Setting the Record Slightly Straighter on Unitarian-Buddhist Contacts

Earlier this summer, one of the UU trivia questions of the day was about the First Unitarian Church in Chicago.  In giving the answer, a bit of inaccurate info was passed along: that this church was the first historically Christian church to host a Buddhist congregation.

As it turns out, they weren’t quite the first after all.  That distinction belongs to the Cleveland First Unitarian Church, which beginning January 7, 1945 allowed the Cleveland Buddhist Temple to be organized in and use its space.  The Buddhists remained there apparently until 1952, when they moved to the larger facilities at the International Order of Odd Fellows Hall on 59th Street (they eventually bought their own building, in 1955).  The First Unitarian Church of Chicago, meanwhile, opened its doors to the Midwest Buddhist Temple in May 1946.  So Cleveland was first, but, perhaps because the Chicago church under the direction of Homer Jack was significantly more media savvy, the Chicago church was the only one to get publicity at the time.

These were hardly the only UU churches to allow Buddhist congregations to use their space, either for free or at a low rental rate.  For example, the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis allowed the Twin Cities Buddhist Association to hold services in its building from 1965 until at least 1999.  All three of these groups are part of the Buddhist Churches of America, the Japanese Pure Land based organization that is the oldest organized form of American Buddhism.  There have also been other, non-Japanese Buddhist groups allowed to use UU space, to say nothing of the many UU Buddhist groups that have grown organically as actual programs of the UU congregations themselves.

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Filed under Buddhism, Liberal Religious History, Unitarian-Universalism

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