Just as the mythological phoenix rose from the ashes, so the now-667-member Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta rebuilt itself after almost being destroyed by racism. The original church, founded in 1882, ended its affiliation with the American Unitarian Association in 1944 because of the AUA’s criticism of the church’s segregation policy. In 1951 the AUA, which retained ownership of the church building, sold it, forcing the dwindling congregation to close. The congregation reconvened in 1954, this time with a strong integrationist mandate. The current building was built in 1965, and a new sculpture hanging in the lobby celebrates the church’s rebirth—a phoenix arising from a flaming chalice.
The sculpture, about five feet high and four feet wide, was done by congregant Antonio Borra (pictured) and is made of shaped and polished aluminum, copper, brass, and carved cedar set against a birch background. Borra said that the darker copper flames in the chalice represent the old congregation and the brass flame in the center represents the newer one. “Congregants can see themselves reflected in the brass flame and in the phoenix,” Borra said.
Dedicated in November 2004, the year the congregation celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, the sculpture also honors the Rev. Dr. Edward Frost, who was retiring after sixteen years at the church.
The church’s adopted symbol, a phoenix, is also Atlanta’s icon, representing the city’s rebirth after being destroyed in the Civil War.