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Unitarian Universalist Church looks to future

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By Kirsten Laskey

The Unitarian Universalist Church is looking toward the future, and its congregation is taking part in determining the future’s shape and appearance.A series of mini townhall meetings have been held Feb. 7, 10 and 17 to gather church members’ input.The Rev. John Cullinan said the meetings are looking for responses on three questions: what to do with the physical space, should the church add a second service on Sunday and what changes should be made to the annual stewardship program?He added it is too soon to tell what the answers to these questions are. The information from the meetings will be given to the Building Our Future Task Force, which will determine what direction should be taken.Nancy Tenbrink, co-chairperson for the task force, said taskfoce received a lot of input about possibly offering two services instead of one. The feedback was positive and negative.For instance, Tenbrink said, the church gets crowded during the Sunday service. Congregation members noted the church could be more welcoming to new members if there were enough room, which a second service could offer.Additionally, other members were interested in having a larger variety of services such as a musical service, Tenbrink said.“(We could) accommodate a wider variety of tastes if we had more than one service,” she said.Not everyone supported a second service. Tenbrink said some members pointed out that a second service could sever contacts with people in the church and put a strain on volunteers at the church by making them work twice as much.The possibility of adding to the church’s physical space or constructing a new building also drew a variety of opinions.On oneside, Tenbrink said the church building is really old. It was built as a dormitory in the 1940s.With an old building, comes problems such as an inadequate kitchen, cramped space and other issues, Tenbrink said.A new addition or a new building could remove these problems, she said. Additionally, a lot of community organizations use the church such as music teachers, dance groups, yoga instructors and others. A remodeled or new building would provide the community with “hopefully a better space for the community to use,” Tenbrink said. But there are also disadvantages, she said. A new building would remove the history and sentiment of the current structure, and the construction project would be disruptive to the church. Plus, remodeling and construction projects cost money. Also, if the church were to pursue either option, a capital campaign would be held, Tenbrink said.Approaching the issue of money needs to be done with sensitivity, she said. “To have excellent programs, excellent staff and a building that works well – all those things take money,” Tenbrink said. The church is working with a consultant from Unitarian Universalist Association for its annual stewardship campaign, which will be held in March or April this year, she said.To make the campaign successful, Tenbrink said, the consultant is offering training on how to work with people one-on-one. “We’ve been getting a lot of help from this consultant,” she said.With the townhall meeting completed, Tenbrink said the task force will be looking at people’s input about the possible building project, and based on this information will present a recommendation to congregation in May. The congregation will vote whether to accept the committee’s recommendation or not. If a building project is approved, then the stewardship campaign will become a “dress rehearsal” for the capital campaign. Determining if a second service should be included is a “complicated process,” Tenbrink said. It isn’t known how long the process will continue. A main goal of the town hall meetings was to include people in the conversation. “We want people to go into the process feeling heard, not feeling surprised, that the information has been open through this whole process so they don’t feel we’ve thrown this change on them,” Cullinan said.Tenbrink agreed, “The more you get involved in a big issue of your church, the more likely you’ll be successful.”She added townhall meetings are very common at the Unitarian Church, which she described as a democratic institution.“We have a lot to offer the community,” Tenbrink said.