Thirty Years at Piedmont UU

Thirty Years at Piedmont UU

I joined Piedmont UU in June 1999, so I am observing an anniversary of thirty years as a member! Such a long time! So much has happened in the church’s life and in my life as well. I was a timid joiner, visiting many times in 1998 and 1999 before taking the membership leap. I actually attended the charter service in April, 1998, but didn’t join at that time. So different from another member who came for the first time as a visitor on the charter Sunday and joined the very same day! But not me. Unitarian Universalism is so very different from the Catholic Church I grew up in and left at the age of 20 or so.  I needed more time. Just having a woman minister was a change for me.

Piedmont had its home in the early years in a very old former Baptist church on Spring Street in downtown Concord. The Old Courthouse Theatre owned the building and rented us the sanctuary – i.e. theatre – on Sunday and some classrooms in the education building. It served us well, although the founders yearned to get us into the University area, which was the original intent. It took a few years to get that to happen.

Barbara Hollingsworth joined at almost the same time I did and we were both active right away. We were neighbors, active professionally and in advocacy for women, children and families in the Cabarrus community, fellow church members and friends throughout the remainder of her very fine life. We served on Religious Services and then co-chaired the committee during Liz McMaster’s third and final year.

Liz was a very dynamic person, ordained in her late fifties and passionate about social justice causes, especially women’s rights and LGBT issues. She drew people in and the church grew. I would describe her as fiery – impassioned. She fired off letters to the Observer and the Concord newspaper, supported LGBT rights very vigorously and organized marches for women’s rights in the conservative little town of Concord. She fussed with members and members fussed with her. That took some getting used to for me!

Her departure for Florida presented a crisis for us. She left in July 1991 and we were without a minister for an entire year, shrinking to fewer than forty members. We endured. I was the Religious Services chair, drawing on visitors and members to get something together every Sunday morning.

A group of eight women formed the church’s first women’s group and while completing the Cakes for the Queen of Heaven curriculum, supported each other through some major changes and church tension. We remained friends forever after, getting together for birthdays and special events. Barbara and I were part of that group, as well as Sandra Woolsey, Linda Christopherson, Jane Henderson and a few others who are no longer members.

The Board pleaded in 1992 with the UUA for a minister to serve the remaining two years on an Extension Ministry contract we had, and they agreed, telling us they could send Rev. Wyman Rousseau. We eagerly accepted. Wyman told us later he and his wife Jane had been influenced to come by the huge commitment the small number of remaining  members had made to assist Mark and Kathy Kemerait, when Mark was severely injured in a car wreck. We were there for the Kemeraits and I think that has been true for us many times. When we have been needed, we have been there.

Barbara scouted possible places closer to the university to move to and took me along on a few of those visits. She found the back of a store/office strip on Highway 49 at a low rent. Wyman arrived in September 1992 and he and our entire remaining group moved to Harrisburg.

The most memorable and meaningful church experiences I have had were those working as a member of teams in sustained efforts on important church projects. The first of those was the work of members with Wyman from 1992 to 1998 to rebuild the membership and the ministry and develop a strategic plan, a site search, a building plan, a capital campaign and construct the current sanctuary, culminating in the dedication of the sanctuary in September 1998. Many members were part of that effort but I particularly remember Sam Treadaway, Barbara Hollingsworth, Linda Christopherson, Neil Mara, Harry Lancaster and Jeff Blum. I was on the board as president, past president and president-elect for three of those years and chaired the general canvass during the capital campaign.

A second great effort was the sustained work over a year’s time by seven members of the Ministerial Search Committee that culminated in calling Reverend Robin Tanner as our minister in 2010. I led a team that included Darla Davis, Arvind Patil, Lucy Neel, Nancy DeLux, Judy Dancing and Margaret Edwards. Krissa Palmer’s support to us as BOT President that year was important! Robin’s tenure revitalized the church’s membership after Wyman’s 15 year tenure and inspired its social justice ministry. Robin and our church became well known!

A third effort was co-chairing with Linda and Jeff Blum a grand celebration of Piedmont’s 25th anniversary, and bringing all of our past ministers back for that weekend in April 2013, including Liz McMaster, Wyman Rousseau, Karen Matteson and Robin Tanner. I finished the writing of the church’s history of its first 25 years during this time.

A fourth and more recent effort was the intense collaborative work of the Board of Trustees in 2018 to strengthen the church after very difficult events in 2017. I served as secretary on that board with Sam Treadaway, Becky Schisler, Teresa Rowell, Frank Mabrey, Lynne Godfrey and Karl Hesse. Members of the Ministerial Search Committee Steve Whitfield, Resa Treadaway, Lou Gardiner-Parks, Beth Foreman and Christine Robinson completed the work to bring Rev. Mary Frances Comer forth as their recommendation as our settled minister, and the congregational meeting to elect her took place in March 2018. Becky Schisler and Meredith Norman assisted with that search as well. Also in 2018, we celebrated the church’s 30th anniversary.

Finally in 2018 and 2019, I have been part of another dedicated planning team to develop a memorial/meditation garden at Piedmont UU, working with Jeff Blum, Elaine Slaton, Gail Smith-Arrants, Doug Wall, Pauline Tulson, Michelle Murphy and Mary Frances Comer. We envision this as the creation of a beautiful outdoor sanctuary, valuable to members in many ways, a place of respite and reflection, and a resting place for the ashes of beloved family members. .

All of those have been important successful collaborative efforts that I have been proud and honored to be part of. While I value the social interactions with members, the work of the church is where I have bonded and formed deep friendships. Besides serving on the board a total of thirteen years, I have been active continuously in social justice and for the last eight years in pastoral care. At various times, I have led Children’s RE, Religious Services, Congregational Care and Social Justice. I have served on several Committees on Ministry for Wyman, Robin and Mary Frances. For three years I edited a church special justice newsletter that highlighted all that Robin was doing, along with the social justice work of other members.

I love the diversity of UU churches and OUR UU church. Over the past 30 years we have had hundreds of members and they have come from all over the country, from many different professions and occupations, many different faith traditions, male, female, straight or LGBTQI. So many very interesting people! I have loved the stories and the friendships.  I cherish the fact there is an accepting place here for the differences among ourselves and from society as a whole. Despite the improvements over the last 30 years, the South remains a rather conservative place. The country as a whole remains politically divided, even as it evolves in acceptance of LGBTQI and religious differences. Racism remains a critical issue. I value the UUA’s leadership on that and many critical issues.

Losing members has been a source of sadness. Some have died or moved away or left for other reasons. The deaths of Chuck Cottle, John Bloom, Bill Williams, Scott Davis, Micah Arrants, David Lemmond, Susan Price, Barbara Masson, Eva Dew Danner, Barbara Hollingsworth, Harvey Murphy, Bill Sutton, Joyce Lemmond, Betsy Nelson and Linda Blum were all sad for me.

I have felt gratitude to our four settled ministers, each of whom has served Piedmont UU with a generous spirit and in unique ways, including Revs. Liz McMaster, Wyman Rousseau and Robin Tanner and now Mary Frances Comer. I have learned that ministers are not perfect, and it is very unreasonable to expect perfection of them or anyone else.

Piedmont UU has survived successfully through several crises and various other difficulties. Our UUA District Executive Roger Comstock told us many years ago when we had lost our minister and floundered for awhile that it is “hard to kill a church.” Fortunately for us, I think he was right! But I think we have occasionally tested the truth of that.

Over thirty years, I have become more tolerant and accepting, influenced by our faith. I really do believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every individual and believe it is the force driving acceptance and appreciation of the differences in sex and race and religious background among us. Gradually I regained an appreciation for the value of my Catholic tradition, even though I could never return to a Christian or Catholic faith. Social justice distinguishes the best of Catholicism. My sisters’ small Catholic congregations are incredible models of social activism.

Our UU traditions, so different from fixed Catholic rituals, are valuable to me. Services of dedication of children. Memorial services for beloved members, always beautifully tailored to the uniqueness of the person being remembered. Flower Communions. Solstice services. Christmas Eve services. Services to sanctify the union of couples and more recently weddings. Blessing of Animals. Services in the Jewish tradition for Rosh Hashanah.

I am grateful for our church and our beloved community! Piedmont UU has been a very important part of my life for many years.

Anne Laukaitis

July 2019