River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

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Our History
Ground Breaking Ceremony, June 1964

River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation began in 1959, due in large part to overcrowding at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church. RRUUC was originally known as the Unitarian Center of Bethesda/Chevy Chase.  In May 1959, Muriel Davies was hired as the Director of the School of Religion, the congregation’s first employee, and the Radnor Elementary School was selected as the place to worship and hold Sunday School classes.  The first service was held on October 4, 1959, and a month later, the congregation adopted Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws.

In July 1960, the congregation purchased 4.66 acres at the corner of River Road and Whittier Boulevard for $55,920 to build a permanent structure. In November 1960, the members changed our name to River Road Unitarian Church.  Rev. Robert J. Lewis accepted the call in May 1961 to be RRUUC’s first minister.  By fall of 1961, with 180 families attending and 229 members, the congregation expanded its classes to meet both at Radnor and Whittier Woods Elementary School. Ground was broken for the building on June 14, 1964 with a budget of $535,000. The building was occupied in September 1965.  The American Institute of Architects named our building as one of the ten best buildings constructed anywhere in the world in 1966. 

During RRUUC’s early years, members actively participated in a range of social justice activities.  Beginning in 1964, members served as volunteer tutors in the Cabin John Study program, helping newly integrated black youngsters catch up to their white peers.  Nationally, RRUUCers participated in the 1963 civil rights March on Washington.   A nonprofit cooperative nursery school has occupied space at  RRUUC since 1966.  In March 1995, the congregation voted to become a Welcoming Congregation, to affirm and respect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

In the 1983, Clifton Hardin was hired as the first paid music director for RRUUC.  Hardin, a musician and composer, completed his Ph.D. in choral arts at the University of Maryland in 1999.  Hardin has expanded the adult choir, and started the youth and children’s choirs.

A capital campaign in 1997 raised funds to install an elevator and build ramps to make the pulpit accessible. Money also went towards air-conditioning the sanctuary, permitting summer services to be held in the sanctuary for the first time.

In 1994, the congregation hired Ginger Luke as Director of Religious Education.  While still working full time at RRUUC, Luke completed her studies at Meadville Lombard Divinity School. The congregation ordained her in 2002 and subsequently called to be Minister of Religious Education. (The position was renamed Minister of Religious Education and Congregational Life in 2005). She retired in July 2013.

In June 1998, River Road called Rev. Scott Alexander as senior minister.  The author and editor of five books, Rev. Alexander brought his missionary zeal to River Road, inspiring an increasing number of members to announce proudly their UU faith. 

In 2002 a capital campaign was conducted to renovate and expand the building. Ground was broken in Dec. 2005 for an addition along River Road which was completed in fall 2008.

In June 2007, the congregation voted to re-name itself River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The new name reflects our Universalist heritage and replaces "church" with the more inclusive "congregation."

In 2010, Rev. Alexander left River Road to continue his ministry as Senior Minister of the UU Fellowship in Vero Beach, FL

On April 29, 2012 at a special congregational meeting, the congregation called Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd as Senior Minister. Rev. Ladd started with the congregation in August, 2012, bringing with her a dynamic presence on the pulpit, a passion for social justice, and a deep commitment to the Unitarian Univeralist movement.