For an excellent summary of general Unitarian Universalist history, please read Unitarian Universalist Origins: Our Historic Faith by Mark W. Harris.
The history of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and Fellowship is a story of repeatedly making the apparently impossible possible, of overcoming insurmountable odds. It should be told, so that everyone may share in the sense of continuity, growth, responsibility and accomplishment that those who have been part of our history feel keenly. Our present-day congregation has its roots in a romance and marriage in the late 1940s.
Our beginnings trace back to the marriage of a Jewish woman and a Methodist man. Each wished for a religion that would fill their spiritual needs yet was not imposed — as it were — by one upon the other.
On their honeymoon trip, this couple stopped at the American Unitarian Association office at 25 Beacon Street in Boston, Massachusetts (25 Beacon Street was also the home of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1961 to 2014 — the Unitarian Universalist Association has subsequently moved to 24 Farnsworth Street in Boston’s Innovation District).
Here, they picked up literature and information about Unitarianism. They brought this information back with them to Shreveport and–after some discussion with their friends–they then arranged a meeting with a Unitarian representative from Boston.
This first meeting took place during 1948 in the Washington-Youree Hotel. After this first meeting, a handful of people began meeting in the home of the late Phillip Lieber, the father of the bride. By 1950, there was enough interest to create a fellowship (a smaller lay-led congregation formally affiliated with the American Unitarian Association).
The church we know today as All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church was born.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, this liberal religious movement continued–some years with slight ups and some years with slight downs in interest, membership, and attendance. The congregation met in many diverse locations: the old Junior League House on Azalea Drive, the old playhouse at Centenary College, the Beck Building in downtown Shreveport, and–by 1956–the old B’Nai Zion Temple. At B’Nai Zion, we thought we had found a permanent home at last. However, this dream lasted for only six weeks. The old Temple building was sold to the Knights of Columbus. Then a house for our meetings and worship was found on 626 Jordan Street for the price of $100.00 a month. But this location was short-lived also. Phillip Lieber challenged us to raise any amount of money up to $7,500.00, and he would match our funds so we could buy our own land and eventually our own building. The congregation met this challenge and we were blessed with a location for our first building.
Our first building was formally dedicated on 27 January 1959 while we hosted a meeting of the ministers in the Southwest Unitarian Conference. The location of our first building was on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway and was designed by Meleton and Massey. The young architects viewed our building as a challenge by making our money stretch along with supplying a building that combined the best of ecclesiastical tradition with modern design. They came up with the first A-frame church structure in Shreveport, and their design won an award from the Gulf States Architectural Honor Awards Competition.
For a while, we were content to enjoy our lay-led worship services and religious education for children and youth. Some of us wanted to transition from a lay-led fellowship to becoming a church with a full-time minister, but most felt that this was a dream for the distant future rather than a present-day goal. However, in 1973, we took this next step of congregational growth seriously. Searching for a minister took longer than we hoped and there were many unsuspected setbacks, but our habit of doing the impossible prevailed yet again. On 9 May 1975, the Rev. Burton Carley (currently the Minister Emeritus
of the First Unitarian Church of Memphis, TN) was installed as our first minister at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.
As the 1970s passed into the 1980s, the church continued to grow–not just in number of members but also in spiritual consciousness. In 1984, the Rev. Bart Gould replaced Rev. Carley. Our congregation experienced growing pains as we moved from our former Shreveport-Barksdale Highway location to our present location on Ellerbe Road. During this time, our membership rose above 300 members including people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds. In 1999, Rev. Gould resigned from his post as Senior Minister at All Souls and we resumed our lay-led status with a membership of roughly 200 members.
We, the congregation of All Souls, covenant to create a sanctuary where we can explore, express, and fulfill our spiritual lives. We value our diversity, knowing that each of us perceives and responds differently to the reality that many of us call God. We open ourselves to any source that inspires us to intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth. We see doubt and trust as virtues in our open-ended search for religious truth. We cherish our spiritual freedom to feel, to risk, to choose, and to think. We uphold the right and responsibility of each of our members to determine their own beliefs and to live them with conviction. We seek to unite heart and head, science and spirituality, humanity and nature in our search for truth and meaning. We share a common sense of responsibility for our church family where we freely commit our time, talents, and treasure. Having benefited from the sacrifices of those who went before us, we gladly convenant to provide a home for this and future generations who follow the path of liberal religion.
We are committed to putting our values to work in the world. We feel called to this mission by personal conviction and compassion. We may follow paths set by spiritual guides from all traditions. We are sustained in our endeavor by our personal visions, our mutual support for one another, and the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful which many of us call God. In our dealings with others, we seek to lead by example. We respect the dignity and worth of all people. We welcome diverse viewpoints. We encourage a free and open search for truth. We use and advocate nonviolent means of conflict resolution. We nurture, educate, and empower others. We acknowledge our responsibility for the interconnected web of being which sustains our lives. We commit our time, talents, and treasures to make peace, harmony and justice on Earth a reality for all people.
In August 2004, our newly called interim minister, Rev. Angeline Theisen, arrived and we continued our spiritual journey with the companionship of an ordained minister and to assist us in preparing the way for a settled minister. Rev. Theisen departed from All Souls in July 2005 when we called Rev. Lyn Oglesby to be our settled minister in August 2005. In January 2008, Rev. Oglesby departed All Souls and we resumed our lay-led status with Chaplain Barbara Jarrell serving as our worship leader.
In May 2011, we achieved two milestones.
As a congregation, we voted to become a “Welcoming Congregation” (a Unitarian Universalist denominational program for congregations that have done additional study and discernment around issues related to bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender equality).
We also have ordained our long-serving Chaplain. Rev. Barbara Jarrell is now serving as our minister.
In December 2020, we have achieved another milestone. Our members voted to ratify the proposed 8th Principle to inform and support the anti-oppression and social justice work of All Souls.
Please come join us at All Souls to be a part of these changes and to make the future happen at All Souls.
(Adapted by Stephen R. Caldwell from the Forward in Food for All Souls, a Cookbook by the Members of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church)
(Updated – 20 May 2022)