For many years, the oral history of the fellowship that has become Cedars recalled that the local newspaper inadvertently used “Unitarians” in the headline above an article announcing possible formation of a Unity group, and that disappointed Unitarians responded by forming a group of their own.
The story is true. The names of those Unitarians are then found as signatures on bylaws for a new Bainbridge Unitarian Fellowship. Those bylaws, dated June 9, 1959, also included a succinct statement of purpose for the new organization: “To study and practice the principles of liberal Unitarianism and to conduct a church school.”
In its early years the new group met in rented accommodations with simultaneous activities for adults and children, or the children met weekly after school and the adults met monthly.
By the 1990s, the fellowship (now including members from the Kitsap Peninsula) had moved from a 15 to 20-member adult group meeting monthly in member homes into recognition and appreciation of its developing potential when 49 adults and 44 children crowded into a 1995 Sunday morning program. The group began searching for larger accommodations and soon found a very suitable 140-seat assembly hall and associated classrooms at the island’s Hyla School.
Thriving there, the fellowship continued to grow and become more diversified in age and lifestyle. Membership had grown to 68 in 1998, when the fellowship began considering the hiring of its first minister, and it reached 88 as a ministerial search was begun.
Rick Koyle arrived as a half-time consulting minister in the fall of 2000. He was the fellowship’s first minister, it was his first congregation, and there was much learning to do. Some change was difficult, as self-sufficiency and independence gave way to shared leadership, but this was accompanied by a dawning comprehension of the fellowship’s potential for a much more significant future. Between January and December of 2001, the fellowship gained 18 new members, reaching a total of 106, and was recognized as the second-fastest growing congregation in the Pacific Northwest District.
The Extension Program
In the second year of its new experience with a minister, the congregation applied for participation in a special UUA extension program that would provide a growth-oriented full-time minister extending over three years. The application was approved, and although a suitable ministerial candidate was not immediately found, the fellowship was honored by the interim selection of the Reverend Dr. Peter Raible, distinguished minister emeritus of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church and familiar with the fellowship through visitations and support over many years.
Peter arrived in the fall of 2002 and immediately began sharing insightful advice from a notable lifetime in ministry. Within a few months, however, health changes limited his engagement and ministerial student Jeanne Pupke was appointed to assist him as an intern. Together, they deepened the fellowship’s experience with ministerial presence and leadership.
In May of 2003, Rev. Andrew (Drew) Johnston was named as the extension minister. With Drew came further recognition that the fellowship was moving dramatically forward in its development. By the end of the church year, membership reached a new high of 127 and with Lisa Ashley as Director of Religious Education, RE enrollment reached a new high of 60.
Clarifying Congregational Mission and Identity
With Drew, the congregation began developing a new mission statement that was enthusiastically approved by the congregation in February of 2004:
Worship with open hearts
Nurture a learning spirit
Serve justice with compassion
And love without judgment
Inspired by the new statement and its development process, the congregation began considering a new name to express the growing sense of what it was becoming. After much discussion and consideration, the fellowship renamed itself as Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church.
Energized by its new sense of mission and identity, membership grew to more than 150 and religious education enrollment reached 85 as the congregation moved to the Playhouse of Bainbridge Performing Arts in 2005.
A New Chapter Begins
The 2005-06 church year brought unexpected and disturbing change and challenge. Drew seemed to withdraw, and when it was clear that the relationship was no longer viable, his resignation was negotiated.
Faced with the loss of its minister, the board asked the congregation to choose between continuing temporarily without professional ministry or finding additional funds for an immediate interim replacement. In response, a search committee was organized and the Rev. Julie Forest was selected.
During Julie’s second year, Cedars began looking for better accommodations again. And once 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.
At the same time, the search for a new minister began, and in April of 2008, surprising everyone, the search committee introduced its ministerial candidate as a married co-minister couple: the Reverend Dr. Barbara Wells ten Hove and the Reverend Jaco ten Hove.
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 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 again began to consider its potential. Inspired in the spring of 2009 by the occasion of its 50th anniversary, 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 Home at Last
Comfortable with The Island School’s campus, but hoping for better office and weekday activity space, Cedars began exploring facility possibilities again in 2012. Much promise was found in a condominium office suite formerly used as the administrative headquarters for a private business school, and a successful purchase was achieved.
Cedars finally had a home of its own: a rent-free Cedars Center, with flexiblemeeting space and offices for the ministers and staff, as well as work areas, a small kitchen, and storage. More small group functions became possible, and Cedars’ presence in the local community became more concrete.
The next few 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.
In 2016, Jaco took family leave to care for his ailing father in California. Barbara was also away for some of that time, and in May they announced plans to retire from ministry.
A special Transition Team was organized to guide the congregation through an evaluation of its capability to continue providing a meaningful presence in the lives of member families. Rev. Thomas Perchlik was then selected to serve as Interim Minister for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 church years, and his experience and wise counsel served Cedars well.
A search committee was formed to guide the congregation through another national search process, and in April of 2019, Zackrie Vinczen was introduced as the selected candidate in a week-long program of well-attended services, social gatherings, and meetings. The interaction concluded with a very enthusiastic call to Zackrie as Cedars’ next settled minister.
Zackrie came from the 400-member UU Church of Berkeley, California, where he had been on staff as the Program Coordinator and Acting Director of Family Ministry for several years following graduation from Starr King School for the Ministry, and that congregation honored him with ordination as the Reverend Zackrie Vinczen in October of 2019.
A Pandemic Changes Everything
In early March of 2020, COVID-19 was suddenly recognized as a significant threat and public health emergency. A scheduled Installation Service for Reverend Zackrie was immediately postponed, Sunday services were moved online, and other previously in-person activities were revised or suspended.
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