Reverend J. K. Karcher’s spiritual odyssey spanned the breadth of Christian belief–from popish orthodoxy to liberal latitude. So it shouldn’t surprise us that he spent three distinct periods in the Episcopal church, a pivotal place on that spectrum. Investigating his life, however, did open a window into the rise of Unitarian-Universalism during the 19th century. Except for the Transcendentalists, I hadn’t known much about them.
Unitarians and Universalists were two separate denominations through the 19th century, not joining forces until 1961. But it was the Unitarians who were more active in westward expansion. Recall that Frank Lloyd Wright was a Unitarian and architect for one of its most significant buildings.
There were Unitarians in both Fargo-Moorhead and Sioux Falls in the 1880s, groups so liberal that even free-thinkers were welcome at their gatherings. Really. I’m not kidding. Their 1892 Fargo church enjoyed an odyssey of its own: when they disbanded, the building became a mortuary and was later used by the Reformed LDS church, until it was eventually purchased by a reconstituted U-U congregation. Full circle in roughly a hundred years! I was anxious to imagine liberal belief–even UNbelief–in Agincourt, and, especially, to imagine what sort of building might satisfy their architectural needs.
Sleuthing the web one day for railroad-related structures, I ran across a complete set of working drawings for a water tower. The design was approved for the Chicago & Northwestern and was subsequently adopted for the Milwaukee Road, so I thought it was fair game for a trackside site on the south edge of town. And then a stroke of genius or perversion; you decide. These standardized structures arrived at their site on a flatcar, pieces numbered and ready for construction. Why couldn’t a bureaucratic snafu have accidentally ordered TWO water tower kits? The second redundant tower might languish for years on a siding and eventually be offered to a non-profit group as a charitable contribution; after all, who needs a second water tower. Voila! Agincourt’s freethinkers–its heretics, apostates, blasphemers and worse–would have a place to be unreligious! And it would be as unchurch-like as possible.
My challenge is simple: adapt this kit of parts to accommodate the intellectual home of Agincourt’s freethinkers.