Ziegler, Albert Frederick

Albert Frederick Ziegler
Albert Frederick Ziegler

Albert Frederick Ziegler (March 29 1911-May 21, 1991), Universalist minister, theologian, and denominational official, played a significant part in redefining Universalism during the two decades leading to the merger of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association in 1961. Perhaps his greatest contribution came through his leadership role in the small group of Universalist ministers known as the Humiliati.

Born in South Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Albert Ulrich Ziegler and Martha Theresa Louisa Stieg, he spent the first 54 years of his life in New England. As a young man he worked as an accountant for the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. in Boston, earning a B.B.A. degree from Northeastern University in 1935. In 1942, at the urging of his wife, the former Ruth Anderson Cole, he left his work as an accountant to enter the Crane Theological School at Tufts University. “You know you’ve always wanted to be a minister,” Ruth had told him. “Now is the time to do it.”

Although Ziegler came from a Methodist background, he was strongly attracted to Universalist theology. The influence of members of the faculty, especially Bruce Brotherston and Clarence Skinner, was important to him, but at least as important was that derived from discussions with his fellow students. A group, consisting of Ziegler, Gordon McKeeman, Raymond Hopkins, David Cole, Earle McKinney, Keith Munson, Frederick Harrison, and Charles Vickery, found their interactions so important that, led by Ziegler and McKeeman, they created a brotherhood through which they could continue their relationships after graduation. Whimsically, they took their name from an ancient Italian order called the Humiliati, “the humble ones,” even though little humility could be found among them. The Humiliati held their first retreat at Tufts in 1946, with Ziegler’s S.T.B. thesis, “A Functional Theology for Liberal Religion,” as the main topic for discussion. Ziegler soon emerged as the group’s leading theologian, and over the next eight years, under his leadership, it developed a unique theological system drawing heavily on Hosea Ballou‘s determinism and Brotherston’s “impulse theology.” This “emergent Universalism,” as it was called, posited an inner force or spirit impelling every living thing toward fulfillment and wholeness. Believing that worship can help foster this spirit, the Humiliati developed new and richer liturgical forms. They also adopted a distinctive symbol, that of an off center cross enclosed in a circle. Although the group disbanded in 1954, most of its members continued in close relationship.

The basic commitment of Ziegler and the other Humiliati had been to revitalize the Universalist Church of America and in this, through the enthusiastic promotion of their innovations, they succeeded to a significant degree. In so doing, they helped prepare the way for a more compatible consolidation of the two denominations than would have been otherwise possible. Ziegler originally opposed the idea of merger, fearing that it would lead to a restriction of freedom and the democratic process, but he finally withdrew his objections.

In 1945 Ziegler had been ordained to the Universalist ministry by the U.C.A. at the church in Rockport, Massachusetts, a congregation he had served as student minister during his seminary days. There followed a series of settlements in Universalist churches, mostly in Massachusetts: Wakefield, 1945-47; Somerville, 1947-52; Providence, Rhode Island (with summers at Provincetown), 1952-59; and Melrose, 1959-65. During 1952-59 he also served as state superintendent for the Rhode Island convention.

In 1965 Ziegler left New England to accept the superintendency of the Universalist churches in Ohio, a position he held only briefly before being appointed district executive for the Ohio-Meadville District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. In 1970, when the district executive positions were terminated throughout the denomination for financial reasons, Ziegler became the U.U.A. Inter-District Representative for the Ohio-Meadville, Michigan-Ohio Valley, and St. Lawrence districts. Finding the position overly political and without sufficient preaching opportunities, he resigned after two years to become associate minister of the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where he served until 1976. In 1973 Meadville/Lombard Theological School honored Ziegler with a Doctorate of Divinity.

At age 65 and with retirement approaching, he accepted a call to the Universalist Church of Tarpon Springs, Florida. His ministry there was marked by both personal sadness and joy. Ruth, his wife of 48 years, died in 1980; then two years later he married Eunice Huntley Rawson, widow of a Universalist minister. When he retired in 1983, the Tarpon Springs church named Ziegler its minister emeritus.

Albert Ziegler’s theology evolved into something less complicated than that of the “emergent Universalism” of his Humiliati days. “Yes, there is a something,” he wrote in his later years. “There is a purpose in the cosmos beyond our own, out of which we came, by which we are maintained and by which we are moved, to which we are subject. Things happen that we cannot fathom, great as we are. We are subordinate. Of all the myriad attempts to define this something, I am most comfortable with one of the most ancient, the teachings of Tao. . . . And of all the ideals of human conduct I am most moved by the description of the perfect follower of Tao: He is cautious, like one who crosses a stream in winter. He is hesitating, like one who fears his neighbor. He is modest, like one who is a guest. He is yielding, like ice that knows it is going to melt. He is simple, like wood that is not yet wrought. And so forth and so forth and so forth.”

He also wrote: “To know the worth of love and beauty, and grace and form, and not to store the treasure but increase it by your own life’s span for all the world to see and know. Isn’t that a pleasant prospect? And, you know, it might be true. It may be more than just the dream of this old man.”

Following Ziegler’s death in 1991, a memorial service was held at Ferry Beach Park in Maine, a Universalist conference center with which he had long been associated. One of his favorite phrases, “Rest Assured,” had been taken from the motto emblazoned on the first chapel that stood in its woods.

Papers relating to Ziegler can be found in the Universalist Collection and in the Fraters Collection, both at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His unpublished thesis, “A Functional Theology for Liberal Religion” (1945), can be found at Tufts University. Ziegler’s published writings include a Universalist meditation manual, Words of Life (1954); Foundations of Faith (c.1959); “A Meditation,” in To Meet the Asking Years (1982); and numerous articles in the Christian/Universalist Leader (1945-61), Register-Leader, and Theologically Speaking (a publication of the Humiliati). There is biographical material on Ziegler in Russell Miller, The Larger Hope, volume 2 (1985). See also Patricia McClellan Bowen, “The Humiliati of Tufts: A Model for Renewal in Religion,” unpublished D.Min. Dissertation, Meadville/Lombard, 1978; and Mark Belletini, “Sacramentarianism among 20th-Century Unitarians and Universalists,” in Regaining Historical Consciousness (Proceedings of The Earl Morse Wilbur History Colloquium, Starr King School for the Ministry, 1994). Rest Assured (c.1991) contains a transcript of the memorial service for Ziegler at the Ferry Beach Park Association, July 14, 1991, and a summary of his “impulse theology.”

Article by Charles A. Howe
Posted May 28, 2001