Dr. Marion Daniel Shutter, Tuttle’s assistant and understudy, replaced Tuttle at the Church of the Redeemer. Under the lead of Shutter and his wife, Mary, with support from the Church of the Redeemer they saw in 1897 the founding of Unity House, the first settlement house in the city of Minneapolis. A crowning jewel in the early years, Unity House supported and expanded a program of playgrounds and vacation schools that eventually became part of the public school system. Unity offered day care, English language and citizenship classes. It remained an important institution in the city until 1968 when government had assumed most of those responsibilities and it was in the path of new highway construction.
The First Universalist Foundation exists today because of the legacy of Unity House. The name traces its lineage to the First Universalist Society of Minneapolis and the Church of the Redeemer, names the congregation used for its first 100 years. Unity Summer and the Youth Cultural Exchange have their roots in the youth programs of Unity House.
Shutter was a vocal advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution and an active participant in city matters. During his term he took leadership roles in the national Universalist organization and his sermons were printed and widely distributed. At his instigation, community leaders came together to build the chapel on the grounds of Fort Snelling that stands today. Shutter died in office in 1939 at age 87 after serving First Universalist for 48 years as its senior minister.
Moving Forward – Growth and Activism
The church had grown old and infirm along with Shutter and was close to death itself. The rich and powerful founders were long gone. Most of their descendants had found other church attachments. Improved transportation had changed living patterns and people tended to worship where they lived, increasingly far from downtown. There were 30 to 40 worshippers in that huge sanctuary on a Sunday. Membership dwindled in size also because of demographic changes. Following Shutter’s death in 1939 Dr. Carl Harold Olson was called as the church’s fourth settled minister. He saw a need to sell the downtown property to the Catholic Archdiocese. Plans were made for a new building in south Minneapolis just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. However, there were no building materials for churches in wartime so the congregation banked the $112,500 sale money and waited out the war in a large 3-story house at 4600 Dupont Ave South (only 12 blocks from its present location) known as the “Church House.”
The building that was sold to the Catholic Archdiocese burned on Ash Wednesday 1953, although the bells from the tower were saved. It was rebuilt by the Catholics and is now St. Olaf Catholic Church in downtown Minneapolis.
The congregation grew under Olson’s leadership and was ready for the pleasures and challenges of its new place. They moved into their new Jeffersonian-style 18,000 square foot red brick building on April 3, 1949. It was reminiscent of the New England churches of Universalist heritage. The sanctuary had pews and a baptismal font (which Tuttle had especially sent from Europe). After a major remodeling, the pews were replaced with chairs causing consternation among many members and the font was given to our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the former home of the First Universalist Society of St. Anthony. New classroom space was acquired also. In 1952 the church name was legally changed from the First Universalist Society of Minneapolis to the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis although the cornerstone of that building still says Church of the Redeemer.
In 1963, two years after the national merger of the Universalists and Unitarians and a 24-year ministry, Olson retired because of ill health. In what today’s business observers would call a turn-around artist, Olson brought the church to 450 adults and 600 children. In addition to leading the church’s revival he served as a national trustee of the Universalist Church of America. Among his many civic duties he was director of Family and Children’s Service, and a member of the state labor arbitration panel. He also lectured at the University of Minnesota Law School and served on the Minnesota Governor’s Human Rights Commission and its predecessor, the Interracial Commission.
~ Excerpted from First Universalist Church of Minneapolis: The First 150 Years, October 2009.