Notes on 200 Years (and more)

Notes on Two Hundred Years (and More)
by Douglas H. Parkhurst

…Continued from April 2023

Task Force 2001 did substantial work during the first months of 1997. The committee was organized to articulate a vision and chart a five year course of action for the Unitarian Universalist Society of Northern Fairfield County (UUSNFC and since renamed Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury or UUCD). Its April 6th report to the society was comprehensive and printed copies were made available. Some concerns of years past were revisited with aspects of this report echoing society development plans from 1981 and 1990. The 1981 report called for growth of membership, an increase in pledge income, and improvements to the Picketts Ridge Road property [see note below]. The 1990 plan presented options for two services and two religious education (RE) sessions on Sundays, enlarging existing facilities, and the possible sale of the West Redding property.

The newly issued 1997 report contained numerous recommendations along with suggestions for what were termed “sustaining activities.” Seven vision categories were listed along with a five year timeline for implementation of goals. Among the goals were the following.

  1. Begin two weekly Sunday services and upgrade and expand nursery, childcare, and religious education programs which would eventually include the wider community.
  2. Define and meet goals for increasing membership.
  3. Conduct a 175th anniversary outreach program which could be expanded to college students and the community at large. Sponsor arts and music events. [Note – The UUSNFC celebrated its 175th anniversary later in 1997.]
  4. Upgrade the positions of director of religious education and office manager. Prepare to hire a music director.
  5. Evaluate options for expansion of UUSNFC’s physical plant. Complete and present a relocation plan. Design, construct, and move to a new facility in five years.
  6. Increase annual operating budget. Launch and conduct a capital campaign to fund relocation.
    This report and its recommendations simmered in the congregation over the next two years. Ordinary week-to-week and month-to-month operating issues and routine church activities seemed to take precedence over the forward-looking vision articulated by the task force. Then in 1999 what was called Task Force 2000+ was organized with society member Peter Reed as chair. This committee recharged the effort begun more than two years earlier. October 1999 would be designated “growth month” with a consultant, Jonathan Hopps, brought in from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to guide this process. The need to upgrade church facilities to address the problem of physical barriers at the Barn and making the space more useable and welcoming to all attendees was re-emphasized.

Early in 2000 a successor committee to the two task force groups was created. This was called Comprehensive Planning Committee 2000 (CPC). The leadership and direction provided to the CPC by society member Don Schober, who chaired this committee, was crucial if not indispensable to the ultimate success of this renewed effort. Other CPC 2000 members were Ursula Bartles, Bruce Berg, John Corcoran, Alan Fox, Mitch Green, Maggie Hooton, Paul LaCombe, Alex Makai, Rocky Peruch, Lana Shannon, Lynn Taborsak, Joe Teagarden, and Art Warren.

CPC 2000 examined church facilities, program, and finances. Three options regarding church facilities and location were studied. The so-called low cost option would maintain the UUSNFC status quo. The medium cost option was to buy and renovate property and building(s) elsewhere. The high cost option was to buy property and build. Goals for the society included improve and expand the RE program, improve outreach to the community, expand social activity programs, promote increased fellowship among members and friends, increase compensation for the minister and director of religious education (DRE), and make church facilities more user friendly to the physically challenged. The key to success in all these areas was again seen as “intentional growth” [see note below]. On May 7, 2000, at the UUSNFC annual meeting, the congregation voted to further investigate the medium cost option, that is buy and renovate property and building(s) elsewhere.

CPC 2001 was formed the following winter. Don Schober remained as chair. Bruce Berg and Alex Makai continued as members, joined by Marcia Brooker, Ross Fenster, Kim Schmitt, and Linda Spione. Six consultants/advisors were added: Bob Bollinger, Kathy Brewington, Rev. Daniel O’Connell, Doug Parkhurst, Mike Searing, and Art Warren. Mary Alice Kimball served as liaison to the society’s board of trustees. Over the next several months committee members developed a work flow process to guide the church in a move to a new home. They dealt with real estate agents, sought legal assistance, contacted an architect [note – Faesy and Sanders of Wilton, CT, which firm later designed the new Danbury Fellowship Hall], and arranged for the services of UUA fundraising consultant Jerry King. The committee visited potential buy-renovate sites, arranged a site inspection and appraisal of the 9 Picketts Ridge Road property and made arrangements to put this property on the market, determined characteristics desired in a new church, and did initial planning for a capital campaign to help fund a new facility. The committee made its report to the congregation at the annual meeting on May 6, 2001.

With the work performed by these several committees and the continuing support of society membership and Rev. O’Connell’s encouragement the vision became reality. In May 2002 the Barn property at 9 Picketts Ridge Road was sold to Redding Center for Meditation and Spiritual Development with an agreement for another year of occupancy by UUSNFC [see note below]. In 2003 the congregation purchased residential property at 24 Clapboard Ridge Road in Danbury. A new planning and construction committee, led by Chris and Kim Schmitt, oversaw the next steps of this project. The existing house at the new location was partially remodeled to provide church office space. A garage behind the house was torn down and design and construction of a new fellowship hall undertaken. Rev. Dr. Linda Hansen, recently called and beginning her five year pastorate at the now renamed UUCD, led the final service at the Barn on September 14, 2003.

For the next two years the congregation conducted Sunday services at Alumni Hall [see note below] on the mid-town Danbury campus of Western Connecticut State University. Mary Collins, two years into her long tenure as DRE, oversaw religious education classes upstairs in the Student Center across the street. In November 2005, with the completion of construction, all church activities were moved to 24 Clapboard Ridge Road. The new facilities were formally dedicated on March 26, 2006, with Rev. Dr. William Schulz, former president of the UUA, as guest speaker.

[Note – The 1981 development plan also stressed the need for at least a part-time minister to serve the UUSNFC. The society had been lay-led since the departure of Rev. Ralph Bailey in 1970.]
[Note – As noted, growth was a focus of previous development plans. In additon to increasing membership, growth called for expanding the church program, developing more sources of income, and obtaining a more spacious and accessible facility.]

[Note – The Picketts Ridge Road property is now called Center for Mindfulness & Insight Meditation. Pinewood Learning Center, a child and day care which leased space in Founders House from UUSNFC, stayed on after the sale.]

[Note – Alumni Hall at 2 Roberts Ave. was previously home to St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church. It is now called Irfan Kathwari Honors House.]