VALDOSTA – The church founded in 1965 as the Unitarian Fellowship of Valdosta celebrated its 50th year recently, with founding member the Rev. Mary Louise DeWolf returning as guest speaker on the topic of “Rational Spirituality.”
In addition to the present congregation, former members, friends and ministers who served the church in the past were invited to the gathering, according to the church.
DeWolf spent 33 years teaching in the public schools of Florida, Georgia, California, England, the Florida Community College in Jacksonville Fla. She later received an MA in religious studies at the University of South Florida and final fellowship from the Unitarian Universalist Association. DeWolf served as part-time minister at Nature Coast UUs in Citrus Springs, Fla., for seven years, retired from ministry in 2010 and was awarded minister emerita. She lives in Crystal River, Fla.
“This 50th Anniversary celebration was much like a homecoming,” said the Rev. Fred Howard, minister of the church at 1951 E. Park Ave., since Sept. 2009. “The crowd shared a meal after the service and connected with our congregation’s past, present and future.”
Vital to that connection were comments from DeWolf about the founding of the Unitarian Fellowship of Valdosta, according to the church.
In 1965, DeWolf, then a biology and chemistry teacher, and her husband , Harold M. (Bud) Evans, an Air Force major stationed at Moody Air Force Base, founded the Unitarian Fellowship of Valdosta (now the Unitarian Universalist Church of Valdosta).
In December 1965, application for formal membership in the Unitarian Universalist Association was filed with 14 charter members, including Jim and Josette Ingram, continued residents of Valdosta and members of the church.
As charter member and architect for the church’s present unique structure, Jim Ingram shared firsthand knowledge of the church’s history with new and not-so-new members and friends.
In 1995, Ingram brought the idea to the congregation about some land available on East Park Avenue. A few services were held outside while the building was under construction, and a 25th anniversary celebration met inside before the church was totally finished.
The church cupola shows the handiwork of then student minister and trim carpenter by trade, Jack Ford, and several church members, whom he instructed in assisting him.
The congregation of the Unitarian Fellowship of Valdosta was from the beginning involved in social justice efforts in the area, and continues today to be active in many social justice efforts in the community, participating in Break Bread meal deliveries each month, working with and preparing lunch for the Habitat for Humanity Building on Faith Blitz Build each year, according to the church.
Each month, the congregation holds a Share-the-Plate Sunday, where any contributions to the collection plate, not designated as pledge, are contributed to a different designated community organization.
The UU Church welcomes a number of community groups who use its building as a place to gather: the KTD Buddhist Reading and Meditation Group; the Taoist Tai Chi group; the Oaken Circle Chapter of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.
Maggie Lovins came to the celebration with greetings from Congregational Life Staff, UUA Southern Region and addressed the attendance on “Small Congregation Involvement in the wider Unitarian Universalist movement.”
Carol Stiles, UU Valdosta vice president/program chair, announced that the congregation has received Welcoming Congregation status from the UUA.
She said, “This designation is the result specifically, of our work together in after-service sessions with the Living the Welcoming Congregation last year, as well as the multicultural curricula we are using this year, 'Examining Whiteness: An Antiracism Curriculum and Building the World We Dream About.' But to us, this designation is also recognition, not just of this past year, but of our decades of work to be welcoming to all that share our mission of building a community of acceptance and love.”
Kimberly Tanner, UU Valdosta membership director, read an excerpt from a letter from Annette Marquis, UUA LGBTQ and multi-cultural programs director: “It is a pleasure to read about what you have accomplished and the powerful work you have done. I’m always struck when a small congregation such as yours takes on this important mission. UU Fellowship of Valdosta has done the work of becoming a Welcoming Congregation with dedication and purpose. You can be quite proud of your efforts.”
Sunday Services begin at 10:45 a.m. each Sunday with children’s religious education held concurrently with the service.