All Souls has served Kansas City’s liberal religious community since 1868, when nine people joined together to form the Unitarian Society of the City of Kansas in Missouri. The group quickly grew to 60, with a calendar that included community dances, a men’s club and a literary society.
The church took the name All Souls Unitarian Church in 1885 and called its first minister, the Rev. Walter E. Copeland, a couple of years later.
All Souls has continued to grow through the years, grounded in a strong humanist tradition reinforced by a series of ministers who were leaders in the humanist movement. The first of those was the Rev. John Roberts, 1887-97, who was an Emersonian humanist. The Rev. Leon Birkhead, 1917 to 1939, and the Rev. R. Lester Mondale, 1939-52, both were signers of the American Humanist Manifesto, which was co-authored by another of our ministers, the Rev. Raymond Bragg, 1952 to 1973.
In more recent years, All Souls has emphasized the need to welcome a diversity of thought. In the last decades of the 20th century the church saw the beginnings of a pagan group and a peer ministry program. A Friday evening Service for the Soul, with an emphasis on spirituality, was begun and the church facilitated formation of a Gaia community.
The Larger Community
The ministers and congregation of All Souls have been a force in the larger community throughout our history. In the decades leading up to World War II, the Rev. Leon Birkhead did much to focus attention on the Fascist threat that was growing in Europe. He also was an associate of Sinclair Lewis, author of “Elmer Gantry,” a literary attack on fundamentalist ministers of the time. That association did not endear Birkhead or the church to other Kansas City clergy.
The still-popular Forum programs, which are held Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. were begun in 1943. The Forum was established to offer a platform for the discussion of significant issues, especially those that involve ethical values in the contemporary world and are presented by well-known figures in the community.
During the following decade, All Souls reached out again as Dr. Bragg became co-founder and first president of the Kansas City American Civil Liberties Union affiliate, an association many All Souls ministers and members have continued through the years.
In the 1970s, the church became involved in joint ventures in our neighborhood with the Westport Cooperative Mission and, when no one else would do so, rented space to the Metropolitan Community Church for its gay and lesbian programs. All Souls formalized its outreach to the gay and lesbian community by becoming an official Welcoming Congregation within the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1992.
All Souls has a long history of commitment to racial justice including work on Kansas City’s school desegregation efforts and more recently, leadership in the interdenominational MORE2, Metropolitan Organization for Racial and Economic Equity.
In recent years, All Souls has become a teaching church sponsoring an intern minister each year and has reached out into the Southern Cluster of UU churches in the Prairie Star District to establish new congregations and strengthen established churches.
Buildings and Grounds
As the congregation has grown from the original 9 to more than 500 members, new accommodations have had to be found. After meeting first in a building downtown – first in the 1000 block of Baltimore, then in a building on west 10th Street – the congregation settled into a church designed by architect and church member Walter C. Root at 35th and Baltimore in 1906.
When that building was destroyed by fire in 1951, the congregation bought the Velie mansion on All Souls’ present site at 45th Street and Walnut. In 1959, the house was demolished and the present building was dedicated the following year. In 1998, after a successful $1 million capital campaign, All Souls renewed its commitment to its neighborhood and its city by renovating the entire church adding both space and amenities.
When the Simpson mansion next door became available in 1986, the church bought it to provide valuable space for additional programming for the dynamic, growing congregation of All Souls. The Simpson House is a favorite location for weddings and parties.
FROM THE PULPIT
Ministers who have served the All Souls congregation:
Walter E. Copeland
John E. Roberts
George W. Stone
Leon M. Birkhead
R. Lester Mondale
Raymond B. Bragg
Don Vaughn 1977-1984
Judith Walker-Riggs 1986-1991
John H. Weston 1992-1998
Jim Eller 1999-2009
Current Senior Minister: Kendyl Gibbons