Celebrating 25 Years
A History of Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North
In early 1990, following the tradition of people the world over who seek a religious home that reflects their most deeply held values, a small group of suburban Atlanta residents began meeting in private homes and subdivision clubhouses in and around Roswell, Georgia. Drawn together by their shared liberal and progressive religious views, they also were seeking community in an area known for its conservative religious attitudes, practices and traditions.
During that spring and summer the small group worked to chart a course for the church community they named Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North, affectionately called UUMAN.
By September 1990, led by The Reverend Lauralyn Bellamy, the group, now numbering 21, moved to its first home at the Cafetorium of Barnwell Elementary School in Alpharetta. By the time the original by-laws were approved in March 1991, UUMAN was ready for another move; this time to Primrose Cottage in Roswell. But this was a short-lived stay. In the fall of 1992 the congregation moved to the Roswell Business Center.
From the start, UUMAN’s time at the Business Center was challenging. Despite overcrowding, the absence of a piano, and enough noise to make any notion of quiet worship no more than wishful, the congregation stayed at this location for two years.
Membership continued to increase and on August 14, 1994, with a loan from the UU Endowment Fund, the faith of the UUA and the generosity of its members, UUMAN was able to buy property on Crabapple Road in Roswell and move into its first true home. By February 1995, with a congregation of more than 40 pledging members, the building, called Fellowship Hall, was dedicated. Now, there was room to grow.
This period is fondly remembered as a UUMAN Renaissance. Social action relationships were established with M.U.S.T. Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, and North Fulton Community Charities to name a few. Permanent space allowed for a piano, and the first UUMAN Choir was formed. Painting classes began under the direction of Annette Pate, and have continued to the present. Circle Suppers were held to give the growing congregation a chance to know one another better.
Children’s Religious Education, which had been important to UUMAN from the beginning, had grown to the point that volunteers could no longer handle all the requirements necessary for operation. In 1996 UUMAN hired Karen LoBracco, its first salaried director of religious education.
When Rev. Bellamy left in 1997 UUMAN’s community of dedicated volunteers stepped up to make sure the church continued to provide a liberal religious experience every Sunday. A renewed commitment to quality lay-led services was established – a tradition that continues at UUMAN. The music program flourished with the addition of volunteer choir director, Ambrose (Amby) Holford. His mentorship enabled many members to exceed their expectations as performers. Vocal and instrumental soloists were brought in to enhance the Sunday morning experience. The spiritual exploration group affectionately known as the Friday Night Group (currently called Spiritual Awakenings) began in 1997 and is still facilitated by its founder, Pat Shea. From 1998 through mid-1999, Rev. Jeff Jones served the congregation on a part-time basis and was instrumental in the search for a new settled minister.
The congregation grew to more than 90 members by 1999, and that seemingly endless space began to feel a bit tight. Thanks to the foresight of several members who acquired 1.75 acres and the house next door, UUMAN expanded to fit the needs of its active congregation. Dedicated in 2000, Discovery Hall provides additional space for the growth of religious education and other programs.
In August 1999 The Reverend Greg Ward joined UUMAN as its settled minister. Greg fostered the exploration of spirituality and became a unifying force for the congregation. This was a busy and productive time in the history of the church as Rev. Ward assisted UUMAN in creating much needed structure as groups, committees, and task forces changed and evolved. As the congregation grew, so did its involvement in the community from participation in social justice projects and events to denominational affairs. UUMAN also looked inward with the goal of deciding what kind of presence the church wanted to create in the 21st century.
With the intention to grow the membership to approximately 300 and then start a neighboring congregation, UUMAN formed a long-range planning committee in 1999. This brought a recommendation for a capital campaign to fund new facilities to be completed in two phases. The plan was accepted in 2000 and, to ensure funding for the new sanctuary and building improvements, thirteen pledge units signed personal guarantees to insure that UUMAN got the necessary mortgage.
Phase I was completed when the church opened the UUMAN Sanctuary in August 2003. The UUMAN Campus presently sits on slightly more than four acres that includes a playground and garden area. The house where services were held for nine years was re-designated as Fellowship Hall, and is used as a meeting hall as well as for classroom and office space. The UUMAN library expanded into its own space on the main floor of Fellowship Hall.
Just as UUMAN’s physical footprint expanded, so did its reach. In 2006, UUMAN completed the Unitarian Universalist Association program to become the UUA’s 500th Welcoming Congregation. The church also restructured its governance, wrote a new mission statement, overhauled its bylaws and developed a new long-range plan.
The UUMAN Children’s Religious Education Department continued to grow and, in 2002, UUMAN hired Toniann Read to become its first paid UUMAN Youth Director. In 2006, Toniann received the UUA Youth Advisor of the Year Award in recognition of her creative leadership. Karen LoBracco stepped down as DRE in 2004, leaving room for Rev. Joan Armstrong to carry on as full-time DRE for two years. In 2006, the Children’s RE department underwent a RE-Visioning. The outcome was to create a single position out of two for a director of ministry with Children and Youth (MCY) which Toniann now fills. Sunday classes from Preschool to Senior Youth hum with activity largely because of the dedicated volunteers who act as teachers, mentors, planners and sponsors. Paid childcare providers and volunteers provide a nurturing environment each week in the nursery. Beyond the Sunday experience, the Ministry with Children and Youth sponsors Our Whole Lives and Coming of Age classes, interfaith groups, social activities and parent workshops.
Over the years UUMAN’s music ministry also grew steadily and could boast about its adult choir and varied music presentations. After four years of mentorship, Amby Holford stepped down as director to assume his place in the tenor section of the choir until his death in 2007. The choir kept growing, first under director Gay Grooms and then under the high standards of Randy Wilbur and accomplished pianist Alex Pietsch. Following Mr. Wilbur’s departure, the gifted musician, Huu Mai (pronounced: “Ho My”) joined UUMAN as its music director in 2010. Under Huu’s leadership the Chalice Choir has brought a new level of musicality to UUMAN’s Sunday services and its many other programs.
In 2007, ending seven years as UUMAN’s minister, Rev. Ward moved back to his native California. During the first year of its two-year interim period, UUMAN was fortunate to have the guidance of The Reverend Frieda Gillespie. Under her direction, the UUMAN Transition Team embarked on an Appreciative Inquiry process. The objective of the AI was to engage members in conversation about what worked well at UUMAN and what this community saw in its immediate and more distant future.
The Reverend Sue Turner, UUMAN’s interim minister for that year, led the second year of the search for a new settled minister. To enrich the process, the Settled Minister Search Committee sponsored a Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop on November 2, 2008.
In 2009, UUMAN called Rev. Paul Daniel to be its settled minister.
The Program Council developed guidelines for committee structure and process, and several committees led successful initiatives. The Sustainability Committee led efforts to certify UUMAN as a Green Sanctuary. UUMAN developed and implemented its Respectful Relations Covenant and the Healthy Congregation Team began its work; policies on dealing with disruptive behavior were established. The Social Justice Committee developed and UUMAN Board approved new policies on public witness and vigils at UUMAN leading to several vigils for Black Lives Matter. The Finance Committee led efforts to pay off the mortgage on Discovery Hall and upgrade staff salaries to meet compensation guidelines.
Several improvements were made to the building and grounds:
- Discovery Hall was renovated –new flooring and kitchen cabinets.
- The septic system was repaired.
- A new sign was installed marking the entrance to UUMAN
- Additional parking space was added
The mission statement was expanded to include the sharing of UUMAN values with the greater community: “We come together to create an environment that celebrates our differences, nurtures transformative growth, and promotes an open-minded search for truth and justice both within our walls and beyond.”
UUMAN began an interfaith initiative with the Hamzah Islamic Center and established a partnership with our sister congregation in Mawsynjri India. UUMAN committed to host the UU Partner Church Council committee meeting in January 2016.
Rev. Kim Palmer was ordained at UUMAN in 2014 and became affiliated as community minister.
UUMAN hosted the MidSouth District meeting in 2014. UUMAN members served on the MidSouth district Board.
Rev. Daniel resigned in 2013 and Reverend Cynthia Prescott began serving a two-year term as Interim Minister.
In early 2015 UUMAN’s congregation elected a Ministerial Search Committee to work with the Unitarian Universalist Association to find a settled minister. It is expected that this process will be completed in the spring of 2016, and by the fall of the year UUMAN expects to welcome a new minister.
During the weekend of February 5-7, 2016, UUMAN will celebrate a quarter century of growth and development. This significant passage marks the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. The congregation and its friends and supporters are poised to begin a new period of growth and development. UUMAN looks forward to a bright future.