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History of Harper's Ferry Ministerial Study Group



The Harper's Ferry Group was organized on March 30, 1959, at a one day meeting held at the Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church, attended by ministers drawn from a wide area.  A program committee was elected, Duncan Howlett, Chairperson, and a three day retreat was set for the following November.  Retreats have been held regularly each November ever since.  In 1964 we met for the first time at Hilltop House, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.  At that meeting it was voted to make Harper's Ferry the regular meeting place and to adopt the name Harper's Ferry Ministerial Study Group.


Frankly patterned after the Greenfield Group organized in New England over thirty years ago, the Harper's Ferry Group follows a similar program schedule, observes similar disciplines and has a similar philosophy.  A well-honed statement drawn up by the Greenfield Group and re-issued many times expresses this philosophy as follows:


“The purpose of the Group is group thinking in carefully selected areas, relevant to both the theoretical problems of liberal religious philosophy and the practical work of Unitarian Universalist ministers.  The object is not so much agreement as a genuine meeting of minds across the great variety of points of view within our common loyalty as Unitarian Universalist ministers.  This requires a conscious will and a sustained effort to achieve mutual understanding.  The process of discussion on this basis is central, with the papers and the required reading serving as starting point and common background.”


We would add to this statement the fact that year in and year out, over and above the intellectual stimulus and benefit of the group thinking process, we find the experience of common fellowship to be the most important aspect of the Group for each of us.


Duncan Howlett