Minister’s Reflections, Rev. Rod Debs, pastor, January, 2014
What are we doing here together? What is our calling as a Unitarian Universalist religious community?
“The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Emerald Coast is a religious community united by UU Principles and committed to service, spiritual growth, and caring community. (UUFEC Mission Statement)”
Ours is a message of unitarian interdependence, that we’re all connected, we’re all in this together. Ours is a message of universal compassion, that we leave no one behind.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not say, “I have a complaint, or I have a critique, or I have a list of issues.” Van Jones: “The brother had a dream.” Martin Luther King was not a warrior like the Biblical David with his sling and stones, seeking to conquer his Goliath enemy. Dr. King was a builder like Noah, building a dream ark to save all life in all its diversity. (Van Jones, Ware Lecture, 2008 UUA General Assembly)
This is a congregation with a courageous dream to build an open-hearted religious community. In 1997, despite controversy the congregation purchased this building for $140,000. Many members made double pledges that year, one for operating expenses, and a second three-year pledge to buy this building, vacant for four or five years.
Then in 2000, only three years later, the Fellowship remortgaged for a $100,000 renovation including carpet, chairs, paint, and stained-glass windows. Again only three years later, in 2003, the congregation called its first full-time settled Minister.
Five years later, in 2008, the 50th Anniversary of its founding, during the worst financial down-turn since The Great Depression, the congregation bought down its mortgage, purchased an entirely new heating and air-conditioning system, and remortgaged for one third of our previous annual payment.
Members have been ambitious and generous in capital campaigns since 1997. Part-time ministers have, as well. Rev. Harold Hawkins, retired, contributed his entire pay back to the Fellowship when he served as part-time minister. Rev. Nels Oas did not accept pay for his part-time ministry.
For fifty-five years, Unitarian Universalists of the Emerald Coast have had a dream, a dream not of waging battle against those with different religious beliefs. Rather, the dream has called our forebears to build this place, and staff it with a full-time Minister, half-time Director of Religious Exploration and part-time Music Director and Office Administrator plus paid and volunteer RE teachers for the children.
Since 2006, this congregation expanded its limited small group ministry to wide-ranging Second Hour groups, from Atheism and a Course in Miracles, Buddhism and TED Talks, Parenting and Current Events, and this Second Hour model has been adopted in congregations across the Southern Region. As a result, families and young adults have joined the congregation.
Subsequently, the UU Fellowship has taught all five age-groups of OWL, the UUA’s comprehensive sexuality education program. Volunteers have built a beautiful playground for our children and funded a Memorial Garden and Pergola in honor of those who have gone before. We have achieved Welcoming Congregation and Green Sanctuary certifications, and renewed the Fellowship’s public witness as a Peace Site.
In addition to ongoing Share-the-Plate support of Shelter House, Sharing and Caring and Opportunity Place homeless shelter, Congregational Projects have included sending 136 boxes of clothes to displaced people in Afghanistan, and currently, our Congregational Project of hands-on support for the homeless. Under our yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” banner, UUFEC members have made public witness of respect for the Qu’ran, and celebration of ethnic diversity in Fort Walton Beach.
In 2012-13, the congregation has faced trauma and grown in maturity. The Board created a Covenant of Right Relations and Board Meeting Procedures. It created and twice implemented a Disruptive Behavior Policy. This is a courageous congregation determined to place the congregation’s mission above individual demands.
What binds us together is our dream of global community that no one gets left behind, that we’re all in this together, allies covenanting together our mutual trust and support. This is our dream. This is our calling as a Unitarian Universalist religious community that continues to merit our commitment and participation.