Thoreau Campus History
The Henry David Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Bend County merged with First UU Church of Houston in 2013, and became the Thoreau campus in Stafford. In November 2018, we moved to our new campus site on Clayhead Road in Richmond, less than a mile from the “Swinging Door” restaurant.
History of the Thoreau Congregation in Fort Bend County
We began in a bar…
In 1994, a handful of dedicated people who believed that liberal religion could thrive in Fort Bend County sent out yellow cards to Unitarian Universalists in the area, inviting them to a happy hour meeting at On The Border. Around 35 people showed up, surprising everyone with their numbers. Over the next few months, there were a number of informal organizational meetings. These were followed by our first public meeting, held on August 27, 1995. Regular Sunday services began in January 1996 at Dickinson Elementary School in Sugar Land. Sixty-eight adults signed our membership book on Charter Sunday, May 12, 1996. In December 1996 we asked Rev. Leonora Montgomery to “mentor” our congregation. In May 1997 we moved to 5000 sq. ft. of rental space in Stafford. Our first full-time minister, Rev. Bill Clark, arrived in September, 1999, via the UUA New Congregation Ministry Program.
Since 2000, the Thoreau congregation has known both excitement and growth, and disappointment and re-grouping. Rev. Bill Clark’s successful ministry sustained us for four years, and our congregation and religious education program grew steadily. We began making plans to build our own church home. After acquiring land and making plans for this much-anticipated building, however, the congregation faced big challenges. Rev. Clark left and Thoreau welcomed Rev. Paul Beatle as our new minister. Shortly after that the building contractor did not fulfill his contract as planned and the building project failed. Membership started to decline and along with it the church income. Church leaders negotiated a termination for Rev. Beatle’s ministry after only 4 years. These events threw the congregation into turmoil, and many more families decided to leave the church.
Thoreau spent the next year being lay led. After a year without ministerial leadership, the congregation decided it was committed to professional ministry and entered into two years of interim ministers. During that time, we worked hard to re-group and decide a new direction for our church.
In the fall of 2011, some of our leaders attended a Houston Area UU Network meeting and met Rev. Daniel O’Connell, the Senior Minister at First Unitarian Church of Houston. Rev. O’Connell had been asked to address the group about the concept of church mergers, and the Thoreau leaders began to consider the possibility of merging with First Unitarian Church. After a year of deep conversations and discernment, the members of Thoreau decided to contract with First Unitarian to run our church. This would give us a chance to get a taste of what it would be like to merge with the larger church. During this contract year, First Unitarian provided a part time minister, ran our Sunday services and handled the RE content. Rev. Bonnie Vegiard was hired by First Church and assigned to Thoreau as the part-time minister in late summer 2012.
In March of 2013, this “small but mighty” congregation formally voted to merge with First Church of Houston. As of July 1, 2013, we officially became the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, Thoreau/Stafford Campus, one of three campuses that make up the one church. The campus minister preaches live at least once a month, and leads most other services, in collaboration with our lay worship associates. Other sermons are delivered by one of First Church’s ministers, and are presented live or from video.
Our vision is to continue providing excellent worship services and RE content while making an impact in Fort Bend County. Recently, First Church purchased a 5 acre property to establish a new permanent home for the Thoreau Campus in Richmond. We are excited to move to the new campus as of November 18, 2018.
We are proud of our history as a beacon of liberal religion in Fort Bend County, and we welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds to come visit us!