Early Local Roots

While the current congregation was founded as the Unitarian Fellowship of Poughkeepsie in 1952, there was an earlier Unitarian church in Poughkeepsie. A handful of members from this earlier church were quite happy when the Fellowship was founded, and were among the earliest people to sign the new membership book.


Founded in or around 1913, and functioning through at least 1932, this congregation met in the Hicksite Friend's Meeting House at 12 Lafayette Place in downtown Poughkeepsie. The charming little building, shown here, was built in 1894 and demolished in the 1970s. In its place is a parking lot for St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church. 


Famed Unitarian Jabez Sunderland was the minister from 1914 until 1927. Part time, he commuted from New York City, where he lived.


Even though our particular congregation was Unitarian when founded, we have been, since the merger in 1961, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Research indicates that the roots of Universalism in Poughkeepsie go back even further than those of Unitarianism. 


The First Universalist Society was officially organized in 1836, although there is no official record of where the Society met until 1842, when they purchased the Baptist Church on Mill Street. That building, no longer standing, was sold shortly thereafter, and the Society appears to have met in various locations until purchasing the Presbyterian Church on Cannon Street in 1850. That building was sold in 1873, and at some point the Society purchased a building on Lafayette Place, interestingly enough, which they occupied for some period of time in the 1880s. 


A Universalist minister by the name of Edwin or Edward Rogers living in Poughkeepsie in the 1840s was one of 303 Universalist ministers who signed a petition against slavery published in several national abolitionist newspapers and magazines in April, May and June of 1846.  

Our History

In the "Early Local Roots" section above, there is some information about earlier Universalist and Unitarian congregations in Poughkeepsie. It is not clear exactly when the earlier Universalists dissolved, but it appears to have been some time before 1900. The Unitarian congregation dissolved in 1932, and for two decades, there was no official Unitarian organization in the area.


Then a man named Richard Bullen moved to Poughkeepsie. Bullen had been a member of a Unitarian Church in San Francisco, and was surprised to find that a city the size of Poughkeepsie had no Unitarian community. With his energy and enthusiasm, he sparked the interest of some local residents (some "unchurched," some former members of the early Unitarian congregation, and some transplanted Unitarians) in starting a new congregation.


The first formal organizational meeting was held on October 5, 1952, at the home of Robert and Jane Bartel. Dick Bullen was unanimously elected President, Hetty Coombs as secretary and June Gillespie as treasurer. Charter members were Richard and Annabelle Bullen, Aaron and June Gillespie, Alfred and Ruth Adams, Herbert P. Arnold, Marion Russell, Charles Hobbs, Mrs. James Hooper and Edward Reser. They were given professional help in getting organized by Munro Husbands, Fellowship Extension from Boston, and by Reverend Howard Box, Unitarian Minister of the Congregation in Newburgh.


The initial group was strongly humanist-oriented and active in social justice causes, with a common goal of creating a religious community that encouraged freedom of thought and freedom of interpretation regarding religious issues.

Our Growth

At first, meetings were held on Sunday evenings in the homes of members, but, in 1954, with membership increasing, the group began meeting in a succession of rented quarters, which included the YMCA, YWCA, Fairview Men's Club, Bowne Hospital (now Dutchess Community College), and the Oddfellows Hall, which, they noted, seemed a very appropriate meeting place for Unitarians!


During this time, 1955-1958, the membership grew from some 20 members to more than 90, aided in part by the creation of a Junior Fellowship in 1955. Availability of religious education for children was very important for many parents.


In October of 1958, the Fellowship purchased the house and property at its present location at 67 South Randolph Avenue, at first holding Sunday services in the largest room of the house, known at the time as the Assembly Room, now known as the Baldwin Assembly Room.

In 1961, the Amercian Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged, becoming the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Fellowship became, in essence, a UU congregation (although the official change in name would not happen for more than thirty years!).


Growth made the construction of an addition with a sanctuary, bathrooms and new kitchen a necessity, and our current sanctuary, referred to as The Main Meeting Room, was completed in 1966.


During all this time, the Fellowship had been entirely lay-led, but by the late 1980's, the growth of and interest in the Fellowship made clear the need to call a minister. In 1990, the Fellowship became a Minister/Lay-led congregation when the Reverend Jerry Goddard was called as our first settled minister. Reverend Goddard retired in 1996, and was named Minister Emeritus. Cathy Duhon and Carole Yorke served as student interns while the search was conducted for a new minister.


The Reverend Kay Greenleaf, our second settled minister, was called and began her ministry at the Fellowship in August, 1998. During her time with us, Reverend Kay was on the forefront of the battle for marriage equality. For more about this effort, please click here. Like Reverend Goddard, Reverend Kay came with a spouse - Pat Sullivan - who also became an integral part of our community.

Reverend Greenleaf retired in 2009, at which time the Fellowship hired Reverend Orlanda Brugnola as an interim minister while a new search committee undertook the task of finding a new minister.


In 2011, Reverend Walter LeFlore accepted the call to be the third called minister of the Fellowship.