In the late summer and early fall of 2000, Robert Franke – who later became the first minister of our congregation – passed the word around the Mt. Pleasant area that he was interested in starting a UU fellowship in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Bob was born in Michigan; during WW II he moved to Chicago where he finished high school and attended community college. Subsequently he was awarded degrees from Northern Illinois University (BS) Northwestern (MS) and University of Texas at Austin (Ph D). He taught biology at five universities, the last being Central Michigan University where he also served as Provost.
Bob was a Unitarian Universalist since 1960 and has served as president of three congregations. He retired from Central Michigan University to attend Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago where he received a Master of Divinity degree in 2000. He then returned to Mount Pleasant to start a UU congregation.
Responding to Bob’s call, twenty-six people showed up at a picnic pavilion in Deerfield Park, Isabella County on October 26, 2000. We agreed to begin meeting monthly.
The Wesley Foundation allowed us to use their facilities free and we had a few meetings and informal services there beginning in early 2001. Later that year, we began meeting at Art Reach, the community art center.
In May of 2001 Laura McBride (who later was the first president of the UUFCM 2002-2003) and Nancy White (second president 2003-2004) attended a workshop sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) for congregations intending to join the UUA.
Bob was ordained as the minister in September 30, 2001. Read the order of service for the ordination. For additional insight, please read “The Past As Prologue: The UUFCM Story”.
In October 2004, Bob Franke collapsed during a service. He had been experiencing health problems and unfortunately had to resign as minister. The board voted to give him the title of “Founding Minister Emeritus”.
As part of the process to become a recognized congregation with the UUA we adopted these statements of mission and vision in 2002. Read our original mission statement and vision.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Michigan was recognized by the UUA in late 2002 or early 2003. At that time, we had thirty-three charter members.
For the next two years we were a lay-led fellowship. We were fortunate to have many talented members in our congregation and were able to get excellent professors from Central Michigan University to provide meaningful Sunday services. However, we wanted to have a UU trained minister to lead us.
In 2006, we hired a retired UU minister, Rev. Fred Campbell, from Lansing to be a consulting minister. He helped us identify the faith demographics of our fellowship and offered Adult Education classes for spiritual exploration.
In the summer of 2007, we hired the Reverend Dr. Nana' Kratochvil as our one-quarter time minister, a role in which she continues to serve. The following year, we added professional storyteller Dawn Daniels as a part-time Worship Director. Dawn was in charge of all worship services and the choir. She selected sermons from the Church of the Larger Fellowship (to which we belong) and grew the choir - tripling its size. In the fall of 2009, the Fellowship voted unanimously to hire Dawn in a full-time role, adding the newsletter and para-pastoral care to her job description.
Two months later in January 2010, we were faced with a dilemma: Art Reach was going to sell the building where we had been meeting for nine years, and there was no adequate space in the entire Mt. Pleasant area to serve our needs. We took a leap of faith and on March 21, 2010, the congregation voted unanimously to buy the building. An anonymous donor and the members of the Board pledged a generous sum before the Capital Campaign got underway, which allowed us to pursue our dream of having our own space.
On July 15, 2010, we closed on the building and Kathy Hill, Executive Director of Art Reach handed over the keys to Mary Alsager, the new President of the Board. The Art Reach Center became officially the Unitarian Universalist Center with no mortgage.
As a result, we were able to offer and house new programs for adults and children, with space for our Readers’ Theatre, choir rehearsals, committee meetings, discussion groups, potlucks and special events (Silent Auction, Coffee House, Cabaret). We also can make the space available for rent to local groups and individuals who value the beautiful space and acoustics in our sanctuary for concerts, recitals, weddings, and other special events.
In the fall of 2010, one of the first social justice initiatives we undertook was a congregation-wide study of discrimination based on gender, gender expression and sexual orientation. Our aim was to become an official Welcoming Congregation accredited by the Unitarian Universalist Association. We achieved our goal by completing the required educational training, community outreach and policy initiatives and were certified in 2011.
One of our major achievements was initiating the campaign for and adoption of a Human Rights Ordinance for Mt. Pleasant and Union Township, which made it illegal to discriminate against anyone in the area of employment, housing and service in hotels and restaurants on the basis of gender, gender expression or sexual orientation. These were passed in the spring of 2012.
Our next challenge came in the fall of 2012, when Rev. Nana’ Kratochvil decided to retire and in March of 2013 when our worship and choir director, Dawn Daniels, shared with us her dream of going to seminary full time. While we were saddened to lose our beloved leaders, we were grateful that they helped us grow in numbers, deepen our spiritual quests, and expand our commitments to social justice locally, nationally and internationally. We were pleased that in working with us Dawn felt called to the ministry.
With the help of a dedicated Task Force, we applied to the UUA for an interim minister. The search was successful and in August 2013, we welcomed our new full-time Interim minister, Rev. Joseph Cleveland to our congregation. He came to us from Bedford, Mass. where he had been the ministerial intern for two years at the First Parish of Bedford. He was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry on May 26, 2013 by his home church. Rev. Joe was hired for a two-year period to guide us through the transition to our next phase. A newly created Transition Team was formed to assist Rev. Joe in his ministry with us. With his guidance, they organized cottage meetings and four workshops to help us consider our history, who we are now and where we want to go in the future. The congregational workshops helped define our priorities and the Board of Trustees crafted a new mission statement to be trialed over the next year.
Rev. Joe was a great asset to us as he challenged us to think outside of the box, anticipate future needs, make changes in our governance structure and focus on the larger picture. Unfortunately (for us), he was offered a full-time position as a called minister to the Unitarian Church in Saratoga Spring, NY, which meant that he had to leave after only one year. Again, we faced the loss of an excellent preacher, but we felt confident in our ability to respond to this new challenge with positive anticipation.
Knowing that we are a congregation of strength, creativity and a deep commitment to one another, we embarked on yet another search for a minister. Good fortune shined upon us once again: our former worship director, Dawn Daniels, was moving back to our area and was open to a part-time ministry while continuing her seminary studies at Earlham School of Religion. After careful consideration of the growth we as a congregation had made and that Dawn had experienced in seminary in the past year, we believed her further development in her seminary training and our further work as a congregation serving our Mission would be highly compatible. We offered her a three quarter time, one-year renewable contract as minister, commencing on Aug. 1, 2014. She accepted our offer. As we go forward together, we anticipate a rewarding year of continued change and growth together.
2014 – 2016
Under Dawn’s leadership we have been growing in number and in spiritual depth.
We added several new programs such as regular class on Unitarianism and Universalism, a men’s group and a women’s group and a garden for the children to grow vegetables for the soup kitchen.
We also expanded our commitment to the outside world. We have been serving our community by offering our building as the intake center for the rotating homeless shelter for 6 months every year. We continue to be actively involved in social justice issues (i.e. Standing on the Side of Love and Black Lives Matter). As new members have joined and energized our fellowship, we are looking forward to a welcoming faith community with strong social engagement and ongoing support for everybody’s spiritual journey.