Our founders gathered in 1959 to establish a liberal religious presence locally, including an educational program that would provide an atmosphere of intellectual freedom rather than indoctrination for their children. In 1961, these pioneers formally organized UUFE and obtained a charter from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) — an event that came soon after the historic merger of the Unitarian and Universalist denominations, both very progressive in religious thought and practice.
Then in 1962 one of our chief founders, Dorothy Greenleaf Boynton, donated three parcels of land on Garden Street, just south of Woodlawn. Dr. John Ivy and his wife, Shirley, provided leadership in designing and raising funds for our Fellowship House, dedicated in 1963. For several years, we invited student ministers from the UUA’s Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago to provide services twice monthly, with guest speakers on alternate Sundays.
Since 1968 we have supported a full-time minister, the longest ministries having been by the Rev. Robert T. Dick (1976-1984) and the Rev. Dr. Gordon D. Gibson (1985-2005). Our current minister, the Rev. Amy K. DeBeck, has been with us since 2008.
For the UUFE congregation, these have been 48 years of questing, learning, growing, worshiping, working together, knowing joys and sorrows, and above all, loving and sharing in community. Over the years we have become a seasoned, diverse group representing communities throughout north central Indiana and southwest Michigan. Our members reflect a wide spectrum of education, life experience, occupation, economic status, and theological perspective.
We are self-governing, with a board of trustees, congregational meetings, numerous committees, and volunteer efforts contributed by a large proportion of the congregation. Volunteering has always made our organization “work,” and many of us extend our efforts into the community.
A high point of our life as a congregation was the enlargement of our building to about twice its original size (1988), with everyone contributing work, ideas and/or money. UUFE’s pulpit, worship table, screen and stands, hand-carved by Mike Slaski from kiln-dried poplar, were dedicated in 1991. We acquired parking lots and a nearby building for office and religious education in the 1980s and 1990s, and added a children’s play area, again through volunteer effort, in 2000.
Our latest expansion, the Gathering Place, was completed in 2011 and dedicated in May 2012. This multi-purpose space is used throughout the week, for our monthly potlucks, events such as concerts and parties, and special worship services.
The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:
- Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.
- Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.
- Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.
- Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
- Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.