We Came for the Kids, and Stayed for the Fellowship!

3/6/2020 0 Comments

By Judy Remsberg

This was presented by Judy Remsberg as a part of the ongoing series of member testimonials during the 2020/21 UUFP Canvass.

What first caught our attention in the early 1970s was the fascinating Sunday morning programs, given by community leaders, religious figures, and members of our congregation. There might be a talk from scientists of NASA or Jefferson Lab, or a play from Bill and Posey Walton, or a musical presentation by members Wendell Ayers with his western Virginia twang and guitar, or the folk/rock music of Vaughn Deal. These programs would be accompanied by readings and short homilies that reflected the five principles of Unitarian Universalism (UU). To say the least, these programs were something we had never seen in a church.
Another thing that caught our attention and touched our social justice sensibilities was the work that the Fellowship was involved in. There were many activities centered on issues of the ‘70s in the wake of the Vietnam War: the rise of women’s rights, and LGBT+ and African-American injustices. It was very much like the weekly adult forum we have now. I guess we are still – 50 years later – working on these same issues.
​So we stayed, this was the place we needed to be.

In those early days, we were led by strong women and men who kept the Fellowship going with hours of work, leadership, and of course, financial support. (I’m going to drop a few names here – some you will recognize, and others you should hear named out loud in this sanctuary because we stand on the shoulders of people like David Cooper, who was there when the bills came in, and there was nothing in the bank; Lou Ayers and Berni Haggard, who took over the children’s Religious Education program when needed; Hale Thompson, a noted local AA lawyer who advised us and was a giant in the community in working to desegregate the Hampton libraries; the band of men, Harry Gates, Ray Baker and Robin’s father, Van van Tine,who entertained us regularly (ask us about that!); Margaret Caum (David Walsh’s mother and my mentor when I was a teenager), who saw a need to enlarge this building, pave the parking lot and add AC, and who spearheaded a drive to do it and got it done quickly, within a few months.

Lou Ayers and Rev. Buffy Boke

Bob Smith, Van van Tine, and Harry Gates

Dr. Will Frank, history professor at ODU, spoke here often on UU history and encouraged our political activism.  His obituary is amazing, and I encourage you to google it if you are interested.  Jerry Tenney stands on a corner every week in Hilton Village to protest.  And, of course, our dear Richard Hudgins, who was among those very first charter members who had the foresight to start this fellowship and has stayed with us for over 60 years.

There are some broad shoulders among those people

I have seen a lot of changes in the last 40 years — the entry of EarthRising, and all the talent and energy that came with that.  Thank you, Robin and the rest of your merry band.

Rev. Andrew Millard at Installation

The biggest change came after years of discussion about hiring a minister.  We tried for years, maybe 20 years with part-time, sharing with Norfolk; getting our own, halftime, quarter time; that never worked even though we tried really hard.  Then we talked, argued, planned and anguished over taking that leap of faith to find a full-time minister.  Once we did, we never looked back.

Since I have been here, we have grown from a small “family” model church of fewer than 50 members to what we have today.  So, yes, we came for the kids, and stayed for ourselves.  The UUFP is a place to find yourself, grow, and participate, and create lasting deep friendships with like-minded, accepting people.

We have had our difficulties –conflict over what to protest, FBI investigations, deliberations on hiring a full-time minister, natural disasters like the devastating fire and the destructive flood – all of biblical proportions.  But we have persevered and become stronger for them.

So, Yes, we came for the kids, but I’m glad we stayed for the love of this fellowship and its people.  We are on the verge of another major change with the “stay or go” vote next week.  I’m confident that we will make the right decision because we are stronger than we have ever been, and I’m proud of who we are now.

This was presented by Judy Remsberg as a part of the ongoing series of member testimonials during the 2020/21 UUFP Canvass. 

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