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Looking Back - September/October 2000

UU Publishing Roots Grow Deep
By John Hurley

The magazine you read now directly descends from two publications founded two years apart in the early 19th century. The first issue of the Universalist Magazine--so named even though it was actually a newspaper--came out on Saturday, July 3, 1819. It appeared under various names until April 1961, when, as the Universalist Leader, it merged with the Unitarian publication, the Christian Register, as the two denominations joined forces to become the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Universalist Magazine's first editor was the Rev. Hosea Ballou, who, ever since his Treatise on Atonement came out in 1805, had been a Universalist leader and spokesman.

Over the years, the main Universalist publication absorbed or merged with others. The names of some of its tributary publications--Balm of Gilead; Herald of Truth; Star in the West; Philadelphia Liberalist; Christian Freeman and Family Visitor; Southern Pioneer and Gospel Visitor; Green Mountain Evangelist and Universalist Watchman; Gospel Banner--evoke the vibrancy and variety of Universalist publishing. In Universalist publications like these, the major issues of the day played out: abolition, temperance, evolution, women's rights.

Changes in the name of the denomination's flagship publication bespeak the long-running debate over Universalism's relationship to Christianity--from Christian Leader to Universalist Leader in 1897, back to Christian Leader in 1926, and to Universalist Leader again in 1953. After the 1961 merger, the new publication of the Unitarian Universalist Association, first called The Unitarian Register and The Universalist Leader, went through several name and format changes, becoming in 1970 Unitarian Universalist World, in 1987 World, and now UU World.

On the Unitarian side, the first issue of the Christian Register newspaper, edited by the Rev. David Reed, appeared on Friday, April 20, 1821, predating the American Unitarian Association by four years. In 1825, when Boston-area liberal ministers formed an association, it was mainly to promote the growth of liberal Christianity by publishing books, tracts, and periodicals. The AUA's first annual report, from 1826, stated that the new association's executive committee "undertook the conduct of the [Register] at the commencement of the present year." The Register was published continuously from 1821 until 1961.

The Universalist and Unitarian periodicals published sermons by leading ministers, essays on theological issues, and information about new congregations and new church buildings--not much different from this magazine.

But both also contained more than just religious news. They reported on events in Washington, DC, and in foreign capitals, and ran news of major disasters and technological advances, poetry and book reviews, and obituaries of famous people. Especially for Universalists--who tended to be scattered in rural areas while Unitarians lived mostly in cities--the weekly publication was a principal source of their knowledge of the world beyond their villages and counties.

Ideally, our new UU World will also serve as an important source of knowledge, albeit of a narrower, more specialized sort, and thus represent another chapter in the long, proud history of Universalist, Unitarian, and Unitarian Universalist publishing.
From Universalist Magazine, Vol. I, No.1
Let the children carefully inspect the operations of their love to their parents, growing out of the impartial love which the parents exercise toward all their offspring, and they will find, if they follow the duties of this love, it will lead them to love one another; and this love to each other will lead them to do good one to another; for as children of the same parents ought to conduct themselves toward each other, so does the christian morality lead us to treat all mankind.
From the Christian Register, Vol. I, No. 1
The present period is distinguished above any other since the first settlement of our country, for the general prevalence of a spirit of free religious inquiry. . . . And it is with much satisfaction, that the friends of enlightened piety have perceived, that whilst this spirit of inquiry has been exercised with a considerable degree of freedom and boldness, it has, at the same time, been so effectually guarded by good sense, and chastened by piety, that the cause of truth, instead of suffering detriment, has been greatly promoted, by the light that has been thrown upon the true doctrines and principles of our religion.

John Hurley, the UUA's archivist and director of information, serves on the board of the UU Historical Society.

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