Our congregation began in 1838 as New York City’s fourth society devoted to the Universalist faith. Seven societies would eventually be founded, today, we are the last historically Universalist congregation in the city.
In 1848, we changed our name to the Church of the Divine Paternity and officially returned to the name of Fourth Universalist Society in the City of New York in 1967. Over the years our congregation attracted notable personalities such as P. T. Barnum, Horace Greeley, the Carnegie family, Lou Gehrig, Oscar Hammerstein II, Barbara Gittings, and Winifred Latimer Norman to our pews. In that time, we’ve been fortunate to be served by many wonderful and pioneering ministers, including Thomas Lake Harris, Edwin Hubbell Chapin, Charles Henry Eaton, Frank Oliver Hall, Joseph Fort Newton, Charles Francis Potter, and Rosemary Bray McNatt.
Our congregation’s first home was downtown, and over the years we moved steadily northward. In 1898, we built our current home, dubbed at the time “the Cathedral of Universalism,” at West 76th Street and Central Park West on New York City’s Upper West Side. The architect, William Appleton Potter, based the design closely upon Magdalen Tower, Oxford, and buildings at Magdalen College. A rare design in English Perpendicular Gothic, it received praise from notable architects including Frank Lloyd Wright, whose daughter was married at the church. The church houses several significant artistic works, including an altar by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a bronze relief sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a mosaic by J&R Lamb Studios, and stained glass windows by Clayton and Bell of London. The organ was donated by Louise Carnegie, a member of the church. Originally designed and constructed by the Hutchings-Votey Organ Company of Boston, the organ was rebuilt and revised by the Ernest M. Skinner Company.
In the 1980s, the congregation received inquiries from developers eager to obtain the church’s choice property location. Instead, the congregation joined with community activists, preservationists, and neighbors to form Save Our Universalist Landmark (SOUL) and successfully raised funds for maintenance and capital improvements. In return for these funds, the church promised not to exercise its development rights for a certain number of years, one of the first such agreements of its kind.
On May 1st, 2016 the congregation called the Rev. Schuyler Vogel to become its next Senior Minister. The following year, the membership voted unanimously to become a sanctuary congregation to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. Several weeks later, the building was vandalized by swastikas and hate speech, an incident that garnered national media attention.
In March 2018, the congregation accepted a family into sanctuary. Her case received coverage by the New York Times, Democracy Now!, and The Nation Magazine. In 2019, Fourth Universalist continued its commitment to immigrant justice by becoming the home of Sanctuary Neighborhoods, a grassroots organizing network serving immigrant families in New York City.