The Phoenix Fund

Phoenix Fund
First Unitarian Church
90 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01608

First Unitarian Church, established in 1785, has a long history of caring for its church building and facilities. In June, 2000, a construction roof & steeple fire caused fire and water damage to the roof, steeple, sanctuary, pipe organ, and Sunday School classrooms - damages nearing $4 million.

Although insurance monies will rebuild and restore the building and pipe organ to its pre-fire condition, there are some expenses not covered by insurance. In addition, we want to rebuild "stronger and better" in order to serve the congregation and community for centuries to come.

The Phoenix Fund was established to receive contributions from parishioners and the community to assist us in this major undertaking. Below, we detail our plans for the rebuilding over and above the insurance restoration.

It is an honor we might not have chosen. But to rebuild this church for future generations is an honor and a privilege that has come to each member and friend of First Unitarian. Your gift to the Phoenix Fund will form the vessel of "bricks and mortar" that will hold the spirit of the free faith in years to come. Our generosity will ensure that those who seek a path to God and truth, without the constraints of creed and dogma, will always have a spiritual home in Worcester.

- Rev. Barbara Merritt, Senior Minister

This renewal of our church facilities will help us extend a warm welcome to all those who are looking for deep spirituality and a free church.

- Rev. Thomas Schade, Associate Minister

Contributions to the Phoenix Fund will restore and preserve our Church building, an important historical landmark, for future generations. Our Church is a prominent fixture at a major entrance to the city's business center. A major feature of the church building (viewable from the Greater Worcester area) is the church steeple. The new lighting, recently completed, has become a dominant and inspirational feature of the Worcester downtown night's skyscape.

- Worth Landers, Moderator


Steeple & Sanctuary Improvements

  • Restore and replace damaged steeple pillars, cartouches, pediments and woodwork
  • Improve emergency fire access to attic
  • Install new steeple clock mechanism
  • Install roof ventilation system to preserve roof structures in Unity Hall.
  • Pipe Organ and Sanctuary Improvements
  • Relocate organ console to its original centered position in the back balcony area; restore the choir seating arrangement to the pre-1964 layout (curved around the organ console)
  • Redesigning the organ pipe chamber area for higher-quality acoustics; relocating the organ air supply blower from the basement to the balcony hall area.
  • Several wheelchair-accessible pews
  • Improved lighting
  • Install audio-video capabilities, including amplification of the choir and possibility for closed-circuit TV broadcasting (for overflow crowds and crying/baby-sitting rooms).

At First U, we are proud of our musical heritage of a fine choral music tradition, music library, facilities, and extraordinary instruments. We now have the opportunity to significantly improve our fine Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, and to reconfigure the balcony to allow us to provide more beautiful music for years to come.

-Will Sherwood, AAGO, ChM


Sunday School Facilities

  • Install Elevator
  • Create open community welcoming room with audio-visual projection center
  • Improve lighting and air quality
  • Improve bathrooms, including handicapped facilities
  • State-of-the-art Nursery facilities

While there is no doubt that the June 17th fire was a disaster, it has provided us with a unique opportunity to create a Sunday School facility that will serve this congregation well into the 21st century. Our children deserve a Sunday School environment that is conducive to learning, to searching for the truth, and to growing in this faith we share.

- Diane Mirick, Religious Education Director


Restoration Timeline

  • January 25, 2001 - Phoenix Fund kick-off: Official fund drive begins to raise money for repairs and improvements.
  • Late Spring, 2001 - Roof & steeple repairs completed
  • January, 2002 - Sanctuary re-opens
  • Late Spring, 2002 - Sunday School area re-opens
  • September, 2002 - 7 ranks of the Pipe Organ installed for Fall services
    January-October 2004 - Dedication Service and Recitals; organ completed

Historic Building Highlights

1785 - Founding of this parish, Second Parish of Worcester

1829 - Location and dedication of Second Parish church building at 90 Main Street, Worcester

1849 - While repairs were in progress to the 1829 church, fire broke out and the building was totally destroyed. It was immediately decided to rebuild on the same site.

1938 - The church was struck by a hurricane destroying the sanctuary. "In one year (to the day), the church was rebuilt on the same design, but much stronger." (Clifford O. Griffith)

2000 - June 17 - Fire breaks out in the attic during the process of replacing the soldered copper roof. Over 4 million dollars of water and fire damage to the steeple, and water damage to the sanctuary, organ, and Sunday School.

First Unitarian Church
90 Main Street
Worcester, Massachusetts USA