The History of the Church of the River

Our Church

The Church of the River traces its roots to 1893. Edward Everett Hale, Unitarian minister and author of The Man Without a Country, was instrumental in influencing the church's first minister, Frederick Preston, to come to Memphis. From the fall of 1898 to about 1900, there were no regular ministers. But the congregation regrouped, and was chartered as the First Unitarian Church of Memphis in 1912. In 1965, the church moved to its current location on the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff facing the Mississippi River, and has become known as the Church of the River. The building, constructed from an award-winning design by architect and church member Roy Harrover, features five floor-to-ceiling windows in the sanctuary that look out over the river. For additional information about the history of our location, read this story based on former COR member, Kathryn Rice.

The Church of the River is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association formed in 1961 by a merger of the American Unitarian Association founded in 1825 and the Universalist Church of America founded in 1778. Our congregations are gathered around a promise or covenant members make to each other rather than a formal creed or beliefs one must agree to. Our covenant is to seek the truth with love, and in this spirit we provide a progressive spiritual community of inquiry and mutual support. We affirm that we need not think alike to love alike, and thus guard the freedom of the pew and the freedom of the pulpit. Instead of saving souls we strive to grow our souls by learning in deeper ways what is good and true, beautiful and holy, just and compassionate, and what they require of us in our daily living and service to others. Our religion teaches us to live faithfully and think critically as we grow in spiritual maturity. What matters most for the life of the spirit is living in right relationship because truth and love cannot be fenced by narrow definitions of right belief.

Contemporary Unitarian churches have no creeds to which members must agree. Each congregation has its own covenant, sometimes called a bond of fellowship or statement of purpose, which describes the spirit of how members are united in religious community.

The covenant of the Church of the River affirms:

The purpose of this church shall be to promote the high ideals of a rational, progressive, and exalting religion, in the love of God and service to humanity, and to hold regular church services in this community. To this end, all activities of the church shall be conducted without distinction related to race, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, or previous religious affiliations; and the right of private judgment and the sacredness of individual conviction shall be recognized in all things. To join our church is to walk with other members of the congregation in the spirit of our covenant.