Sanctuary and Service since 1814

In 2014 St. John’s celebrated 200 years as a congregation, one of the oldest in Cincinnati.  From its beginning in 1814, St. John’s has been a meeting place for diverse groups.

The early congregation included immigrants from many countries, both Protestants and Catholics who found the church an independent haven for religious liberals. To continue in its liberal tradition, St. John’s joined the American Unitarian Association in 1924 and then the AUA  merged with Universalist churches in 1961. We belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association, at

The church built at 12th & Elm Streets in 1868 is still standing, but missing the steeple. It was our home for 78 years. (In late 2015 that renovated building opened as a bar and meeting place called The Transept. Before that, the congregation spent two years at German United Evangelical Church St. Paul’s at 15th and Race Streets, which in 2011-2012, was renovated to become Taft’s Ale House. ) In 1960, our current Clifton location at 320 Resor Ave. was completed with a distinctive, modern sanctuary.

image of old sign of St. John's
This stained glass sign is on the front of The Transept in Over the Rhine.

Over the years 14 settled ministers have served St. John’s, four women and 10 men.  Each challenged and supported us on our spiritual journey.  But the history of our church is not in affiliations, buildings or ministers – it is in our relations to each other and to the wider world.

In the late 1800s, St. John’s provided leadership to found the German General Protestant Orphan’s Home (now Beech Acres), necessary because of the cholera epidemic. The church was active in promoting fair treatment of the local German community during WWI and WWII. And during the 1960s, church members marched for civil rights.

Our “current history” is in the rest of these pages. We are passionate advocates for human rights for all. We teach our children to respect other’s religious beliefs. We support artist and musicians as change-makers.  From our Peacemaking Initiative to having fun together, we are a community that cares for each other and the wider world.  Would you like to make history with us?

For a chronological list of past ministers, names of the congregation and locations of church buildings see this Timeline. Read below for a list of articles about St. John’s history. Come back to see additional articles as they are added.

Note to genealogists:

St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church records from the 1800s and early 1900s are stored at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives, housed at The Cincinnati Museum Center (Union Terminal). Visit their web site at where you’ll find contact information. Look to the right and scroll down for a link to Archives and Manuscripts. After clicking on the link enter “St. John’s Unitarian Church” into keywords and click the search button.  You’ll see a list of St. John’s items in the library’s collection.

A complete history of St. John’s Unitarian Church by Rev. Hugo Eisenlohr was written in 1934.

In fall 2020, a series of oral histories was recorded with long-time St. John’s members and our historian, Debbie Combs. You can find this playlist of oral histories on the church YouTube page. Learn the history and background of artwork and our tracker organ in a video art playlist and see some architectural history in the architecture playlist of videos.

Enjoy this equinoctial feature of our architecture: the movement of the sun across a marked path on the floor. This is from March 21, 2021:

Our meeting rooms and classrooms are named for national or UU-related figures.

For more information about St. John’s history, please email

Articles about St. John’s history: