Emerson History

Emerson UU's Earliest History

We were founded on May 1, 1982. At that first potluck meeting, everyone came prepared to share something from a famous Unitarian. Ralph Waldo Emerson got the most support, so we chose the name Emerson Unitarian Universalist. Twenty-five people signed the application for fellowship status, which was approved by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). At first, our meetings were held every other Sunday in the community room of the DeKalb Federal Savings and Loan on Johnson Ferry Road. In those days, the children held their classes in stairwells and the kitchen!

By 1984 our space needs had become critical. We found “a little yellow church” on Holly Springs Road, which we purchased, along with 1.6 acres from the Methodists. We had a lot of fixing up to do and folks pitched in to repair, polish, and be sure we had heating and air conditioning. Our building was ready to be dedicated on December 12, 1986. During those first years, our services were led by guest ministers and speakers from our congregation. From 1986-1995, we also had two part-time ministers, Joan Armstrong and Terre Balof.

The Extension and Expansion Period

By 1998, after being without professional ministry for three years,  we applied to the UUA for Extension Ministry status. Through that process, we got a small three-year stipend so we could hire a full-time minister.  The Reverend Dr. Glenda Gray became our first full-time minister. We had steady growth over the years that Glenda was with us; growth in membership, growth in activities, growth in social justice action, and spiritual growth.

Religious Education and Music Ministries

Another area of wonderful growth was in our Religious Education (RE) department. In August 2001, Beth Kline left her position as a volunteer Director of RE at the UU Congregation of Marietta to become the Director of Religious Education at Emerson. That same day Emerson’s small RE program increased by 25% as Beth brought her four young children with her.  As Emerson’s religious education ministry continued to expand, space needs became critical.  Mobile classrooms alleviated some of these issues.  Later In 2001, the opportunity arose to purchase almost 4 acres of land with a house on it to south of the church.  The Congregation rented out the house for a time, but in 2003 we moved RE classes into the house, which we named Quest House.


Music continued to be a major draw for Emerson.  In 2004, Emerson welcomed Dr. Kathy Mittelman as our Choir Director.  With the large number of individuals in the choir, and with the music gifts of other Emerson members coordinated by Kathee Tomlin, music became a strong ministry at Emerson.

Emerson’s Second Called Minister

When Glenda Gray retired in 2008, Emerson welcomed Interim Minister Rev. Marni Harmony while the congregation searched for a new full-time minister.  In 2009, Emerson held its first Heart in the Park, our public witness event for Marriage Equality.  In May of 2010, the congregation warmly welcomed the Rev. Jeff Jones, a graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, as Emerson’s second full-time minister. Rev. Jones brought to Emerson a reverence for the wisdom of many religions, a devotion to compassionate living, and a commitment to actively living his faith and encouraging the spiritual growth of others. His participation in interfaith dialogues and social justice efforts helped Emerson grow both in numbers and in our presence in the wider community.

 As Emerson continued to grow, we initiated a Small Group Ministry program called Listening Circles in which groups of up to ten people participate in facilitated programs of spiritual growth. About half of Emerson is involved in our Listening Circles.

The Move to Canton Road

Emerson’s space needs remained an urgent concern. After many years of exploring various options, and with a commitment to accessibility as a driving factor, the congregation moved into its new home on Canton Road in May of 2014. With significantly increased space, we now offer expanded Adult Religious Exploration for our members and friends. Our congregation has one hundred and eighty adult members, and our Religious Education program now serves more than one hundred children. In 2015 Emerson welcomed the Garden School as a tenant. The Garden School began as a homeschool enrichment program, and has become an accredited private school. After focusing on our internal needs for so long, Emerson is now exploring ways to act on our values in the larger community, through an expanded emphasis on service, interfaith cooperation, and social justice action.

The Next Chapter

In May 2017, Rev. Jeff Jones gave his last sermon at Emerson.  We wish him well, as he retires from full-time congregational ministry and continues his spiritual journey in new directions. Emerson looks forward to beginning our next chapter, with a new interim minister, Rev. Don Cameron, arriving in August. We are excited about the future, and we hope you will join this enthusiastic, growing congregation.