The Rev. Irene Earll, a fourth-generation Universalist, served the Athens Universalist Church from 1892 to 1893. She was a native of Syracuse, N. Y., and an 1890 graduate of Cornell University. She was ordained in 1891 and served a Universalist congregation in Webster, N. Y., before coming to Athens.
Earll was called to Athens in April, 1892, shortly after the congregation had had to dismiss a pastor who had been dis-fellowshipped by the Pennsylvania Universalist Convention. Later that month, Earll was appointed to a church committee charged with proposing an amendment to the church constitution regarding voting members. This effort may have been prompted by conflict over the previous minister. The church record book does not say what was the outcome of the committee’s work.
Rev. Earll spent most of her adult life as a librarian and a social worker, with occasional pastorates in New York State. In 1904 the Missionary Board of the New York State Convention of Universalists sent her to Rome, N. Y., to help reorganize the church there. At the time, the Rome church had no minister, and its membership had dwindled from 40 to just 15 over the previous two years.
Earll preached at Rome on two Sundays in September, 1904. She was apparently not one to mince words, as evidenced by the following excerpt from one of her sermons:
“If the religion for which the church stands is true at all, it is awfully true. Yet you are giving to it your spare change, your idle time, your perfunctory service. You may blame the ministers, but what can you expect of a minister whom you value at $5 a year? You spend $1,000 a year to keep and nourish your body, and begrudge $3.65 for your immortal soul. You have no time to give to the church because you put so much into your clubs, your orders, your fraternities. You think by buying a 15¢ ticket to a church supper it will admit you to heaven. You fool yourselves by thinking that when you go in a church concert and hear rag-time music, or to a church fair and buy a pin cushion, that you are doing the work of the Lord and giving Him his due; but when you go up before the Great White Throne with that music on your lips and that pin cushion in your hand, it is not what the Lord will think of you, but what will you think of yourself?”
The Rome church’s condition remained unchanged for a year or two. Then in 1907 they engaged a minister, and by 1910 their membership was back up to 37. Whether the Rev. Earll’s provocative words sparked their recovery, we’ll never know!