Charles Gaines, Distinguished Service award recipient: ‘Be evangelists for our faith’

Charles Gaines, Distinguished Service award recipient: ‘Be evangelists for our faith’

Over fifty-seven years of ministry, the Rev. Charles Gaines has ‘modeled a Unitarian Universalism that can be.’

Sonja L. Cohen
The Rev. Charles Gaines receives the Distinguished Service award from Co-moderator Barb Greve

The Rev. Charles “Chuck” Gaines receives the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism from UUA Co-Moderator Mr. Barb Greve during the 2018 General Assembly in Kansas City. (© Christopher L. Walton)

© Christopher L. Walton/UUA


On Saturday morning, the Rev. Charles “Chuck” Gaines accepted the UUA’s highest honor, the annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.

In 1961, Gaines was the last person to be ordained a Universalist minister, just two weeks before the consolidation of the Unitarians and the Universalists into the Unitarian Universalist Association. Presenting the Distinguished Service award, UUA Co-Moderator Mr. Barb Greve (who was dedicated by Gaines as a small child) said, “Throughout your ministry, you have demonstrated the inclusive values of Universalism and upheld the broader vision of a social gospel made manifest in our daily relationships, our institutions, and our work in the world.”

The award citation commended both Gaines’s street-based activism and work for institutional change. In 1965 he joined the march from Selma to Montgomery. He served congregations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, held two different director roles at the UUA, and consulted with hundreds of congregations while at Turnabout Consultants.

Greve acknowledged that Gaines’s willingness to address issues head-on wasn’t always popular, but “your analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our movement and your willingness to name difficult truths have taught many about oppression, privilege, and what it means to be an ally.”

The audience applauded loudly when Greve told the story of how in 1984, Gaines—not yet a UUA employee—represented institutional Unitarian Universalism at the first gathering of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender UU ministers and students when no one on staff was willing to attend.

Soon after, Gaines was hired as the UUA’s Ministry Settlement director, a position he held from 1984 to 1990, during which he promoted women, people of color, and LGBTQ ministers for settlement in congregations. When he met resistance, he introduced a programmatic response that required congregations to examine and work to overcome systemic and personal biases during the settlement process, which was the seed of the current program Beyond Categorical Thinking.

From 1990 to 1995, Gaines served as director of the UUA’s Extension Department, where he broadened the understanding of extension and church growth to include a spectrum of services to congregations of all sizes. Greve said these efforts led to “the most robust outreach and growth efforts” since the days of the fellowship movement.

“We owe you a deep debt of gratitude for helping Unitarian Universalism grow when other denominations were waning and for inspiring a diversity among our religious professionals that helped to change who is in the conversation,” Greve said. “Throughout your service, you have given us some taste of a Universalism that is realizable and modeled for us a Unitarian Universalism that can be.”

Accepting the award, Gaines spoke briefly about the evangelism—meaning “an enthusiastic advocate,” he said—of nineteenth century Universalists who were energized to grow their faith and attributed some of his own evangelism to that tradition. During his fifty-seven years in ministry, Gaines has visited forty-four states and eight countries on behalf of the UU faith. His motto in ministry, he said, is taken from words frequently attributed to John Murray, the founder of Universalism in America: “You may possess only a small light but uncover it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not hell but hope and courage.”

In closing, Gaines expressed thanks for the honor and encouraged the audience to “in your own heart and way be evangelists for our faith.”

The UUA awarded two Distinguished Service Awards at General Assembly this year, after awarding none last year. The first was presented to the Rev. Danielle Assunta Di Bona on Friday.