We are a welcoming, liberal religious community, supporting the spiritual, intellectual, and social growth of members and friends. Unitarian Universalism does not identify with any one creed or belief system, therefore we offer support in spiritual curiosity on whatever path each individual chooses. Social justice and equality are the bonds that tie our community together. We actively look for ways to support the greater community through volunteering, activism, and education. Whether you are a member, friend, or visitor, you are welcome to attend our services and other events.
The Prairie Lakes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will aspire to be a source of inspiration and transformation for its members, friends and larger communities. It will be a beacon for religious freedom and understanding, a place of welcome for wayfarers who seek religious meaning and wish to explore Unitarian Universalism, and a welcoming church home for those whose journey leads them to become a part of it.
The Prairie Lakes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is unique as a liberal religious church home for individuals and families from Ripon and its surrounding communities. Grounded in Unitarian Universalist principles and history, it engages its members in shared religious inquiry and experience through lay-led and minister-led Sunday services, and in spiritual and moral expression and growth across the lifespan through religious education. It is a congregation that strives to be a catalyst for good in the larger world through social and environmental action. It is a community that nurtures the individual religious journeys of its members and friends, supports them in time of need, and shares in their joys and celebrations.
Previously known as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Oshkosh and Ripon and the Oshkosh Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Originally written by David & Jean Conover and Marjorie Kenyon-Cler.
The Channing-Murray Fellowship for students of the Wisconsin State College, Oshkosh (now the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) was started by several faculty members. Local resident Simon Horwitz arranged the use of the local synagogue as a meeting place.
Sociology professor, Morton deCarcey Nachlas, also a UU minister, helped organize a larger Fellowship as an adult group. A representative from the UUA in Boston came, and the Oshkosh Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was recorded and dedicated. This lay-led congregation met in several Oshkosh locations over the years, including the Eagles Club, the Moose Hall, the Elks Club, and finally the church of the Seventh Day Adventists (which, interestingly, was originally the St. John’s Universalist Church, est. 1897). Services were held weekly, welcoming guest ministers like Max Gaebler, (1st Unitarian Society, Madison). A core group of families shared leadership roles: Pat/Dick Gregg (Paine Art Center), Ruth/Bob Forman (Sociology, UW-O), Mary Ann/Bob Polk (VP, UW-O), Helen/Gene Deaton (local business), Jean/Dave Conover (Biology, UW-O). Members Audrey/Roy Kallio and Arnold Schroeder came from Ripon, and college students attended occasionally.
Conflict with the Seventh Day Adventists over use of their space led to a new home at the UW-O campus Newman Center, although this location was not adequate for religious education. Then the chairman of the Fellowship abruptly pronounced the Fellowship as “moribund” and resigned. When another couple left, the loss of these members and the religious education program together made it impossible for the remaining members to continue weekly services.
The Fellowship continued, however, as an adult group, meeting in members’ homes monthly to discuss books or sermons. Dinner meetings at Robbins Restaurant were also held, often with UW-O speakers from the Religion or Philosophy Departments. Dave/Karen Williams (Ripon College) became active leaders. Several recent members of Prairie Lakes were also participating at that time: Chuck/Joan Foote, Dr. Jean Johnson, and Barbara Lukas. When the Williams family moved out of the area, leadership responsibilities came back to Dave Conover, who, with his wife Jean, continued to keep a UU presence in the area and keep the Fellowship charter alive.
In the summer of 1990, the Williams family moved back to Ripon. The same summer, the Cler/Kenyon-Cler family moved from Michigan, where they had been active UUs. They all began participating in the Oshkosh “Robbins” evening meetings. With the encouragement of Dave Conover, a possible reorganization based in Ripon was discussed. A proposal was passed, and fourteen people signed the new membership book: the Conovers, the Williamses, Jean Johnson, Marjorie Kenyon-Cler, Joel Cler, Paul/Marilyn Taylor, the Footes, Barbara Lukas, and Paul/Janet Carstens. Marjorie Kenyon-Cler was elected Moderator, and bylaws were revised. A planning group decided to hold services on 2nd and 4th Sundays, and provide a children’s RE program. Dave Williams made arrangements for the $15 per Sunday rental of the 1st floor of the “Hughes House” on the Ripon campus, and the new UU Fellowship of Oshkosh and Ripon held its first service there in September 1991.
The Fellowship was now drawing members and friends from communities throughout the southern Fox Valley area. This regional membership led to a name change: the Prairie Lakes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was chosen to reflect the natural features of the area, rather than a single place name. The Fox Valley UU Fellowship (Appleton, WI; the Rev. Roger Bertschausen, minister) served as an invaluable and encouraging resource. The congregation grew. Within a few years, a task force began looking at alternative rental space due to growth, uncertainty about the College’s plans for Hughes House, and a basic desire for a more suitable, permanent, and visible “church home of our own.”
Early in 1996, a small medical clinic owned by Dr. Steven/Brigid Yeomans was advertised for sale under land contract. Built in 1963 by his parents, Dr. Roy/Ruth Yeomans, as a chiropractic clinic, it was later leased as a family practice medical clinic. In 1996, the property, including an adjacent two-story/two-unit rental house, was put on the market. The Prairie Lakes UU congregation purchased this property for $120,000 in March 1996, with land contract payments of $1,000 per month. Member Randy Jawor was employed to direct renovation of the building with the help of volunteers. An application for Central Midwest District (CMwD) Chalice Lighter grant funds of $5,200 to assist with the purchase was successful. The first service was held there in September 1996, and a Building Dedication service was held in February 1997, attended by CMwD Executive Director, Dr. Helen Bishop.
The Fellowship continued to see gradual growth, both in membership numbers and programs. Drew Schultz provided guitar accompaniment for Sunday services from 1996-2006. In 2002, Tanya Schwartz Roeper became a piano accompanist at PLUUF and continues to accompany as needed to this day. Marjorie Kenyon-Cler served as Moderator from 1990-2000 and then proposed a new role as Fellowship Administrator to provide support to the Moderator and thereby encourage others to take turns in this position. Diane Light was Moderator from 2000-2002, Jean Johnson followed in 2002-2006 and again from 2010-2014, Lyn Corder 2006-2010, and Becky Feyen 2014-present. (In 2002, the Fellowship recognized the 40th anniversary of the 1962 founding of the UU Fellowship of Oshkosh.)
Periodically through this time, discussions arose about calling a part-time minister. In 2003, the Board began to consider a “yoked ministry” with the Green Bay Area UU Fellowship, a congregation of about the same age and size. In December 2003, a meeting was held with CMwD Executive, Dr. Angela Merkert and leaders of both Fellowships. In spring 2004, proposals were endorsed by both congregations to explore a “yoked ministry.” Both launched into intense (and successful) canvass campaigns to fund a full-time minister, shared equally between the two Fellowships.
UUA Ministerial Settlement Representative, the Rev. Roger Bertschausen, began working with both congregations. A joint search committee was formed with PLUUF members Marjorie Kenyon-Cler and Jill Wiske; and GBAUUF members Andrew Knapp, Bob Fresen, and Kate McDougall, and the Fellowships then formally entered the settlement process as partnered congregations.
In September 2004, a new UU congregation opened its doors in Fond du Lac. Many of the founders of Open Circle UU Fellowship had been visiting or associated with the Prairie Lakes Fellowship over the previous years and eventually determined to begin their own liberal religious church to better reach the population there. Our Fellowship initiated joint advertising efforts, opened our first Coming of Age program to OCUUF youth, and anticipated other opportunities for collaboration in the future.
In April 2005, the joint Search Committee recommended the Rev. Sandra L. Ingham to the GBAUUF/PLUUF congregations, and following a week of candidating, she received a call to ministry for the partnered fellowships.
Rev. Ingham’s ministry with PLUUF began in August 2005, with the two Fellowships creating and managing a joint fund for minister-related expenses. In September, the Prairie Lakes UU Fellowship began holding weekly services, a dramatic change from the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the previous years. (The minister-led Sundays were scheduled on the OCUUF’s off Sundays so that they, too, might have access to a UU minister.) The remaining services would be lay-led. In 2006, Jill Stiemsma joined the Fellowship and became the primary worship services musician. Under Jill’s leadership, music became an integral part of the weekly worship service. The Fellowship applied for and was awarded a second Chalice Lighter grant to fund the first year of a new staff position – a one-quarter time Director of Religious Education. Nicole Roost was hired as Prairie Lake’s Director of Religious Education and served in this capacity from 2006-2016. The Fellowship would quickly go from a church with no paid staff to a professional staff of two.
Throughout the 2006-07 church year, Fellowship members participated in a Unitarian Universalist Association study program called “The Welcoming Congregation.” The program’s purpose is to help UUs become informed about the personal and social experiences and concerns of the gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual population, and consider whether the congregation can become a spiritual place of welcome, safety, and support for GLTB individuals and families. In June 2007, the congregation voted to apply to the UUA for designation as a “Welcoming Congregation” which could call upon the Fellowship to recognize the spiritual needs of GLTB members in programming and activities, to welcome GLTB newcomers, and support/advocate for them within the Fellowship and society at large. The Fellowship was recognized by the UUA as a “Welcoming Congregation” in September 2007.
The Fellowship’s Environmental Social Action Team, headed by Brad Roost, proposed participation in the “Green Sanctuary” program to help us live out a commitment to the Earth by creating a sustainable life style for our members as individuals and as a faith community. The Fellowship completed self-study and project steps required for candidacy in the Green Sanctuary program, and in October 2008 was accepted as a candidate for Green Sanctuary designation.
Following four years of ministry, Rev. Sandy Ingham and Prairie Lakes parted ways due to conflicting expectations. Her skills and leadership were greatly appreciated. The departure was a difficult transition for the Fellowship. The community returned to all lay-led services.
The Fellowship continued with weekly Sunday services led by visiting ministers, members and friends, and guests. Five individuals who regularly led services included Associate Professor Sally Cissna, Rev. James Jaeger, Rev. Chris Poortenga, Rev. Scott Gerald Prinster, and Professor Brian Smith. During the spring of 2013, the Community Room was renovated and enlarged to include a full kitchen. The project was led by Gene and Chris Poortenga and completed by Randy Jawor.
In 2013, PLUUF and OCUUF began discussing the possibility of a joint contract for a half-time minister who would spend one-quarter of his/her time at each fellowship. Members Marjorie Kenyon-Cler and Jean Johnson spearheaded the taskforce at Prairie Lakes. In May of 2013, both Fellowships recommended contracting the Rev. James Jaeger.
Rev. James Jaeger began his service at PLUUF in September 2013. He led one service a month at Prairie Lakes while the remaining services were lay-led by members, friends, and guests. With the completion of the much-improved Community Room, the 2nd Sunday Potluck began following the service as a time for social interactions among members, friends, and guests. After many years of dedicated service to the Prairie Lakes community, Marjorie Kenyon-Cler stepped down as Fellowship Administrator in 2014. In November 2015, the Doty Street house was razed due to growing maintenance expenditures. The house had provided PLUUF with many years of space for Religious Education, potlucks, and service projects.
Due to changes in membership dynamics, the Board began discussing ways to transform PLUUF to meet the needs of its community. In May 2016, the membership voted to eliminate all paid positions, including Rev. James Jaeger and DRE Nicole Roost. Prairie Lakes returned to an all-volunteer organization as it regrouped its efforts. It also reduced offering Sunday services to the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month.
PLUUF held its first children’s day camp in July 2016, entitled “The Lessons of Trees.” Member Judy Harris was instrumental in the camp’s organization and planning with the help of many Fellowship members and friends. A grant from the Webster Foundation was awarded to help defray the cost of the day’s events. Approximately 20 elementary children joined in the day’s activities. In July 2017, PLUUF held its second children’s day camp entitled “Water is Life” through the guidance of Judy Harris and with assistance from the Webster Foundation and members and friends of the Fellowship. Nine 2nd through 5th grade children attended the day’s events.
ENGAGE Sunday programming began in the summer of 2016 on the 1st and 3rd Sundays. ENGAGE is an acronym for: Explore, No Boundaries, Gather, Activism, Go! Be the Change, and Educate. The acronym defines the purpose of these Sundays. ENGAGE Sunday activities have included social justice activities surrounding Standing with Standing Rock and the extension of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Adult Religious Education book discussions, committee work on continuing recognition as a Welcoming Congregation, discussions on refugees worldwide, meditation, etc.
Several evening social justice events were held in October 2016, including two documentary screenings regarding The Doctrine of Discovery and the treatment of Native Peoples in our nation’s history.
Led by member Tanya Schwartz Roeper, the once-popular Festival of Lights service was resurrected in December 2016. The evening intergenerational service celebrated winter festivals of religions around the world.