A History of Service
During the past 100 years, the church has maintained a commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of every person and to its ministry to the downtown community. Here’s a short list of some of our participation in community affairs:
- In April 1904, the church called the Rev. Anthony Mills, who encouraged women of the church to form the Good Cheer Club to visit the ill in their homes. They eventually added a nurse to the club to provide more professional help. This effort grew and spun off to become San José Visiting Nurses Association, an organization that existed through the 90’s.
- In 1906, the Revs. Mr. And Mrs. A.J. Cruzan were called to the church. With Mrs. Cruzan’s leadership, the church founded the first children’s Day Nursery in San José. When her husband resigned his post to assume district leadership, she served briefly as our church’s first woman minister until a new minister was called.
- During 1910-1915, the church supported a Santa Clara housing project for the unemployed and was very successful in securing jobs for many residents.
- In 1933, the church was one of the few voices that spoke out against the lynching and hanging, across the street in St. James Park, of the men accused of murdering 22-year-old department store heir Brooke Hart.
- The church was also one of the few voices of opposition to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Along with the Quakers, members of the church went down to the train depot from which the Japanese Americans were departing for the camps. They offered coffee, doughnuts, and more importantly, moral support.
- During the McCarthy era in June 1953, the California legislature passed a law that all agencies claiming tax exemption must sign a loyalty oath. The church protested to the tax board, arguing that the loyalty oath provision violated the First Amendment and the freedom of conscience and speech. The church joined six other Unitarian churches in California that decided not to sign the oath, and to pay taxes instead. When the issue finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1958, the court ruled in favor of the churches, and six months later the taxes were refunded.
- In 1965, under the leadership of the Rev. Sidney Peterman, who had organized a delegation of Unitarian ministers to go to Selma, Alabama, the church organized and funded a project that provided host families and summer jobs for black teens from Selma. This effort, while started by this church, broadened to become an interfaith and multiracial project.
- In the late 1960s, the church was part of an interfaith group that organized the Urban Food Organization to feed the hungry in downtown San José. For approximately six years, we provided the space (as well as food and volunteers) for the program, serving a daily meal to about 100 people. Today, the church is still an active participant in community efforts to serve the homeless, through providing meals at the Cecil White Center and Julian Street Inn shelters.
- In the early 1980s, the Rev. Bob Lehman, an active participant in the farm workers’ movement, and his wife, Helen Lehman, came to the church. Helen was one of the founders of City Lights theater company; several other church members were also active at its inception. Their first play was staged in our sanctuary. City Lights eventually moved to a space of its own and is still going strong.
- In 1986, the church declared itself a sanctuary for refugees fleeing the wars in Central America, and it has been active in supporting the legal rights, housing, and job needs of refugees. With the leadership of the Rev. Lindi Ramsden, this effort was eventually expanded into an interfaith community organization called CERCA (Comite Ellacuria para Refugiados de Centroamerica).
The church has shown long-standing support for the equal rights of gay and lesbian people, renting its building to the Metropolitan Community Church in the 1970s when other churches refused, housing Alcoholics Anonymous meetings serving the gay and lesbian community, and, in 1985, calling the Rev. Lindi Ramsden, the first openly lesbian minister to serve a Unitarian Universalist congregation in California. Under her leadership, the church has grown considerably and, in 1988, was awarded the prestigious O. Eugene Pickett Award for being the Unitarian Universalist church that showed the most outstanding growth in all aspects of church life.
In recent years, our church has also hosted senior citizen dances, the City Year (AmeriCorps), parent education and English as a Second Language classes, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, community arts events, community organizing, and much more.