1950: Our beginnings
In the summer of 1949, Mary Lou DeSanta, a life-long Unitarian and resident of Southworth, Washington, attended a Unitarian conference in North Bend. There she met the Rev. Lon Ray Call, who had been asked by the American Unitarian Association to organize liberally religious-minded groups around the country into lay-led Unitarian Fellowships. He was given this charge during the late 1940s and early 1950s, a time when there were more people who wanted to begin Unitarian congregations than there were ministers available to help organize and serve them. Mary Lou approached Dr. Call with her need for a liberal church in Kitsap County, and so impressed him that when he finally came to Bremerton, he said he did so because she was “such a persistent young lady.”
In early January 1950, Dr. Call contacted Mary Lou, as well as Helen Anthony, Bill Ludwig, and Barbara Bird, and this small group decided to start a Unitarian Fellowship. Dr. Call put an advertisement in the local paper announcing a meeting to be held at the Enetai Inn to consider the topic, “What Do Unitarians Believe?” About fifty people came to that first meeting, including Oliver Jackson, a life-long Unitarian originally from Kenosha, Wisconsin, and a small group that had been meeting at the home of Hilda and Marion Lewis.
Only a few weeks later, on January 22, the Fellowship came into being at a meeting held at the Bremerton YMCA. A constitution was adopted, and Oliver Jackson was elected president.
Long-time Fellowship members remember meeting in the dreary quarters of the Bremerton YMCA for the first several years. Following that, the group migrated to the Manette Community Hall, the American Legion Hall, and the Sheridan Park Recreation Center. During these years, the Fellowship began to look for a piece of property for its own building.
1960-1980: Our first property
On the tenth anniversary in 1960, our membership stood at 40 adults, and we found a home for the Fellowship. A rural 12 1/2 acre parcel adjacent to the city limits of Bremerton was purchased, and members remodeled the old sawmill, sheds, and a small house on the property into usable facilities. In 1961 the Fellowship officially incorporated under Washington State Law.
The Fellowship fluctuated in size during the 1960s and 70s, a reflection of the turbulent times, which affected many congregations of all religious denominations. By the end of the 1980s, the remaining members made a conscious decision to reverse the trend; to strengthen denominational ties and offer programs that would encourage growth. Construction of the Trident Submarine Base at nearby Bangor brought an influx of military and government personnel into the area, and the increased population base was an additional factor in membership growth.
1980-93: A new home & first full-time minister
By the early 1980s, we had outgrown our space! After much soul-searching, we purchased our current 10-acre parcel of land on Perry Avenue and built a beautiful new building, with a window-lined sanctuary looking out into a forested ravine. While most of the work was done by professionals, the UU community spent the summer of 1984 dipping siding shingles in paint. This odd little job gave each individual a sense of personal ownership in the new building.
In December of 1984, the Fellowship met for the first time in our new home and listened to the Rev. Gretchen Woods give her candidating sermon. She was called as our first full-time minister and began seven years of service with us.
During this time we grew from 80 to 100 members. A grand piano was purchased and a series of quarterly professional concerts began. As our Children’s Religious Education program grew, we created a part-time position for a Director of Religious Education, which was filled by Arlee Osborne for a number of years.
1993-2002: Growth & Stability
In May 1993, a Ministerial Search Committee was elected to find a new full-time minister. Also during that year, an anonymous donor paid off the Fellowship’s $100,000 mortgage, creating more financial freedom to grow. Throughout the interim period, we continued to coordinate Sunday services with lay and guest speakers and the Rev. Dr. C. Leon Hopper, Minister Emeritus of East Shore UU in Bellevue, Washington, who served as part-time interim minister. The Adult and Children’s Religious education programs continued and the congregation remained active in social concerns.
In November 1994, the Fellowship enthusiastically called Rev. Suzelle Lynch as our new minister. Suzelle began her service with us on January 15, 1995. Kathy Campbell began her work as Director of Religious Education in April of 1994.
We have experienced continued growth, again leading to the need for more space — especially for our children’s programs. At the same time, long-time members John and Susan Matan were looking for a site for the Learning Tree Preschool/Day Care Center. Both needs were met by selling an acre of Fellowship property as a site for the Learning Tree. The 9500 square foot facility was one of only two centers in Kitsap County to offer therapeutic daycare along with regular preschool/daycare programs for infants through children age five. Through an innovative joint-use agreement, the Learning Tree facilities are used by the Fellowship’s growing children’s program on Sunday mornings.
With the sad and untimely death of John Matan in 1997, ownership of the Learning Tree property passed to the Fellowship, and the preschool and daycare center became an independent non-profit organization.
In 1997, the Fellowship completed a two-year process of study and discernment around issues of heterosexism and homophobia and was officially recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a “Welcoming Congregation,” that is, a congregation which is open and affirming of persons who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.
During this period, Bonnie Becke served as the fellowship’s Office Manager and Alex Miller joined the fellowship as its Office Assistant. Melinda Hughes became the next Director of our rapidly growing Children’s Religious Education Program. Michael Menefee brought his considerable talents to our music program, directing the choir and coordinating many musically-talented members and friends who share their gifts with us in worship on Sundays and on other occasions.
2003-2004: Change & Opportunity
2003 was a year of change. Sherry Attaway became our new Office Manager and Rev. Lynch accepted the call of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brookfield, Wisconsin.
In the eight years of her ministry, KUUF doubled in membership and friends to over 240 adults and 100 children, transitioned from one to two Sunday services, built a daycare facility, created an Endowment Fund, and a caring network of neighborhood-based groups. In addition, it has distinguished itself in the local community for leadership in human rights and social justice.
KUUF welcomed Reverend Margaret Keip as our interim minister. During the past year, she led and supported us with gentle strength as we reviewed our fellowship’s needs and desires, and then searched for and called a new minister.
2004-present: Keep on Moving Forward
On August 1st of 2004, Rev. Elizabeth Stevens joined us as our new settled minister. Melissa Manchester became our Office Administrator in March of 2005.
In the fall of 2005, KUUF members began meeting in “Chalice Circles,” small group gatherings which served to deepen our connections with one another. In January of 2006, we began the practice of sharing our plate offering with local charities. A little more than three years later, we have given away well over $30,000.
Bestselling author Robert Fulghum was the keynote speaker at our Celebration Sunday event, held at Olympic College’s Bremer Student Center. Over 220 people attended, filling the room to overflowing.
In the summer of 2006, we replaced the roof on the fellowship building with a 50-year metal roof. A great deal of sweat equity went into this project. We also began offering “UU Bed and Breakfast” accommodations, raising additional money for our capital budget.
In 2007, we installed a team of Lay Pastoral Ministers, all of whom now provide additional support to members of our congregation in times of need. We also welcomed Sonja Naylor as our music director.
2008 was the first year that KUUF hosted the district Youth Leadership School, Goldmine. Rev. Liz Stevens served as a member of the staff. In the middle of the week-long training, news reports of a shooting in a UU congregation in Knoxville, TN began flowing in. The youth helped organize a prayer vigil for members of KUUF and for the broader community. UU’s across the country pulled together, reeling after this senseless act of violence. The seeds of our nationwide advocacy campaign, Standing on the Side of Love, were planted in the wake of the tragedy.
KUUF members were busy in 2008 as well. We put in a new carpet and did quite a lot of work on our rental property. We also were ably led through the process of creating a congregational covenant. Work on “Nancy Jo’s Garden,” a community garden plot on Fellowship lands, moved forward all year long. Nancy Jo’s Garden flourished, and in addition to supplying the fellowship with fresh, organic vegetables, has provided the Bremerton FoodLine with over 300 pounds of produce so far.
However, as the year drew to a close, we got the news that the Learning Tree Child Care Center was bankrupt, and would be closing early in the New Year. As the congregation prepared to assume responsibility for the newly re-christened “Education Building,” Director of Religious Education Melinda Hughes announced her resignation. What could have been a crisis became an opportunity, as fellowship members came together to create a new vision of the future of Religious Education at KUUF. To help shepherd that vision, KUUF hired Interim DRE Patty Gregorich, who joined us on August 1, 2009.
As of this writing, KUUF is a thriving community of over 300 members and friends.