“Humanist Pulpit” blog

Rev. John Dietrich arrived to First Unitarian Society in Fall 1916 with the freedom by FUS members to talk not of dogma and creed, but to further thoughts around a new approach to congregational community and individual growth. In 1927, FUS began to print his weekly talks as “Humanist Pulpit” pamphlets and distributed thousands of copies, eventually binding some of them into books. We launch the “Humanist Pulpit” blog series in 2016 to offer discussion points, based on our evolution as Humanists, about the continually changing progressive life.


Current Ministers

David Breeden is President of the UU Humanist Association and serves as co-dean of the Humanist Institute. He began his service as Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Society in August 2013.

  • What is Humanism — and how well are we reflecting it today? Read these excerpts from Rev. Breeden’s talk (September 4, 2016), “Change and the Progressive Mind.”
  • As a snapshot of the focus of our humanist congregation, read the excerpt of Rev. Breeden’s talk (May 15, 2016). “Ours is an increasingly multi-faith nation and at the same time an increasingly secular nation. We are here to bridge the gap. An explicitly humanist congregation must get out the good news that meaning and purpose lie in embracing reason, science, and the humanities.”
  • For a glimpse at the edgier reaches from our history, read this excerpt from Dr. Breeden’s talk (February 2015) about FUS as “red pill” matrix of society.
  • This is a compelling talk about America’s “greatness” by Associate Minister Jim Foti on the eve of Memorial Day 2016. “The biggest question that the ‘Make America Great Again’ hat raises is ‘great again for whom?'”
  • And this is Rev. Foti’s sobering post-election 2016 talk, “Backward and Forward in the New Reality.” “We here in Minnesota know how to survive a winter… We know the importance of not letting the harsh reality outside dim our inner light. And we know that beauty and joy can always be found and celebrated, even on the coldest days.”

The ongoing library of historical links below lead to excerpts of the often 1.5 hour addresses, which were a centering place for the Minneapolis community on Sundays. The contemporary questions are meant to invigorate conversation and reflection.


John Dietrich (FUS minister, 1916-1938)

What if the world went humanist? “We are precisely like a group of men and women isolated on an island in the Pacific who, instead of dreaming of what they would do if they ever escaped, set to work in the endeavor to make the place habitable and living comfortable… It would mean that the whole of mankind had agreed to work under the banner that reads, “A better world for better people, through better cooperation.”‘

On morality (1922): “people do not see that … blackmail is piracy, embezzlement is theft, speculation is gambling,  tax dodging is larceny, railroad discrimination is treachery, child labor is slavery… we condemn the man who steals a loaf of bread while we pay honor to the man who steals a million dollars.”

Evolution and Progress: How do you define progress?

Is the Universe Friendly?:  How do you enrich your life in a sometimes indifferent universe in order to arouse your spirit, stir aspiration, consecrate to great adventure?

What does it mean to be spiritual?: Is the spiritual inextricably linked to the physical energy that is our individual life as men and women? Is a good sermon no more spiritual than a good political address? What is a pivotal moment of inspiration that impacted you?

Thoughts on labor (1922): “The thing most needed today in the industrial world is not any longer to furnish incentive to men to invest their money, but rather to furnish incentive to the worker to do his best and also to awaken in him the fullest measure of cooperation… In this respect what real incentive can there by under the principle of private control where the worker has no share in the profits and no voice in the shaping of conditions under which he works?”

The universe is governed by natural law, not by a diety: “Suppose a farmer wants to raise a successful crop, in recognition of the reign of law, he will not pray for the crop, nor will he expect God to grow it for him in any unusual way. He will find out the laws of soil and seed and culture and comply with them.”

On evil and pain (1927): “We feel that we are called upon to work for certain ends, to put our whole hearts into the service, and then we see that the course of events often thwarts our high purpose… There is a third evil besides the pain and the doubt, namely the sense of impotency, the sense of being utterly broken, a kind of blight or palsy that overspreads the faculties.”

What’s wrong with the world? (1922): “Humanity is an organism, and grows like every other organism. … Now we are living in one of the periods when a change of clothes has become absolutely necessary. Humanity has been rapidly outgrowing the laws, institutions and beliefs that have been the basis of civilization in the past century. The clothes of a 19th century civilization are no longer suitable to the life of today.”

Thoughts on God (from an unfinished, undated manuscript written during his retirement, prior to his death in 1957): “It is high time to realize that the man-society relationship is not enough, but in order to save our civilization we need to restore the man-universe relationship… whereby man may regain his spiritual inheritance, which he has lost during this materially prosperous scientific and technological age, in which he has developed a dangerous self-sufficiency… Our country, and in fact the world, has sunk to a new low ethically and spiritually. Opportunism has displaced ethics, violence selfishness has overcome altruism, and a crass materialism has supplanted all spiritual values until our civilization stands on the brink of disaster for want of moral integrity and spiritual fibre.”


Raymond Bragg (FUS, 1938-1947)

After Dr. Dietrich’s retirement, the pulpit was filled by another dynamic humanist religious leader, Raymond B. Bragg, who served during and after the difficult years of World War II. A few of his talks will be excerpted here, on heaven and hell.


Carl Storm (FUS, 1947-1965)

During the mid-1930s, Storm traveled extensively. Due to his interest in social and political developments, he worked on a cattle boat to reach Europe and travel through Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union. These experiences reinforced his commitment as an active spokesman for the League Against War and Fascism. His activism led to his opposition in the 1950s of McCarthyism. As his son told us in a visit in September 2016, his father was a perfectionist in wording his weekly talks, and accustomed to being “on the outside” of many social issues (which ended up making him ahead of his time, as you’ll see from the talks he chose to give).

On Self-Protection and the Bomb: “All along the line the major emphasis of the civil defense program has been do-it-yourself — build your own shelter. And not just save your own skin, but be prepared to do it with gun and violence and murder.”

On Darwin and Evolution, 100 years later: “It is up to man himself what he does with his highly endowed organization of matter. It depends upon him what amount of value and worth can be given to evolution.”

1953/1961: McCarthyism: “It was the hope of many last fall that Joseph McCarthy would not be re-elected to the Senate of the United States. Sharing this hope were Republicans as well as Democrats… and included were some who had given support and early approval to McCarthy’s initial election to the Senate in 1946 and had been quickly disillusioned. In his first term of office, McCathy had established a record of brazen disregard for truth, vicious character assassination and unethical practice. The hopes for his defeat were dashed in November when he was re-elected to office.” [1953 talk in full PDF] [1961 talk McCarthyism Revived in full PDF]


Robert Lehman succeeded Carl Storm, from 1965 to 1978.

Khoren Arisian, began his service with the Society in 1979 and continued to strengthen the religious humanist tradition. In addition to his vigorous leadership of the Society, he was instrumental in the formation of the North American Committee for Humanism and the establishment of the Humanist Institute, which has its headquarters in the Meeting House of the New York Society for Ethical Culture.

Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons was called to the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis in 1998. Kendyl has a long-standing commitment to theological education and the future of ministry. She is former Co-Dean and Mentor for the Humanist Institute.

Through its members the Society has always been a strong force in its community. A number of civic and social organizations — such as the Minnesota Memorial Society, the Humanist Credit Union, and Group Health (a pioneer Health Maintenance Organization) — largely had their beginnings among member of the First Unitarian Society. FUS ministers and members continue to be active in social justice issues.