By Myrna Adams West
Five years ago on May 2, 2010, members of UUFA voted to call the Rev. Alison Wilbur Eskildsen as our fifth settled minister. Five years!!! So much has been accomplished in that time!!
Here are a few highlights.
Rev. Eskildsen took about a year to get to know UUFA’s members and friends and routine, analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, needs, deeds, and potential of this already active and growing congregation. She accepted the charge of the search committee to be in shared ministry with the lay leaders and recognized the potential for members and friends to grow in their own faith and skills. When the Board of Trustees recognized that old ways weren’t serving UUFA’s growing size and complexity well enough, she worked with the Board of Trustees to divide management of the Fellowship into two parts–Governance and Ministry. The Board of Trustees, the Governance body, sets major policies, maintains fiscal responsibility and helps to meet the vision and mission of UUFA, which were revised under Rev. Eskildsen’s leadership in 2011.
Also in 2011, she implemented the Lay Ministry program to support this new governance model, initially training and installing six Lay Ministers in 2012. In 2014, three of the original Lay Ministers retired and four newly-trained Lay Ministers were installed. The minister’s primary role in the Governance and Ministry model is to direct programs, supervise staff, and work collaboratively with the Ministry Council, which includes the Lay Ministers and the paid program staff (Religious Education Director [RE] and Music Director). The Ministry Council meets regularly to plan and direct the ministries, including Lifespan Religious Education, Connections within and without the Fellowship, Spiritual Arts, Justice, Stewardship, and Fun & Fellowship. Rev. Eskildsen also participates with the Board of Trustees to ensure the overall stewardship of UUFA.
Under Rev. Eskildsen’s leadership and with a generous donation from anonymous donors, a Memorial Garden was designed and built in 2013 with a wall on which plaques may be mounted to commemorate those whose ashes are buried or scattered on the grounds.
Through her participation in local organizations and causes, she has helped to make UUFA more well-known in the Athens-Clarke community. She is active in the UGA Campus Ministry Association and has been a frequent participant in Economic Justice Coalition and Athens Area Human Relations Council programs and events. In 2015, she received the Athens Area Human Relations Council Pioneer Award. Her activities have led to more cooperation and exchange between UUFA and local African-American churches, including our hosting of the local Martin Luther King Day worship service in January 2014 and the Justice Fest event in November of that same year.
Rev. Eskildsen is also active in the Southeast Chapter of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association where she currently serves as Vice-President and in 2012 served as the ministerial representative on the UUA’s Mid-South District Board of Directors.
In cooperation with the Worship Arts Committee and the Music Director, Rev. Eskildsen has created memorable worship services that integrate music, spoken word, silence and interactive activities. Working with the Director of RE, she has encouraged the participation and inclusion of children in more services with intergenerational activities and themes. She has assisted the Social Action Committee and the Finance Committee in implementing the Share the Plate initiative in which the Sunday morning offering is shared equally between the Fellowship and the Cause of the Month.
Working with the Lay Ministers and other facilitators, Rev. Eskildsen has guided the creation of the Stepping Stones program which encourages adults to deepen their spiritual lives through study, sharing and discussion. The Stepping Stones include long-standing adult programs such as the Book Discussion Group and the Goddess Group, as well as new offerings such as the Writing as Spiritual Practice group, discussions of the Christian Bible, and study of books by and for Unitarian Universalists.
Working with the Communications Committee, Rev. Eskildsen created the structure and initial content of UUFA’s new website in 2013 during her summer study time, and it is receiving accolades and recognition around UUA circles. She has also encouraged the development of an online newsletter (a nod to going green) and weekly email announcements through which members are kept abreast of current events.
Under Rev. Eskildsen’s guidance, the Board of Trustees implemented the Committee on Shared Ministry which had existed only in the bylaws until 2011. That committee’s charge is to review and renew the Fellowship’s purpose, to develop strategic directions related to the Fellowship’s ministerial activities and to systematically evaluate the effectiveness of the ministerial activities.
Rev. Eskildsen has accompanied members of the Fellowship on pilgrimages, first to visit our sister congregation in Okland, Romania, in 2011 and more recently to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. She has also enjoyed several congregational retreats at The Mountain in North Carolina. And in 2014, she helped the congregation celebrate its Diamond JUUbilee.
In addition, Rev. Eskildsen has attended the UUA General Assemblies (GA) in Charlotte, North Carolina (2011); Phoenix, Arizona (2012); and Louisville, Kentucky (2013). At the 2014 GA in Providence, Rhode Island, she was recognized for receiving Final Fellowship, the last step in completing UUA requirements for ministers.
All of the increased activity has brought many new faces to the Fellowship, putting stress on space in the building as well as in the parking lot. Rev. Eskildsen, along with the Worship Arts Committee, the Forum Committee, the Religious Education Committee, the Board of Trustees, the Ministry Council and the Committee on Shared Ministry, has been exploring ways to handle the growth in activities and attendance, including offering two Sunday morning services concurrent with children and youth RE and with the Forum meeting between the two worship hours. Over the next few months, these groups will be meeting to discuss other possible ways of meeting the challenges UUFA faces as we move deeper into the 21st century in partnership with Rev. Alison.
To celebrate Rev. Eskildsen’s first five years with us, the Board of Trustees and the Ministry Council is planning a reception on May 31 following the Congregational Annual Meeting. Look for details as the date nears.