The History of JRUUC
Creation of a Unitarian Universalist congregation on Madison’s east side began as an extension effort by First Unitarian Society (FUS) in Madison. Read the full story (PDF) of the early years here!
FUS members formed the core of a planning committee, which met through the winter of 1992-93. The James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Church (JRUUC), named for a UU minister murdered during civil rights activity at Selma in 1965, held its first service in June 1993. FUS and the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) provided a subsidy, phased out over five years, to help pay a full-time extension minister, the Rev. Jonalu Johnstone.
The new church met in a park shelter at Lake Edge Park that summer and (from September) in the Tenney Nursery & Parent Center through 1993-94. Charter Sunday was December 5, 1993, the first of four Sundays during which more than 70 people signed the membership book as charter members. The UUA welcomed the new congregation as a formal member.
After considerable debate, JRUUC bought its own building in the summer of 1994: a former T-shirt screen printing structure at East Johnson and Fourth Street, behind East High School. Extensive volunteer activity got the building ready for services by autumn. Construction continued, new members joined, and in 1994-95 the church began offering a second Sunday service to accommodate the growing numbers. After an emotional debate, JRUUC changed the “C” in its name from “Church” to “Congregation.”
Johnstone’s five-year subsidized extension ministry ended in 1998. The congregation voted enthusiastically to call her as JRUUC’s settled minister, and formalized her acceptance with an installation service on April 26, 1998. A little over a year later, Johnstone announced that she would resign at the end of December 1999 for personal reasons. Unusually high turnover in lay leadership compounded the challenges of 1999-2000. Lay ministers took responsibility for worship and pastoral care from the beginning of 2000 until August, when the Rev. Paul Daniel began a one-year term as interim minister.
After a year of hard work, a search committee presented the congregation with its candidate for settled minister: the Rev. Shana Goodwin, who began her ministry at JRUUC in August of 2001. Her resignation for personal reasons, in the spring of 2003, like Johnstone’s before her, took many people by surprise. It seemed too soon to be starting another search process and another interim ministry. Members reminded each other that the congregation is its members and spirit and mission, not its professional ministers, important as they are. By August 2003, when the Rev. Roberta Haskin arrived as interim minister (half-time because of financial constraints), JRUUC was looking forward with energy and optimism to the next chapter in its story.
After another year of searching, in September of 2004, the Rev. Darrel Richey was heartily welcomed by the members of the congregation. Since that time, JRUUC has continued to grow and develop as the vibrant home of our beloved community. In the fall of 2008, we began a new challenge, the remodeling of our building into a more beautiful and functional space for our spiritual home, which was completed in the fall of 2009.
In our renovated space, we felt our way toward stronger financial stewardship and more effective social justice activity, including interfaith efforts to combat over-incarceration in Wisconsin.
After Richey’s departure for California in summer 2012, the Rev. Marlene Walker guided the congregation through a two-year interim of maturation and self-reflection.
Twenty years after our early services in a day care center, in 2013 our space became the temporary home for Big Oak Child Care Center while its space was under construction. We launched the search for our next settled minister and exuberantly celebrated “20 years of love and justice.”
In September 2014, newly called minister Karen Armina joined the JRUUC Beloved Community for the next phase of our congregational journey.