universalists in the area to participate in phone banking, the purpose of which was to advocate for the passage of an amendment to the Florida Constitution to restore the voting rights of felons who had completed their sentencing requirements. The amendment was approved, although implementation has been stymied by court rulings.

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