First Unitarian Church of Rochester

The First Unitarian Church of Rochester is located at 220 Winton Road South, Rochester, New York, U.S. The congregation is one of the largest in its denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association. The non-creedal church conducts programs in the areas of spirituality, social concerns, music and arts.

The church was organized in 1829. In the 1840s it began attracting a group of social reformers from Quaker backgrounds, one of whom, Susan B. Anthony, became a leader of the women's suffrage movement. In 1848, two weeks after the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, a follow-up women's rights convention was organized at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester. A woman was elected to preside at this meeting, an act that was considered too daring even for some of the leaders of the emerging women's movement who were present.

Concern with social issues has been a recurring theme in the church's history. In the late 1800s the church provided evening classes and other activities for children in the church's low-income neighborhood. At the turn of the century, church members played leading roles in the campaign to open the University of Rochester to women and in the local, state and national campaigns for women's suffrage. In the 1930s the church provided office space for Planned Parenthood when other accommodations were difficult to find. In 1988 the church began providing classroom support to Rochester city schools. In 2006 the church initiated a program to improve the quality of life in a small township in Honduras. In 2009 it established a talk line to offer non-judgmental support to women who have had abortions.

First Unitarian's building was designed by Louis Kahn and completed in 1962. It was described as one of "the most significant works of religious architecture of the century" by Paul Goldberger, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning architectural critic. Its exterior is characterized by deeply folded brick walls created by a series of thin, two-story light hoods that shield windows from direct sunlight. The sanctuary's complex ceiling has light towers in each corner to bring in indirect natural light.

The story of the design process that Kahn followed at First Unitarian has been described as "almost classic in architectural history and theory". Kahn began by creating what he called a Form drawing to represent the essence of what he intended to build. He drew a square to represent the sanctuary, and around the square he drew concentric circles to indicate an ambulatory, a corridor and the church school. In the center he placed a question mark to represent his understanding that, in his words, "the form realization of Unitarian activity was bound around that which is Question. Question eternal of why anything."

Read more about First Unitarian Church Of Rochester:  Congregation, Beliefs and Programs

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