The Ministry of David Eaton: Lessons for a Multicultural Age

“The Rev. David H. Eaton was called to serve as senior minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian in the fall of 1969 – making him the first black senior pastor ever called to serve an established, predominately white Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation. Over the next decade, the congregation was transformed from a nearly all-white church into one which was racially balanced – by most accounts about half-and-half throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s – between black and white members.
Despite intense interest in multicultural growth within our movement, the multi-racial character of Eaton’s congregation has largely failed to materialize within other UU churches in the 43 years since his ministry began, regardless of whether these congregations have undertaken the effort to diversify under the leadership of white ministers or with clergy of color. Today, twenty years after the end of Eaton’s ministry, All Souls Church is still considered a leading multicultural congregation, with 23% of adults and 43% of children self-identifying as people of color. Eaton’s enduring legacy, exhibited in the sustained multi-racial character of All Souls Church, shows that we have much to learn from studying his leadership.
In this paper I will investigate the characteristics of Eaton’s ministry that have led to the growth and success of All Souls as a multi-racial and multicultural congregation since 1969, with a particular focus on changes that took place in the first ten years of Eaton’s ministry. I will argue that two primary factors contributed to the multicultural transformation of All Souls Church during Eaton’s time as senior minister. The first was Eaton’s vocal, vision-driven leadership in building a public ministry that clearly understood and communicated a black perspective of racial justice as a religious issue. The second was Eaton’s deeply-rooted involvement in his local context – specifically his intentional and sustained engagement with the institutions of power, activist groups, and the media environment of DC’s black community.”