Reviewing UUFA’s Diamond JUUbilee Year

Myrna Adams West, Chair, 60th Anniversary Committee

What a year of celebration we had in 2014!! January a year ago, we kicked off the Diamond JUUbilee with a preview of what the 60th Anniversary Committee was planning for the year-long focus on, not just the Founders of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, Georgia, but also on the men and women who over the last 60 years have stood courageously for civil rights, equality, justice, education, liberal religion, and peace.

As I review our 60th year, I want to say a special thanks to the Diamond JUUbilee Committee, including Carol-Lee Baker, Diane Bridges, Lee Cornell, Susan Curtis, Meredyth Fleisher, Jim Leebens-Mack, Michelle Leebens-Mack, Ted Mayer, Hester Meyers, and Aleta Turner. Each member of the committee accepted at least one special area of responsibility but worked with each other and many, many other members and friends of the Fellowship to make the year a rousing success. Four email “lurkers” also contributed ideas, materials, and moral support. They are Rev. Alison Wilbur Eskildsen, Karen Solheim, Patty Freeman-Lynde and Barbara Teskey. UUFA’s paid staff — Congregational Administrator Shaye Gambrell, Bookkeeper Angela Brown and RE Director Morgan Watson —were also invaluable in helping us take care of the details.

Lee Cornell took the committee’s many ideas of what a logo might look like and made them work, producing the beautiful Diamond JUUbilee logo that was used throughout the year on everything from wall banners to bumper stickers to mugs to tee shirts to tote bags to a fabulous cloth banner that Karen Solheim proudly carried at UUA General Assembly in Providence, Rhode Island. That special banner was made by Scott Mason and Suzanne Reeves with contributions by Kathy Mason, Kay Giese, Herb West and Myrna Adams West.

Susan Curtis coordinated publicity throughout the year, working with Rev. Alison and Shaye Gambrell to create a presence on the website with a dedicated Diamond JUUbilee Page, a blog, photos and other articles to highlight the year-long activities. She ensured that blurbs and articles in the Tapestry, the weekly E-news and the weekly orders of service kept the congregation informed about what was happening related to the 60th celebration. She also regularly sent press releases to the local media, even though only a few were published, and informed the Southern Region and the UUA of our activities.

Monthly lobby displays highlighting a different ministry of the Fellowship and “Anniversary Moments,” given by members of the 60th Anniversary Committee and other members of UUFA, also helped keep the congregation informed about the events and activities of the celebration. Those who spoke about the Diamond JUUbilee from the podium included Myrna Adams West, Michelle Leebens-Mack, Hester Meyers, Diane Bridges, Aleta Turner, Caryl Sundland, Herb West, Elizabeth Bishop-Martin, John Olive, Rich Rayburn, Virginia Carver, Roger Bailey, Joy Carroll and Lee Cornell.

In February, Michelle Leebens-Mack coordinated a look at our connections to the larger UU Community, including the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Mid-South District and the Southern Region, The Mountain Retreat & Learning Centers, and our sister congregation in Okland, Romania. Michelle also led the search for a dynamic speaker for the big event in November.

In March Hester Meyers invited our two living Founders, Ethel Foster and Don Martin Sr., to sit down with her and Lee Cornell to film an interview about their remembrances of the early meetings and the other founders. Mrs. Foster was also able to join us for the worship services and Forum, and the other living Founder, Don Martin Sr., sent his son as his representative on that special Sunday when we recognized all of the Founders. That morning’s Forum was dedicated to our early leaders. Among those leaders were Larry Dendy, Stu Fors, Margaret Holt, Elizabeth Bishop-Martin, Ann Woodruff and Jim Woodruff, who formed a panel to highlight their memories of the early years. A portion of the video interview with Ethel Foster and Don Martin Sr., shown that morning, recognized the other Founders: Jack Foster, Ruben Gotesky, Ann Martin, Gladys Montgomery, Horace Montgomery, Paul Pfuetze and Thad Suits.

Diane Bridges searched out information on our buildings and grounds for the April celebration—not just the current building but the two earlier buildings and other meeting locations that came before. She also researched the origins of the special objects in and around the Timothy Road building that have been created by, donated by, and enjoyed by our members and friends for, lo, these many years.

In May, Meredyth Fleisher, who was then our ministerial intern, helped us celebrate Lifespan Religious Education, spotlighting our excellent Children and Youth RE programs and the many opportunities for adults to expand their horizons through the Forum, Stepping Stones and other learning and service opportunities. Meredyth also digitized the 50th Anniversary Timeline that was constructed for that celebration 10 years ago by Barbara and John Schell and Catherine Kleiner and worked with the Youth, especially Garrett Cornell, to video members as they shared their special memories of UUFA.

In June, Caryl Sundland, Karen Solheim and other members of the Social Action Committee helped us spotlight the Social Action/Social Justice projects that continue to make a positive difference in the lives of men, women, and children in the greater Athens-Clarke area. We also remembered some of the people, like Horace Montgomery, Janet Pomeroy and Ray MacNair, who made an impact on the larger community through their dedicated service to social justice.

Two special Sunday services in July highlighted our creative Spiritual Arts programs with one service, organized by Michelle Leebens-Mack, that spotlighted Virginia Carver’s inspired and inspiring dancing and Karen Pinkie Bergman’s stirring cello accompaniment. Another Sunday that month, the Writing as Spiritual Practice writers, encouraged by Myrna Adams West, shared their moving and heartfelt prose and poetry in a service titled “Journeying Within.”

In August, we welcomed Music Director Amber Fetner home from her sabbatical just in time to celebrate our fabulous Music Program. We recognized Stu Fors, who organized the first choir, and other musical leaders, such as Elizabeth Bishop-Martin, who directed the choir for more than 10 years, Jean Bryan, who was pianist for 10 years, and Albie Smith, who was pianist for 15 years. Highlights that month included a moving In-Gathering Service built around “Holy Waters” gathered from summer adventures. At the end of the month Rev. Alison took us on a “Magical Mystical Tour,” in a service featuring members of our two house bands in a tribute to The Beatles.

In September we launched Sixty Days of Celebration counting down to a special party on November 1. We celebrated our ministers, administrators, and leaders, from both the hallowed past and the spectacular present. One of the highlights was Rev. Alison’s casting of her experiences in a United Methodist Seminary as “Alison Down the Rabbit Hole.” Another was the look at shared ministry at UUFA by Rev. Alison, the Rev. Don Randall, who is our Affiliated Community Minister, and the Rev. Terre Balof, who was UUFA’s settled minister for 13 years, in a panel discussion moderated by Lay Minister for Spiritual Arts, Myrna Adams West.

We began the month of October with the Congregational Retreat at The Mountain, with activities coordinated by Herb West. The retreat was attended by a record-breaking 73 adults, youth and children. Then we took a day of service to both the Fellowship and the community with some members and friends working together on an internal service project to spruce up our building and grounds in a well-attended Fall Clean-up Day, organized by Terry Jones, Lee Cornell and others. Simultaneously other members and friends participated in an external service project, coordinated by Julie Sapp, working with other Habitat for Humanity volunteers to build an accessibility ramp at a local residence.

In November we celebrated our members, friends and partners in ministry at an anniversary party attended by more than 130 folks, including Founder Ethel Foster, UUA Moderator Jim Key, Southern Region Staffer Maggie Lovins, Athens-Clarke Mayor Nancy Denson, and several of our local Partners in Ministry.

Every member of the Diamond JUUbilee Committee worked diligently to make the party an unforgettable experience. Michelle Leebens-Mack and Meredyth Fleisher spent hours throughout the year scoping out venues and caterers. We finally settled on the Oconee County Civic Center as the venue because of its proximity to the Fellowship, its total accessibility for all abilities, its amenities and the reasonable fees. Ted Mayer and Jim Leebens-Mack volunteered to seek out food vendors, and everyone on the committee pitched in to provide finger foods, drinks and goodies.

Carol Lee Baker’s imaginative tablescapes and resourceful scouting for linens, dishes and silverware (with help from Patty Freeman-Lynde) made the large room seem at once warm, inviting and spacious. Lee Cornell’s slide show and the display of the monthly exhibits and the refurbished timeline (thanks to John & Barbara Schell) gave everyone something to focus on and discuss while members of You Band provided gathering music. Larry Petroff’s roaming camera work made everyone feel as if they were at a high-end resort gathering. A welcome by Rev. Alison, live greetings from Mayor Denson and Maggie Lovins, as well as recorded greetings from UUA President, the Rev. Peter Morales, and friend of UUFA, the Rev. Mark Kiyimba, set the tone for the inspiring message from Jim Key. The presentation of the Anniversary Cake by the children, dressed in their yellow Diamond JUUbilee shirts (courtesy of Lee Cornell) and lively singing by BlUUgrass Folks closed out the afternoon.

A display of photographs of current and former members and friends graced the sanctuary throughout November and December, thanks to photographers Elizabeth Bishop-Martin, Lee Reed, Larry Petroff and Betsy Bean.

After a year of looking back at and celebrating our illustrious history, in December we looked ahead so that we can move forward into the next 60 years and beyond. We asked for dreams and expectations of Where do we go from here? What are the dreams and goals and ambitions of even our youngest members? What do we think this Fellowship will look like, be like, be involved in over the next 60 years? Information about the answers to these questions and more as we move ahead into 2015 and beyond will be shared soon.

The work of the 60th Anniversary Committee continues into 2015 as we prepare to publish an update to Horace Montgomery’s treatise on the founding of UUFA, “In Pursuit of the American Birthright: A Quarter-Century of Unitarian-Universalist Involvement in Athens, 1954-1979,” and his two later updates, “Pursuit Continued, 1980-1985” and “Still Pursuing, 1986-1988.” We hope to make the updated history available in time for the Congregational Annual Meeting in May.

We also plan to bury a time capsule on the Spring Equinox. If you have contributions or ideas for the time capsule, please see Diane Bridges, Lee Cornell or Morgan Watson.

Finally, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all who participated in any way in the year-long celebration, not just to members of the committee and others mentioned here but to all of the members and friends of UUFA. It is your dedication, devotion, and participation that help to make UUFA an outstanding beacon of liberal religion in Northeast Georgia. Together we will make UUFA’s beacon stronger and brighter over the next 60 years and beyond.