Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists
Monday, May 20, 2013
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
The mission of the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalist congregation is to encourage individual spiritual and intellectual journeys as we create an inclusive religious community. We are committed to the responsible and compassionate stewardship of all life through our respect for diversity and interdependency. We serve by reaching out with love and caring to our local and global communities.
A Brief History of our Congregation
The Early Years:
The Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists started as a do-it-yourself community, a “co-op church” so to speak. The original 1982 fellowship was created by a small group that gathered in a public library in response to a newspaper article. Our Founders are: Howard Ames, Elizabeth and Phil Calkings, Janet C. Chandler, Mitzi M. Grogham, Don Kelley, Olive Meining, Joan and Roland Rush, Larry Smith, Bill and Louise Tuttle, and Rozlynn and Russell Worral. We still have one of the 14 original members who signed the charter and membership book, continue to be an active member today. SFUU member Al Thym was part of an earlier UU group and he is an honorary Founding Member.
From 1982 – 1991, the group met in many different locations – at least 8. We were a traveling church, unloading out of car trunks on Sunday mornings, spinning wheels and energy on keeping track of the coffee pot and RE supplies. The places we met for worship were: the Sr. Center at the DeWitt Center, the Volunteer Bureau, Sierra Council on Alcohol office, Board of Realtors office on Ravine Rd. a cottage behind Lou La Bonte's restaurant, Applegate Community Center, the Church of Religious Science, and the Bowman School. Some of the early growth was motivated by families seeking a UU-type of Religious Education experience for their children; thus, our church culture has always placed a high value on quality RE.
This early fellowship also had the challenge of drawing from a wide geographic area. Members often lived 50 miles apart, so attending activities between Sunday services could be daunting. In general, the largest clusters of members were in the Auburn and in the Grass Valley/Nevada City areas (about 30 miles north of Auburn).
Organizing for the Future
In 1988, the church membership totaled about 30 and we decided it was time to hire a part-time consulting minister who could help us develop a more formal organization. The Rev. Anne Odin Heller, very talented in organization work, great in the pulpit, and a perfect match for us, served the congregation for 3 years. With her coaching, bylaws were established, we became a “congregation” rather than a fellowship, the Board had its first-ever pledge drive, we were energized with adult religious education classes, and we learned how to create worship experiences that went beyond “the lecture.”
From 1991 – 1995, we had a succession of part-time consulting ministers, each serving for a year: the Rev. Mark Gallagher, the Rev. Kathleen Hepler, the Rev. Emily Champagne, and the Rev. Sam Wright. Also in 1991, we needed to find a more satisfactory church home. We did that by discovering a small church that could be shared; the rent was right but our time to worship was 4 p.m. on Sundays, which wasn’t optimum. Our membership was growing and the RE space was less-than-adequate.
The Next Steps from 1995-2000:
For four years we shared this church, but in 1995 we decided we were committed to growth and it would be necessary to find a space that would allow us to have Sunday morning services and better RE facilities. The solution was to rent an elementary school’s multi-purpose room and 4 classrooms. We met the challenge of creating a sanctuary each Sunday, under the basketball hoops, for six years.
Throughout these years, we have been blessed to have talented half-time consulting or interim ministers: the Rev. Doddie Stone (95-98), the Rev. Jay Atkinson (98-99), the Rev. Dennis Daniel and the Rev. Sydney Wilde (99-00). Our typical process of hiring has been like a “mini-search,” in which packets are exchanged with candidates and a 1-day interview clarifies whether our situation is a “match.” Our congregation has been uniquely served by some of the best UU talent on the West coast.
Commitment to a Home of our Own
What is important? Is it having a home of our own? Is it having a called minister? Or is it having a community, wherever it is, in which our members care for each other, explore together and worship together, in community? These questions were at the heart of our congregation for many years as we struggled with defining our goals and how to achieve them. Part of the struggle was that the members lived so far apart – the geographical area was so discouraging – and the energy for building a long-lasting community kept dissipating. The commitment to community was there, but no one quite understood how it could be sustained in the long run, especially as folks were aging.
A member who had given land that provided the nest-egg for home-acquisition motivated the group to begin looking at possibilities. Again, the prospect of settling anywhere permanent that would be difficult for either the Auburn or the Grass Valley/Nevada City members to access provided grave hesitation and some ill feeling. Even as a land partnership was established that helped us move toward a larger nest-egg, there was no solid commitment to the location of a home.
By 1994/1995, there were nearly 100 SFUU members and approximately 1/3 of them lived in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area. They decided to form their own congregation, now known as the UU Community of the Mountains. SFUU was its covenanting congregation and we are very proud to have helped in its formation. During the few years after this spin-off, SFUU’s membership was reduced and took many years to recover in numbers.
As we re-established our sense of direction without the severe geographic challenge, it became clear that the heart of our church needed its own home. Members were burned out with setting up and taking down on Sundays; we had been too long in an elementary school without a cupboard to call our own. Our Site Search Committee received a loud-and-clear message: find a Real Church Home. After two more years of looking, the perfect-size church for us (for now) came on the market and we were able to buy it.
190 Finley St.
The Site Search Committee (Dan Dahl, Al Thym, Ann Seeley, Carol Arvay, Tom Ferrell, and the Rev. Rob Hardies (2000-01) after a lot of work, eventually landed across from Placer High School at 190 Finley St. in Auburn. Now with a new home, the congregation could focus on setting down some roots. The leadership of the Rev. Art LaVoie (01-03) and the Rev. Kurt Kuhwald (03-04) led us through this adjustment time.
The congregation wanted to change the cycle of short-term ministers and entered into a process with the Rev. Tom Lewis to consider called full-time ministry. Eventually a call was offered and Rev. Tom (04-06), poured a lot of love into the SFUU community. Unfortunately, he began to experience some health challenges and our time together was shorter than we all had hoped. The Rev. Catherine Linesch (06-10) offered her numerous pastoral skills to guide us through the grieving and re-visioning what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be next.
A Turning Point
In 2010, the board of trustees and several congregational leaders decided it was time to really recommit to supporting full-time ministry. It was decided to hire a consulting minister at full-time and strive to financially sustain it. The Search Committee conducted interviews and recommended to the Board to hire the co-ministry team of the Rev. Lynn Gardner and the Rev. Wendy Bartel for a 2-year contract with the hope of moving towards called full-time ministry at some point. During their second year of serving, the Board made a formal invitation to the co-ministers to enter into a call process. The 'Revs.' said yes and a Call Process Steering Committee was created and a processed was developed (with thanks to the UUA and the Pacific Northwest District Office for their assistance). Joan Lacktis, chair, Val Bowman, Ellen McBride, Jerry Johnson, Laurie Soper, and Jennifer Warner worked for 5 full months to seek input from the congregation. After collecting and reviewing the data, they unanimously reported to the Board that the congregation's aspirations and the co-ministers' call to ministry were in alignment. Meanwhile, the Room to Grow Task Force was making preparations to move to two services because SFUU was growing!
In May of 2012, at our annual congregational meeting a Board of Trustees was unanimously elected, the increased budget (for our ministers to move to fair compensation for a one full-time shared position, and more hours for our staff positions for handling two Sunday services) was unanimously approved, and with 2 abstentions, our co-ministers were officially called!!!!
In Oct. of 2012, we celebrated our 30th anniversary with a Saturday concert with emma's revolution, two Sunday services honoring our stories, and a street party with guest speakers, cake, and dancing! In Nov. of 2012, we officially celebrated the formal installation of Rev. Wendy and Rev. Lynn with ministers from all over the district, a moving sermon from the Rev. Nate Walker from PA, rituals and stories and music shared with over 100 people from the congregation!
And now, we are each writing the story of our congregation. Each person adding their gifts to shape our present and dream into a bright future! Come be part of our story of transformation!