In my next post (already half written) I talk about what some on the internet call the "First" Universalist Church in the United States. And yes, since this is a southern history blog, it is of course here in the South. But I thought I would need to go ahead and talk first about "first' and why it's so hard to pinpoint what we mean by that.
For the first Universalist Church, do we mean the First Church to have Universalism as an important cornerstone of the doctrine? Do we mean the First Church to call itself Universalist? Or do we mean the first Imortant Church to call itself Universalist, or do we mean the first Church to call itself Universalist that joined the Universalist General Convention?
As far as I know the first Church that called itself sorta by that name was "The Society of Universal Baptists" in Philadphia in 1784. It suspossibly became the "first Independent Church of Church, Commonaly known as Universalists" in 1790. John Murray's Church was 1779, but was not titled an Universalist Church. Can anyone add or change, confirm, etc what was the first church with the name Universalist?
As for the doctrine - it's fairly well known that there were many Universalist preachers at the same time as Murray - up and down the coast - the whole setting of the Murray Miracle story was that he was put ashore at a church which was waiting for an Universalist minister.
The Conneticut River valley was full of Universalist Churches that were either informal enough or didnt care about reporting to the Goverment that we don't know much about them. If you didnt leave written reocrds - then 200 years later, you're not remembered. This is the same problem we have in the Middle Atlantic states, where we know that universalist met - but they either didnt keep records - or, in a few cases, they wrote them in German - and are as yet untranslated. The same is true in the south, almost no records exist - and we base some of our knowledge on what other non-sympathetic folks said in their records.
it's fairly safe to say that the Murray Church is the oldest surviving Universalist Church in the United States. Its over 200 years do count for something, and it was universalist in theology from the start and stayed universalist. As for the finner points of "First". that's up to hairsplitters of all kinds and internet bloggers