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Tutoring program goes the distance

The after-school program of the Unitarian Church of Montclair, New Jersey, is pretty simple–– and effective. Three days a week eleven third- through fifth-graders walk the two blocks from a local elementary school to the church. Adults work with the kids one-on-one to improve reading and math skills. The program celebrates its seventh year this winter and takes pride in the approximately thirty children who have completed the program or are in it now.

It was started by church members Frank Rennie, a retired principal, and Bill Brach, a lawyer. Brach died in 2003. Rennie said the program grew out of a meeting at church in 1995 to discuss children's issues. Participants learned that in New Jersey one in four children live in poverty and that many go home to an empty house after school and often end up in trouble. That, plus the fact that many children have difficulty learning to read, inspired the congregation to create the after-school program.

The school recommended children who needed help with reading and math. This year there are eleven children in the program. The children come to the church three days a week. Two afternoons are devoted to reading and math. The third is given over to another kind of literacy––computers.

Volunteers help students learn how to use the computers; some students are given their own computer to take home by a community organization called Technology and Education for All Montclair. So far eleven computers have been given to students. Grants from the Fund for UU Social Responsibility have helped support the program administratively.

“We've had tremendous results,” said Rennie. “Most of our kids are reading above grade level when they leave us. We know our formula—one kid with one adult for two hours two days a week—works. It sounds simplistic, but it's profound in its impact.

Alternative gifts

An alternative gift fair enabled the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Greenville, South Carolina, to raise $7,400 for charities and social justice groups in November 2003. Examples of gifts that participants could buy included one day's expenses at a local homeless shelter ($15) and tree seedlings ($ 60 ) for the Heifer International aid group. Purchasers got a holiday card with a description of the gift to send to a family member or friend in whose name the purchase was made. Many purchasers came from outside the congregation.

Karin Lin of the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Fremont, California, also saw a different way of giving a gift: She volunteered for an organization during the busy period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She encouraged other congregants to join her in a campaign called “Exercise Your Heart,” and the group has almost met its goal of 500 hours of service. Even though this is an especially busy time of the year, Lin told a newspaper, “This is the time when other people need help.” The church published a list of organizations needing holiday volunteers.

Environmental theology

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, Washington, sponsored a four-session forum on religion and the environment last fall. Held on Tuesday evenings, it included presenters from the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Native American communities. The forums addressed the environmental views, policies, and actions of the various groups. Attendance averaged ninety-six people per session, said Julian Powers, a coordinator.

UN interfaith service

Many Unitarian Universalists attended an interfaith service of repentance and renewal November 12, 2003 , at the United Nations in New York to mark the fifth anniversary of the U.S. signing of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases. Organizers included the Rev. Fred Small of the First Church Unitarian in Littleton, Massachusetts. The homily was given by the Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, of the Fourth Universalist Society of New York City, representing UUA President William G. Sinkford.

Church fire

A fire that apparently originated in a faulty furnace destroyed three rooms in the religious education wing at the Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi, Maryland, early on Tuesday, December 9, 2003. The fire also caused a large amount of smoke damage to the entire religious education section, built in 1965 , and to church offices, making them uninhabitable. The meeting house, where Sunday services are held and which is connected by a deck to the RE wing, was not affected. Further updates are on the church Web site:

400th Welcoming Congregation

The Prairie Wind Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Gillette, Wyoming, in November became the 400th congregation to complete the UUA's Welcoming Congregation program. About forty percent of all congregations have completed the program, which began in 1989. A Welcoming Congregation is intentionally welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Indianapolis centennial

The All Souls Unitarian Church of Indianapolis, Indiana, celebrated its centennial September 21, 2003. Guests included UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery and former All Souls ministers the Rev. Jack Mendelsohn ( 1954-59 ) and minister emeritus the Rev. W. Edward Harris ( 1984-92 ). A choral prelude, composed by member Rex Martin was part of the service. The congregation toured its previous church home, now a private residence, built by author Kurt Vonnegut's grandfather. Vonnegut's parents were members of the church.

UU choir celebrates museum

Catherine Roma, minister of music at St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, co-directed a 700-voice choir on June 17, 2003, at the groundbreaking for the Underground Railroad Museum there. The choir included members from all of the local UU congregations: St. John's, the First Unitarian Church, the Heritage Unitarian Universalist Church, and the Northern Hills Fellowship.

If you'd like to share news of your congregation, contact managing editor Jane Greer at For suggestions on what to send, see our news submission guidelines at


 Contents: UU World Back Issue
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