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The first Unitarian church in St. Louis was established when a group of St. Louisans called upon William Greenleaf Eliot, Jr., to minister to their congregation. Eliot was born 5 August 1811 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and had just graduated from Harvard Divinity School. He was ordained a Unitarian minister in Boston on 17 August 1834 and came to St. Louis later that same year.
The Church of the Messiah became the first Unitarian church west of the Mississippi the following year. A second Unitarian congregation, the Church of the Unity, was founded in 1868. These two churches merged in 1938 to form the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis.
William Eliot had a lifelong interest in education. In 1853 he, with members of his congregation, founded Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Eliot became its first President.
In the 1950s, families in West County organized to form a Unitarian church to serve their needs. The name Eliot Chapel was adopted in 1955 and in 1959 this congregation voted to become independent of the First Church. Webster Kitchell was called as their first minister in 1960. This congregation obtained a church building in 1961, when Grace Episcopal Church sold its historic building in Kirkwood to the Eliot Unitarian Chapel.
Written by Ted Steele, 2006
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