The Icelandic Unitarians
A Distinctive Religious Phenomenon in North America
In the history of Unitarian Universalism in North America, there has never been a
more successful effort towards ethnic diversity than the Icelandic Unitarian
movement. From its beginnings in 1886 until its gradual decline following World War II,
nearly thirty Icelandic Unitarian congregations were organized in Western Canada,
the Upper Midwest and Washington state. At its peak in the 1930s, there were
eighteen active churches and preaching stations.
The Icelandic Unitarians - ę 2008 - Stefan M. Jonasson
A Living Tradition ...
Active Congregations with Icelandic Roots
Several Unitarian Universalist congregations continue the Icelandic Unitarian tradition
today, celebrating their Icelandic heritage even as they have become more
broadly-based community churches.
Arborg, Manitoba - Arborg Unitarian Church: Founded in 1923 as the Icelandic
Federated Church in Arborg (Sambands S÷fnuur ═slendinga Ý ┴rborg), this
congregation now boasts an increasingly diverse membership while continuing to
celebrate its Icelandic roots. A short history of the church, prepared by Palmi
Palsson, was included in the book Northern Lights, a collection of congregational
histories of Unitarian churches in Western Canada.
Blaine, Washington - Free Church Unitarian: Founded in 1928 as the Free Church
Congregation (FrÝkirkjus÷fnuur), Free Church Unitarian is the only remaining
Icelandic Unitarian church in the United States. Today it is a diverse congregation
drawing its members from every quarter of the community.
Gimli, Manitoba - Gimli Unitarian Church: An independent liberal congregation,
which has served the Gimli community since 1891. From 1920 until the 1950s, the
congregation was known as the First Federated Church of Gimli, reflecting the merger
of the Icelandic Unitarian and New Theology movements. By the 1960s, though, the
church returned to its earlier identity as Gimli Unitarian Church. The Gimli Women's
Institute included a short history of the church in Gimli Saga, a book published to
commemorate Canada's centennial.
Hnausa, Manitoba - Hnausa Unitarian Camp and Chapel: The Unitarian Fresh Air
Camp was established in 1937, under the auspices of the Western Canada Alliance of
Unitarian Women, originally to provide outdoor vacations for needy children from the
Icelandic community in Winnipeg. Today, the Hnausa Unitarian Camp seeks to
continue in the historical tradition of Lake Winnipeg camps - promoting our liberal
religious heritage by providing this site for children, families and community groups to
meet. The Arnes Unitarian Church (built in 1925) was moved to the camp in 1967 to
serve as a chapel.
ReykjavÝk, Iceland - Unitarian Fellowship: There have been sporadic attempts to
organize Unitarian societies in Iceland ever since the nineteenth century, when
Icelanders from North America encouraged such efforts. They have been long-lived,
owing in part to the historic openness of the Church of Iceland to theological
diversity. Today, there is a small society in ReykjavÝk, which has several dozen
active members and a much larger group of sympathizers. The secretary is: Jˇn R.
Gunnarsson, Hjararhaga 48, 107 ReykjavÝk, Iceland; telephone +354 551-7254.
Winnipeg, Manitoba - First Unitarian Universalist Church: The first Icelandic
Unitarian congregation, this church was organized on February 1, 1891 as the First
Icelandic Unitarian Society. It remains the largest of the Unitarian churches with an
Wynyard, Saskatchewan - Wynyard Unitarian Church: Founded as the Quill Lake
Congregation in 1906, the "Brick Church" in Wynyard is now a provincial heritage site.
Its tiny congregation hosts the annual All-Saskatchewan Service on the Sunday
following the Civic Holiday each August. This year's All-Saskatchewan Service will
be held on Sunday, August 10, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. Everyone is welcome! Lunch will
follow the service. Contact Rev. Stefan Jonasson for details.