The First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia was established by twenty of the city’s preeminent 18th century intellectuals as the First Unitarian Society of Philadelphia in the summer of 1796, making the institution the first continuously functioning Unitarian church in the country. Unitarian Minister Joseph Priestly, the chemist who is credited with discovering oxygen, guided and encouraged the original founders after fleeing England due to religious persecution from disgruntled supporters of the Church of England. The congregation’s services were led by members until the young Bostonian W.H. Furness took on the role as minister in 1825, a position which he held for fifty years. W.H. Furness is credited with establishing the identity of the church as one geared toward activism and social concern through his abolitionist beliefs and Underground Railroad activities.
The church currently resides in its third building, which was