On Saturday, June 18th, 2016 some 50 UU members and friends gathered at the Holiday Inn in Point Edward for a joyous celebration of 60 years of Unitarian Universalism in the Sarnia/Port Huron area.
Our proudly bi-national Fellowship began on October 19, 1956 when fifteen people, with the encouragement of Munroe Husbands, Fellowship Director of the American Unitarian Association, held an organizational meeting in Port Huron, Michigan. It is noted that during a period of enormous growth between 1948 and 1967, fully one third of people who came to Unitarianism did so through the Fellowship Movement. According to the UUA website, “Husbands’ work was not to bring these groups under any form of denominational control, but to facilitate their birth, (allow) them to find their own identity, develop their own style, and produce their own leadership.” This, the Unitarian Fellowship of Sarnia and Port Huron has certainly done!
Initially, meetings happened bi-weekly, often in evenings. By 1999, the Fellowship began holding services every Sunday and expanded to offering summer services in 2000. Over the years, the congregation has moved several times to locations on both sides of the St. Clair River before finding, in 2002, its current home at the Lochiel Kiwanis Community Centre in Sarnia, Ontario.
Throughout our history, the Sarnia-Port Huron Fellowship has been primarily lay-led. We have been very fortunate to have had dedicated and talented members plan and conduct our Sunday morning services. This has been augmented by an eclectic array of special guest speakers from our community and elsewhere and by visiting Unitarian Ministers. Most recently, over the 2015-16 ‘program year’, it has been greatly appreciated that the Rev. Lori Kyle has presided at Sunday services on six occasions.
When there were enough children and interested parents Religious Exploration was provided in either Sarnia or Port Huron, and teenagers enjoyed Liberal Religious Youth activities. The peak year was 1966 when more than 50 young people were involved.
The Fellowship emerged from distinctly humanist roots but now has self-identified, through member and friend surveys, as being also significantly informed by “earth-centred spirituality” and “mysticism (belief in the connectedness of all things)”. When once our gatherings followed a speaker, Q & A and discussion format, we now embrace a variety of Sunday program formats reflecting our various spiritual paths.
One constant throughout the years has been the central role of social action for the Fellowship as a whole and to our members individually. A litany of our social justice initiatives reflects the living out of our UU principles in response to the issues of the day. Most significantly in the last two decades, we have co-ordinated an interfaith “Tapestry of Peace”, participated in local environmental issues, marched in the Gay Pride parades in Sarnia and performed “blessings” for gay and lesbian couples. When “same-sex marriage legislation” was passed into law, one of our lay-chaplains was the first to officiate a ceremony in Sarnia-Lambton. Most recently, we hosted a debate on physician assisted death for a capacity crowd at the Sarnia Library Theatre, offered an ‘Advanced Care Planning Workshop’ to the community and have partnered with our local mosque in a refugee sponsorship initiative.
As our anniversary year continues to unfold, we are asking: “How do we envision ourselves and our mission going forward?”
Check out the local news coverage of the Sarnia-Port Huron Anniversary in Sarnia This Week with the article Local Unitarians Celebrating 60 Years of Congregation