Less than a year after community and home meetings, his vision was brought to fruition at West Shore’s first Annual Meeting held on May 14, 1946, with 129 Charter Members. The first services were held in the Lakewood Masonic Temple in the Fall of 1946. Rev. Wayne Shuttee, Rev. Baker’s assistant, served as West Shore’s first settled minister.
As membership and religious programming grew, the congregants recognized a need for a permanent building. Land in Rocky River was purchased at auction. Built largely through members’ sweat equity, capital campaigns and fundraisers (including selling bottles of jam made from the grapes on the property), the early building, called Baker Hall, was opened in May, 1952. Additional building and expansion campaigns led to renovations and eventually the construction of a Main Sanctuary and educational wing, which were completed in 1962. During the nation’s peak church-going years, membership topped off at over 900, with 700 in religious education. Today, membership holds steady at between 500 to 600 members.
In 2003, West Shore’s congregation voted to embark on an ambitious Capital Campaign to raise funds for a comprehensive church renovation project. Nearly every portion of the church was updated in 2005; additional classrooms, office, and an award-winning rotunda gathering place were completed.
By late 2017 the final phase of Capital Campaign was finished. The Sanctuary was renovated and the restoration of the historic Holtkamp Organ was completed. Our media capabilities were updated including a digital front lawn sign and digital audio mixer. The inner courtyard was redesigned as a stunning memorial garden to honor our members’ legacies. At the same time, solar panels were installed on the main roof to help reduce our carbon footprint.
Social programs and community outreach did not take a back seat during the formative years and all the years since. At first, emphasis was placed on rigorous debate with community and national speakers. Since then, those “debates” have brought West Shore to the forefront of timely topical Justice issues. For example, in the last mid-century, protests were held outside on church grounds demonstrating in favor of Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. West Shore is a Welcoming Congregation, affirming our commitment to inclusivity for lesbians, gays, queer, bisexuals, and transgender people. Before same sex marriage was legalized, the congregation voted to post a large banner, “Standing on the Side of Love,” across our front entranceway, and continue today to have an active Queer & Allies group and events. At home, various Justice and outreach committees/task forces have been formed to tackle such timely topics as fracking, human trafficking, and establishing a Green Sanctuary. West Shore high school youth have braved harsh winters to camp out on the front lawn to bring attention to the plight of the homeless and raise money for shelters. We donate half of our weekly offerings to community organizations, and hold fundraisers, food and clothing drives for organizations in need. Most importantly, West Shore has established a Justice Ministry to coordinate our existing work and expand our reach and impact. Passersby can clearly see our “Black Lives Matters” banner, which affirms our support of this vital national movement and has spurred workshops and conversations inside our church on “white privilege” and other important topics.
West Shore has also made an impact outside Northeast Ohio. Currently we have a partnership with the UU church in Transylvania, and have provided scholarships for graduating seniors. Our members have joined other UUs in re-building trips to disaster torn areas in Haiti and New Orleans. Through ongoing sales of Fair Trade products, West Shore has been able to make small new business FINCA loans to women in developing nations. We are proud to be a Teaching Church, offering an opportunity for a seminary intern to spend a year under the guidance of a senior minister, to learn and grow with us in faith and actions. Click here to watch a presentation on our Partner Church.
Today, West Shore serves as the leader in coordinating Northeast Ohio’s UU churches’ Justice Outreach efforts. Since its inception, West Shore has embraced these words of our acknowledged founder, Dr. Everett Moore Baker: “…I believe that more people will recognize the direct connection between our kind of religious freedom and the individual freedom in democracy.” West Shore is, and will continue to be, “One Church with Many Paths.”
West Shore celebrated its 75th Jubilee in 2021-2022. Our historian, Gaile Schafer, researched and wrote several articles for our newsletter, Shorelines, recapping the history of the church decade by decade. This booklet was created by Debbie Elliott and made available to the congregation on September 11, 2022. To view “Who We Are: Our History Celebrating 75 Years,” click here.
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