2011 Breakthrough Congregation: Westside UU Congregation, Seattle, WA

Part of Membership

By Westside UU Congregation, Seattle, WA

Download the Westside UU Congegation video (right click to save the file).

Video Script

Ah, Seattle. The Emerald City. Our home. There’s a nasty rumor that it always rains here. It’s simply not true…OK, it’s almost true. But we’re not sleepless. Fact is, those steady raindrops lull us to sleep every night.

Our congregation is located only 10 minutes southwest from downtown in the community of West Seattle, population 145,000.

The Westside Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation—which consists of 173 adults and 110 children—is a thriving, growing part of the community. And we now have our own building.

Little more than a year ago, this would have seemed a pipe dream. How did we achieve it? That’s our story.
Here are the top 10 factors that made us break through.

Although we officially began in 1963, our breakthrough story begins in 2002. At that time we were the West Seattle Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, renting very limited space in a well-hidden, windowless Masonic Temple.

Our membership consisted of 76 adults and 18 children. We were stuck, treading water while yearning to move on. We brainstormed—a lot. And then we brainstormed some more. You know, the UU way. Finally, we decided to take the basket off our light.

Using a grant from the Pacific Northwest District Growth Fund, we launched a targeted marketing campaign. We bought print ads and did direct mail. We added a Facebook page and we enhanced our website.

We had some good success with some of our efforts, particularly with the LGBT community, and in the end, we felt that our website was our strongest marketing tool.

In 2005 we developed a multi-year Strategic Plan with two main goals: a “home of our own” and to “become recognized as the church of choice” for the religiously liberal in our community.

Our members have a passion for social justice, a passion for being loving and caring, a passion for right relations, a passion for being welcoming, a passion for continuous improvement, and a passion to be a beacon of light for religious liberals in our community. Did I mention we’re passionate?

What’s in a name? A lot, as it turns out. In 2008, after a teensy little bit of discussion, we changed our name from West Seattle Unitarian Universalist Fellowship to Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

Our new name reflected our membership which was coming from many neighborhoods in Seattle, not just West Seattle. And the term congregation really reflected who we were—that we had outgrown our status as a fellowship and were moving on up.

Once largely humanist and primarily lay led, our Sunday services now lean toward the spiritual. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to intentionally decide which traditions and rituals to keep and which to respectfully retire. We now alternate between “minister-led” and “other-led” services. We now incorporate prayer into our service and use the G word. God, that is. In moderation. And with qualifiers. You know, the UU way.

Music is a direct channel to the heart, and making music together has become a cornerstone of our Sunday services, guided by our exceptional music director, Bert Gulhaugen.

All of us love and appreciate our children and youth, not just the parents or our RE staff.

As the number of children doubled and tripled and then quadrupled, our congregation intentionally strove to make the program work for our families. We knew it was essential. The future’s in the hands of our children and youth.

Children and youth are part of each Sunday’s service. Early in the service, we tell them an engaging “Story for All Ages” related to the sermon. Then we join hands to create an arch and sing our children out to their classes.

(singing: Everywhere, everywhere, you may go)

Our treasured minister, Rev. Peg Morgan, joined us in 2002 and gradually increased to full-time ministry.

In 2005, Kari Kopnick began serving as our director of religious exploration for children and youth.

Mark Newton, our volunteer chaplain, supports Rev. Peg in tending to the needs of the growing congregation. He and President Paula vanHaagen are among many members who have provided the strong leadership skills needed during this time of change.

Welcome to our new 13,000 square foot home on West Seattle’s main street. It was purchased in the spring of 2010, remodeled over the summer, and dedicated in October.

We still pinch ourselves. It wouldn’t have happened without the vision and perseverance of former president Jule Sugarman. Or the immeasurable hours invested by current president Paula vanHaagen, the head of our new building committee Mark Newton, and many, many others. We raised close to 800,000 dollars to purchase the 1 million dollar church building.

We’re by no means a congregation with deep pockets, so it seemed entirely out of reach. In fact, one congregant offered to eat his shoe if we were successful. We’re going to ask him if he’d rather have catchup or mustard with that…

With four consecutive months of sweat equity, we restored this neglected building into something beautiful and saved about 250,000 dollars.

Passion and intention made the difference. Once this congregation had an opportunity to have our own home, our decades-long dream was able to be fulfilled.

And may when we enter, we be reminded of how to be our very best selves. (cheering and applause)

They say “Fortune favors the well-prepared.” For us, fortune included the drop in property values and demographic changes that brought more young families. Ironically, the greater visibility of conservative churches made many seek out a spiritually liberal and inclusive religious community. We also had the right pool of talent at the right time. Finally, we gained many wonderful members of the nearby Rainier Valley congregation when it closed.

Our congregation has created a warm, welcoming and happy place. You can feel it when you walk in the door.

As we’ve grown, the DNA that we inherited from our founders has led us to protect the sense of intimacy within the congregation, and we’ve done this by developing many different kinds of small groups and ministries within the larger congregation.

All these efforts, from the individual to the smaller groups to the larger congregation, tightly combine to form a powerful force for good.
(singing: Amen, Amen…)

That’s it. That’s our breakthrough story. But our story’s not over. There are many other destinations on this joyous journey. We’re just getting started.
(cheering and applause!)