By Sarah Newhall
Fully diverse in ethnicity and spirituality, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk opens its doors
to a full range of religions from Buddhist and Muslim, to atheist and additional believers in God. This establishment has a local history spanning more than a decade. Within this church lies a congregation that is recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the first Hampton Roads LGBTQ congregation. The very first Unitarian Church of Norfolk was founded in December of 1912 and was fully organized by the racially segregated liberal community. This evolving congregation began meeting in an office suite located on Granby Street in Norfolk, Virginia and eventually made its way to local theatres, and ultimately the former Disciples of Christ Church on Freemason Street.
Unfortunately, the fate of the original Unitarian Church was washed away in the midst of the
strife created during World War I and the congregation dissipated. Under the presidential wings of Robert A. Darden, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk was revived and pieced back together in May of 1930. The history of this establishment is composed of struggle and passion, as members of the congregation fought to keep the Unitarian Church afloat through the midst of the Great Depression.
The true social transformation began in the year of 1956 as both a new pastor, Rev. James
C. Brewer, and new leadership began to mold the church into a place of acceptance where racial integration was welcome despite the current state of the world. For more than 45 years, the Unitarian Church has opened their doors to the LGBTQ community of Hampton Roads, offering a safe space for all members to join and celebrate LGBTQ history, issues, and each member’s religion of choice. In addition to all the positive strides the church has made toward a fully-inclusive community, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk stands out in local LGBT history because this place of worship is the first to marry same-sex couples in Hampton Roads.
In 2009, Rev. Phyllis L. Hubbell and John P. Mannwell took a stand at the alter for gay rights, refusing to perform marriages until same-sex marriages were authorized and the church has been on a positive uprise since. To this day, the Unitarian Church remains active in the LGBT community, even showing their support during Hampton Roads Annual Pride.