Cedars was founded as The Unitarian Fellowship of Bainbridge Island on June 9, 1959, when its bylaws were signed. This occurred as a consequence of the erroneous and misleading headline “Unitarian Lecture Set By Bremerton Pastor” above an article announcing a Unity Church program in the March 5, 1959 issue of the Bainbridge Review and a responding and more accurate “Unitarians to Hear Seattle Guest Speaker” announcement of a lecture by the minister of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church a month or so later. Local Unitarians consequently found each other and soon created the fellowship that has persisted and grown through the subsequent years.
Meetings of the new group were held in rented accommodations and in member homes. In some years the group met weekly with simultaneous activities for adults and children, in others the children met weekly during after-school hours and the adults met monthly, and sometimes activities were reduced to only the children or only the adults. In 1963 and 1964, the level of activity reached a low-point recorded in correspondence between the fellowship and the district office in Seattle that discussed possible disbanding of the group. The record is weak (reflecting the organization’s fading energy) but the fellowship apparently continued with programs for children before adjusting its nature to suit the needs of a modest membership.
By the 1970s, the fellowship (which then also included members from the Kitsap peninsula) had become a 15 to 20-member adult discussion group meeting monthly in member homes on Friday or Saturday evenings, with its presence publicized only by a small advertisement in local “miscellaneous” classifieds. Committed to a continuing presence however, the fellowship engaged ministerial consultant Jane Raible for periodic assistance with services and board advice for approximately four visits per year from 1970 through 1973.
Adult discussion remained the fellowship’s central focus throughout the 1970’s, and its membership stayed relatively constant (limited perhaps by the average size of member living rooms). To help maintain denominational identity, guest ministers such as the Rev. Dr. Peter Raible from Seattle’s University Unitarian Church were invited to visit periodically. Another significant activity was an annual public “Forum” in which the general island and north Kitsap community was invited to hear a distinguished speaker such as University of Washington historian Giovanni Costigan.
During the 1980s, the fellowship met both in members’ homes and in public places, but remained primarily a small study and discussion group of approximately 30 members. Attempts to add children’s programs and religious education met with mixed success.
In the early 1990s, the fellowship resolved to try a more open meeting format and began meeting once a month at the Winslow Senior Center. A June 1991 newsletter noted that the attendance averaged “in the 20’s each month” at the end of the first year in a public location.
In October of 1993, a new Sunday morning intergenerational program format was initiated, using a Montessori School as a twice-monthly meeting place, with Saturday evening programs continuing once a month.
When attendance reached 49 adults and 44 children in the fall of 1995, the fellowship realized that it needed to move. Membership had tripled in just a few years, and larger accommodations were found in the private Hyla Middle School and its newly constructed assembly hall.
In 1999, the fellowship made the decision to seek its first minister, and the Rev. Rick Koyle was selected as a half-time Consulting Minister in October of 2000. After two years of further growth in both membership and enthusiasm, the fellowship applied to and was accepted into the UUA’s growth-oriented Extension Ministry Program, which would provide a specially trained full-time minister with a three-year subsidy to defray some of the costs.
Excitement over program acceptance was soon tempered by an unforeseen lack of suitable ministerial candidates, and the UUA selected the Rev. Peter Raible, distinguished minister emeritus of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church and familiar with the fellowship through guest minister visitations and support over many years, as a one-year interim minister while continuing its search process. The fellowship was also given an additional subsidy to support a half-time role as Director of Religious Education for Leif Oden, and Jeanne Pupke was named to assist Peter as an Intern Minister.
The Rev. Drew Johnston was affirmed as full-time Extension Minister with a three-year contract in May of 2003. With Drew came a new sense of arrival, and recognition that the fellowship was moving dramatically forward in its development. Lisa Ashley was named to fill the newly-vacant Director of Religious Education role, and the RE program reached a new enrollment high of 60 by the end of the church year and then climbed to 85 during the next year.
The fellowship began offering two services in order to increase Sunday seating capacity and broaden its accessibility, and membership reached a new high of 127 by the end of the year and grew to more than 150 in the next year.
In the fall of 2003 a congregational workshop began the development of a mission statement, a reinvigorating process stimulating soul-searching discussion of Unitarian Universalist principles and congregational values and desire over the course of several months. In February of 2004, the resulting mission statement was enthusiastically affirmed as:
Worship with open hearts
Nurture a learning spirit
Serve justice with compassion
And love without
Acknowledging its development, the fellowship then voted to change its name to Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church in January of 2005.
Continuing growth soon necessitated another move, and in the summer of 2005, the congregation moved to the Playhouse facility of Bainbridge Performing Arts. Located near the center of the island’s active Winslow community, this facility provided 250 seats in its main assembly space, a sociable lobby with an adjoining pantry, and several classrooms (with plans for adding several more). At the same time, convenient new office space with shared meeting rooms was found in the nearby Sterling Savings Building (where the fellowship itself had met for several years in the early 1990s).
The 2005-06 church year then brought unexpected change and challenge. Drew seemed to withdraw, relocating to live some distance away and increasingly less engaged in the services and other activities of the church. Following several months of difficult discussion, it was clear that the relationship was no longer viable, and Drew’s resignation was negotiated.
Faced with the loss of its minister and costs associated with that departure, the board asked the congregation to choose between continuing temporarily without professional ministry or finding additional funds to allow the immediate search for an interim replacement. The congregation was broadly supportive of the latter and pledged the necessary funding within a few weeks. A Cedars search committee was organized and the Rev. Julie Forest was selected.
Julie came to Cedars with the mutual understanding that the interim period would be for two years, that it was intended to provide an opportunity for repair and recovery in the congregation’s relationship with professional ministry, and that the 2007-2008 second year would include the search for a new minister for Cedars as well as Julie’s search for a new congregation.
Participation in the nationally-coordinated UUA search process required that a search committee be elected to represent the congregation in attracting the interest of ministerial candidates, to interact with tentative candidates, and to choose a final candidate for presentation to the congregation for a confirming vote.
In April of 2008, surprising everyone, the Cedars search committee introduced its ministerial candidate as a married co-minister couple, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Wells ten Hove and the Rev. Jaco ten Hove. Co-ministry meant that they would share one full-time position and that Cedars would be gaining the ministerial wisdom and experience of two individuals rather than one.
Concluding an active week of direct interaction involving as many Cedars members and friends as possible, the congregation voted enthusiastically and unanimously to call the couple as its first settled ministers (Drew was never installed). Coincidentally, since they had previously served congregations in the Puget Sound area (Barbara in Bellevue and Woodinville, and Jaco in Edmonds), Cedars was seeing each of them for a second time: Jaco conducted the fellowship’s first child dedication in 1995 and Barbara led a growth-oriented workshop in 1996.
Tiring of sharing a Playhouse stage often filled with sets and props for dramatic performances by others and with the promise of classroom additions fading, Cedars began looking for better accommodations again. And again, a well-regarded private school was found to be adding a multi-purpose gymnasium and meeting space to its island facility. Cedars and The Island School were introduced to each other and a mutually beneficial relationship began. The school campus offered Sunday use of a meeting space accommodating as many as 250 seats in a variety of flexible arrangements as well as well-appointed classrooms and secondary meeting space. The campus was also conveniently accessible and centrally located for the island and north Kitsap congregation.
Barbara and Jaco settled into their new ministry with an installation service filling Cedars’ new worship space in The Island School’s Webster Hall. Many guests from other UU churches joined local members and friends to celebrate the ten Hove’s arrival, and the event significantly enhanced Cedars’ profile as a developing congregation.
The co-ministers brought complimentary skills and interests. Barbara brought a deeper sense of structure to worship, mentoring worship associates and introducing consistent liturgical features in holiday and seasonal services as well as the oversight of religious education. Jaco brought an interest in governance and administrative functions, membership development, pastoral care, music, and adult education. Together, they represented Cedars and promoted its presence in the local community.
The significance of that presence became more meaningful as Cedars began to look toward its potential. Inspired in the spring of 2009 by the occasion of its 50th anniversary and a “Celebrating Our Past, Shaping Our Future” theme associated with that event, the Cedars congregation spent much of the next church year discussing and envisioning its programs, practices, and possibilities as they might develop over the next few years. A “Future Shapers” planning team used a multi-month series of well-attended conversation circles to gather, clarify, and confirm congregational dreams and desires, and the team’s subsequent analysis identified specific goals and strategies for achieving them.
Comfortable with its sharing of The Island School’s campus, but hoping for better office and weekday activity space, Cedars began exploring facility possibilities in 2012. A promising opportunity was found in a well-located condominium office suite formerly used as the administrative headquarters for a private business school. With a previously formed capital fund and relatively modest additional fund-raising, a purchase was achieved and Cedars finally had a home of its own: a rent-free Cedars Center, with flexible meeting space and offices for the ministers and staff, as well as work areas, a small kitchen, and storage.
The next years were filled with typical services and activities, but forward motion seemed to stall. Barbara and Jaco were away on sabbatical leave for much of the first half of 2013, with many of their responsibilities left in congregational hands while they were away. Religious education enrollment fell significantly with changes in the leadership of that program, and the congregation lost a number of younger families. Between February and May of 2016, Jaco took family leave to care for his ailing father in California. Barbara was also away for a portion of that time, and in May the ten Hoves announced their plans to retire from ministry in the coming January.
Transition planning by the board and a special transitions committee began considering options, and with congregational concurrence, moved toward hiring an interim minister for the coming church year, with a Sunday services committee planning and providing Sunday programming for the remainder of the 2016-17 church year, and the Rev. Thomas Perchlik was selected as Interim Minister to serve for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 church years.
A formal search for a new settled minister occupied much of the 2018-19 church year, culminating with the search committee’s recommendation and the congregation’s enthusiastic concurrence naming Rev. Zackrie Vinczen as Cedars’ next settled minister in June of 2019.