Our Church

We are Unitarian Universalists

Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a non-creedal religious denomination. Our members reflect many spiritual paths, including Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Humanist, Jewish, agnostic, and atheist. (Yes, even atheists go to church!) We join together in our diverse beliefs through our Seven UU Principles & Six Sources, a covenant that reflects our commitment to respect each other and pursue justice for all. We welcome seekers, doubters, questioners and believers, while asking all who join us to respect our differences and celebrate our common humanity.

So what do you believe? Or maybe you don’t! Either way, we encourage you to explore Unitarian Universalism in the hope that you will find a church home with us.

We are First Unitarian Church of Des Moines

First Unitarian Church of Des Moines is a congregation of about 460 members committed to supporting spiritual growth, valuing people for who they truly are, and working to expand social justice throughout our community. We are a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a denomination of approximately 900 congregations across the country that bring diverse religious perspectives together into a covenantal community supporting each of our unique life journeys.

Our history in Des Moines is the story of a congregation that actively applies its values to the ways we live in a changing world. From First Unitarian’s founding in 1877 to today, we’ve provided ethical and spiritual leadership addressing the issues of the time. Get to know our story!


With the help of Reverend Jennifer Brooks, interim minister, the congregation worked diligently to make positive changes in the church – renewing the process of being a Welcoming Congregation, updating accessibility for all to worship, and educating the congregation on pronouns.


Reverend Amy Petrie Shaw serves as First Unitarian’s first Transgender minister.


On Christmas Eve in 2019 members of FIrst Unitarian held public witness in support of immigrants being detained and separated at the US southern border.


In the spring of 2020 the  church building is shut down. Services are begun to be held virtually as the COVID-19 pandemic hits our community and the nation.


Late in 2021 the church reopens and begins to hold in-person gatherings again.  However, the new hybrid approach of also offering virtual options continues.


Church members raise over $400,000 and work begins to renovate the church’s outdated kitchen. Great efforts are made to align the project with the church’s values around sustainability.

Today, we are a community eager to provide mutual support to each other and encourage the sharing of personal values and beliefs – efforts that enrich us all. Our current Mission and Ends Statements outline how we make this happen, as well as how we connect to our local and world communities.

UUA Designations

We are proud to have earned two important designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Welcoming Congregation

In 1992, First Unitarian Church earned the Welcoming Congregation designation, which recognizes our intentional support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning members of our congregation and our community. Learn about our work on LGBTQ issues.

Green Sanctuary

Go green! First Unitarian Church has been a Green Sanctuary since 2015. This award recognizes our strong commitment to our Seventh Principle: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Learn more about our Environmental Justice work.

Unsung UU

Each year the Board of Trustees presents the Unsung UU Award to a member or friend of our church who works tirelessly behind the scenes, is someone we can always count on, and is always willing to assist when needed.

The Board of Trustees requests nominations from the congregation in the spring and announces the recipient at the Annual Congregational Meeting on the first Sunday after Memorial Day. A plaque with the list of recipients dating back to 1977 is on the wall in the church foyer.

Click here for more information!

2022: Nicky Keller (posthumous)

Nicky was a very active member of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines, participating in many social justice initiatives and serving on several committees. She was a beautiful seamstress and avid home remodeler and decorator, and she always had a book she was reading. Nicky was known for her relentless work ethic, her generosity, and her wisdom. To quote a former colleague, “she could see down the road and around the corner.”

Past Unsung UUs:

2022: Nicky Keller                                                                                                                                                                                  2021: Sue Huber                                                                                                                                                                                  2020: Carolyn Spencer (posthumous)
2019: Sally Boeckholt
2018: Mary Hays
2017: Gene McCracken
2016: Eileen Lundberg
2015: Pat Headley
2014: Chris Jorgensen
2013: Alan Billyard
2012: Barbara Martin
2011: Karen Kraemer
2010: Greg Pelley
2009: Bob Glass
2008: Ellen Taylor
2007: Deidre Fudge
2006: Mary Ellen Neal
2005: Bill Leonard
2004: Al Powers
2003: Caroline Adler
2002: Jane Rider
2001 Bob Baker
2000 Denise Mernka
1999 Harvey Harrison
1998 Dwight Saunders
1997 David Witke
1996 Knox Craig
1995 Jodie McKay
1994 Susan Koch Bridgford
1993 Pat Winters
1992 Bill Wilder
1991 Norman Thomas
1990 Beth Saunders
1989 Elien Isom
1988 Julie Audlehelm
1987 Bruce Martin
1986 Terry Swanson
1985 Barb Royal
1984 Wilbur Rose
1983 Edith Bjornstad
1982 Jack Druart
1981 Priscilla Witke
1980 Alice Willis
1979 Edna Williams Harrington
1978 Lea Mould
1977 Eugenie Hafenstein