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History of UU San Mateo

In the spring of 1952, a group of about thirty-five people,most of whom were young parents, met with some Unitarians and Universalists from other peninsula congregations in the home of James Rene and Marian Hemingway. The meeting ended with the formation of the Unitarian Fellowship of San Mateo, which was voted into membership of the American Unitarian Association in April 1952. The first president of the congregation, Alfred W. Klaber, insisted that the Fellowship put together a working budget with a $5.00 donation.

Private homes, a local labor hall, a Jewish temple, and the Les Williams Dance Studio were some of our congregation's early places of assembly. In 1954 a small house was purchased from the dance studio and became the "Fellowship House." In 1959 the congregation rented a large auditorium at the Peninsula YMCA. The adults met at the YMCA, and religious education classes for the children were held at the Fellowship House, a few blocks away.

Most members considered this arrangement unsatisfactory, and on April 15, 1963, a lot was purchased at the corner of Polhemus and Crystal Springs Roads for $45,000. Warren Callister, an architect who later redesigned the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco, was hired to draw plans for the Polhemus property. At this time the war in Vietnam tightened the money market. Consequently, the Fellowship was unable to borrow money to begin construction.

In 1969 the Fellowship rented property of the disbanding First Methodist Church, located at 300 E. Santa Inez in San Mateo. Those facilities were purchased on June 17, 1971 for $105,000. The building had been constructed in 1905 and needed extensive repairs, but the location was considered ideal by many members. It was also large enough to accommodate the growing congregation. A parsonage was built in 1928, so housing could be provided for ministers. The Polhemus property was sold for $62,000. Proceeds were used for a down payment and on necessary repairs to the Santa Inez property. When the sale was complete, the Methodists removed the revolving lighted cross which stood atop the tower, a long-time landmark in the area. Religious education rooms were built in 1963. The mortgage on the E. Santa Inez property was paid off in April 1998.

When visiting UUSM, you’ll notice our many facilities are named after famous UUs, both locally and internationally renowned individuals. Our Religious Education classrooms are named after famous Unitarian Universalists such as Beatrix Potter, Henry David Thoreau, and Linus Pauling. Drop by our Hemingway Lounge (named for past member Marian Hemingway) or enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in Beck Hall (named for past member Joe Beck) after services. The Ann Benner Room, carrying our founder’s name, is the place to learn about getting involved, as it is where we locate our “Welcome Table”. Ann Benner exemplified the volunteer spirit with her tireless efforts at UUSM. Each year we commemorate her achievements by awarding one or more outstanding members with the Ann Benner Memorial Award. It is our way of honoring members whose contributions and generosity of spirit have impacted our congregation.

In 1989, we formed our Open Door Committee to commit to being an anti-racist institution. In 1998 the congregation voted to become a "Welcoming Congregation" in order to explicitly welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered people. The UUA website has more information about the Welcoming Congregation process.

At the January 2000 congregational meeting, members voted to take a public stand for the Moratorium against the Death Penalty and against a California initiative to define marriage as lawful only between a man and woman. In 2007, we held a Social Justice Empowerment Workshop and formed a new Social Justice Council.

Since our founding, we have been committed to Religious Education (RE) for children and youth. We are known for our thriving RE program. We have come a long way since 1952, and are proud to be building on the original vision of our founders.

The congregation did not have professional leadership for its first six years. The Rev. John Sear, a Universalist minister, taught adult classes while the children had religious education classes. The Rev. F. Danforth Lion from the Palo Alto Unitarian Church held services once a month for the new San Mateo Fellowship. In 1958, The Rev. Russell Lincoln was hired as the Fellowship's first minister. Ever since then, there has been continuous professional leadership.

In November 2013, after a two year ministerial search, Rev. Ben Meyers was installed as the current minister of UUSM.

UUSM Ministers

  • Rev. Russell L. Lincoln, 1958 – 1961
  • Rev. Robert D. Botley, 1961 – 1969
  • Rev. Robert B. Fraser, 1970 – 1976
  • Rev. Bernard B. Krueger, 1978 – 1983
  • Rev. Daniel Panger, 1984 – 1988
  • Rev. Joy Atkinson, 1988 – 2002
  • Rev. Robert Kaufman (Interim Minister), 2002 – 2003
  • Rev. Vail Weller, Lead Minister, 2003 – 2011
  • Rev. Lauren Smith, Assistant Minister, 2007 – 2011
  • Rev. Denise Tracy, Interim/Transition Minister, 2011 – 2012
  • Rev. Alicia McNary Forsey, Interim Minister, 2012-2013
  • Rev. Ben Meyers, 2013-present