part 1 of 2 on the history of UU Basel

Basel has long been a center of tolerance and even welcoming of liberal thought.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, a renaissance humanist from the time of Martin Luther, found his home here. Servetus, the Unitarian famous for being burned at the stake by the court of Jean Calvin in Geneva, spent 10 months in Basel, just before he published his first Unitarian tract. And one of the earliest European Universities is the University of Basel, founded in 1460.

So it seems natural for Basel, between the confluence with the Birs and the bend in the Rhein where France, Germany and Switzerland meet, to be fertile ground for a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

It was indeed a confluence of events that gave birth to UUB. Reverend Mark Bowen, trained as an Episcopal minister, sought to start a Unitarian Universalist fellowship when he arrived in Basel in July 2010, and after visiting the Paris Fellowship he was advised by Dorcy Erlandson to contact Rev Mark Morrison-Reed for advice and support. Morrison-Reed had spent much of his childhood and young adulthood in Switzerland  and had recently published an autobiographical book about race identity, “In Between.” The book detailed much of his life in Switzerland, a country he found welcoming to him in 1960s and 70s. He spoke the language and understood the territory.  He was also well connected with the EUU and a close colleague with the Reverend Charlotte Cowtan.

Serendipitously, Rev Cowtan’s daughter, Lara Fuchs, was having similar thoughts as Bowen, and had only the month before asked Mark for similar advice. She had met him the prior year on a North American road trip to the UUA General Assembly in Salt Lake City to visit her mother. Mark had been in Basel on book tour and had met with the author of this article, Matt Gilsenan. And Rev Mark had known EUU member John Eichrodt through the EUU. Rev Morrison-Reed put Lara in touch with Mark Bowen, who reached out to the others, and the candle was lit.

Seven people were at the first September meeting, twelve at the second one in October. After four months the four who most consistently showed up started meeting at the home of Lorraine Rytz outside of services to hammer out the statutes. The mood was jubilant when John, Lara, Matt and Lorraine came to agreement and signed the statutes at about 1:30 AM on the 28th of February, 2011.

There was much excitement in UU circles about the birth of this new fellowship, and, with her connections as the daughter of a UU Reverend, Lara attracted many guest speakers to Basel. Additionally, the EUU supported our fellowship by giving us a grant to buy a portable electric piano to enhance our services. UU Basel was on a roll.

The first few services had been lay-led, and members took turns leading. Within the first year, RE was established, first with 3-4 children, eventually reaching 8-11. Lara began to line up professional UU ministers as guest speakers, including Morrison-Reed, Cowtan, Art Lester, Steve Dick, Anthony Makar, and Sam Trumbore. Additionally, there was informal support from EUU members such as Chris Hendricks, Derek Suchard, and John Keating, who all traveled to Basel to lead services, usually with an attendance of 20-25 people.

In the Spring 2013 in Mittelwihr, with much help from EUU veterans, especially Chris Heinrichs, Basel hosted its first retreat. This coming retreat in Cologne, jointly hosted with Brussels, is Basel’s third.

Meanwhile, Lara Fuchs, inspired by her experiences at UUB, entered ministerial training and was ordained a UU Minister in 2017. She returns to Basel as Rev. Lara Fuchs and plans a training series this fall to help members lead and plan effective services. She is also offering a leadership training at this coming retreat in Cologne.

Part two of this story will detail the emergence of a truly multicultural and multi-religious fellowship, described by John Eichrodt as “possibly the most international fellowship worldwide.”

The Unifier would love to feature your fellowship in a future issue. Please contact us by email ( ) or in person at the retreat.