History of the Prairie Lakes UU Fellowship
Previously known as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Oshkosh and Ripon, and the Oshkosh Unitarian Universalist Fellowship;
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 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 present-day members 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 active.
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 (which in its early stages also included present-day member Betty Cyrus Graham) 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 College 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 program. Marjorie Kenyon-Cler served as Moderator for several years, 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 2000-02, Jean Johnson followed in 2002-2006, and Lyn Corder 2006-present. (In 2002, The Fellowship also 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 the 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 & 4th Sundays of the previous 13 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. 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. 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 would 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.
The year began in January with an all-congregation retreat to work on articulating our vision for the future, continued work on our Green Sanctuary candidacy, our first ever adult "Vision Quest" weekend retreat, a "mortgage burning" celebration (pay off of our land contract) in November.
Originally written by David & Jean Conover and Marjorie Kenyon-Cler 11.04;
rev. by Marjorie 04.09