In late 1973, about a dozen individuals looking for a liberal religious home constituted the first Unitarian Universalist presence in Statesboro. Aided by several members of the Savannah UU Church (John and Mary Ralston, Milton and Betty Rahn, Clay Gerkin, and Martha Fay), the group was officially recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and known as the Statesboro Unitarian Fellowship. After about two years of monthly meetings with speakers, however, the Fellowship became inactive in 1976.
The current Fellowship began in 1985 when the late Rev. Frank Anderson, then minister of the Savannah UU Church, compiled a list of Statesboro residents visiting his church and circulated a copy to each of them. As a result, a number of these individuals began to gather again for monthly pot-luck suppers and programs. After several years, the group decided to re-affiliate with UUA (the earlier membership had lapsed). In April 1990, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro became an official society of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
During 1991-1994, the Fellowship met in the Developmental Studies building on the Georgia Southern University (GSU) campus and later (1994-1996) in the Bland Cottage at GSU’s Botanical Garden. When average attendance at Sunday services outgrew the capacity of the Cottage, the services were moved to GSU’s Nursing Building.
In the spring of 1998, the Fellowship voted to increase dramatically the operating budget in preparation for renting or building a structure dedicated to Fellowship purposes. The opportunity to buy two lots from the Bulloch County Hospital Authority led then-President Judy Holleman to launch, in July 1998, a three-year capital campaign and, during 1998-1999, to coordinate the development of building plans and to oversee building construction while Pauline deLaar coordinated the Decorating and Usage Committee work. All members and many friends of the Fellowship contributed labor (all interior and trim painting, lot and construction clean-up, initial landscape preparation and plantings), and gifts (over $40,000 pledged to the capital campaign), and loans ($50,000 in promissory notes). With a grant of over $16,000 from the Thomas Jefferson District Chalice Lighters, the Fellowship was able, in November 1999, to move into its new building at 609 East Grady Street and to furnish it with comfortable seating for the dedication ceremony in April 2000 at which the Rev. William Sinkford (UUA President 2001-2009) spoke. The debt on the building was paid off in December, 2003.
In 2002, a patio, connecting sidewalks, and a second handicapped parking pad were added to the church facilities, thanks to the financial generosity of several members and friends of the Fellowship and to the donated skills of the instructor and students in the Concrete and Masonry Structures class at GSU. In 2007, members constructed a sand pit for the children and set up a donated swing set in 2008. Dedicated members provide on-going enhancements to the grounds.
At its June, 2006 annual meeting, the Fellowship voted to call the Rev. Jane Page as its first settled minister to serve at least half time, beginning July 1, 2006. The Rev. Page was ordained and installed as the congregation’s first minister in September, 2006 and she attained “final fellowship” status as a Unitarian Universalist minister in 2009. Also in 2009, the Fellowship hired a part-time administrative consultant.
The Fellowship holds Sunday services throughout the year, with piano accompaniment and music provided by the Fellowship Singers. It also provides weekly religious education for children and youth, supports UU campus ministry at Georgia Southern and a variety of religious education programs for adults. The Fellowship also has a lending library of books, videotapes, and DVDs. UUFS supports social justice activities in the community such as helping to fund and construct a Habitat for Humanity house, using monthly “Giving Away the Plate” collections to provide financial support for worthy local organizations, marching annually in the annual M. L. King, Jr. parade, and providing meeting space for Alcoholics Anonymous and other community groups. At its 2009 annual meeting, the Fellowship formally adopted a congregational affirmation and relational covenant. Members attend events in the Thomas Jefferson District of the UUA and some have served in governance roles at the district and national levels.
Monthly social gatherings are held at the Fellowship building, UUFS men’s group meets monthly at a local restaurant, and college students meet monthly for “Bar None” discussions at a local coffeehouse. Annual traditions include the children’s trick-or-treating for contributions to UNICEF, the UU Service Committee’s Guest at Your Table program, the winter solstice celebration/holiday pot-luck, the local M. L. King, Jr. parade, the children’s Easter egg hunt, the blessing of the animals’ service, and the end-of-year/Memorial Day picnic. In addition, the Fellowship publishes a monthly newsletter and annual membership directory; it also maintains a web site (with access to Rev. Page’s sermons, monthly newsletters, Fellowship calendar, and other information), a Facebook page, and a listserv for posting announcements to members and friends.
Since its humble beginnings in 1990, the Fellowship continues to grow annually both in membership and financial support. In 2010, the Fellowship celebrated its 20th anniversary with UUA and its 25th anniversary as a congregation The future looks bright for our liberal religious community.