UUCP History

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The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades has its roots in the Unitarian Society of Rutherford, which was founded in 1891 by four forward-thinking individuals, including the father of renowned poet William Carlos Williams.

The early meetings of the Society were held in the upstairs room of the Rutherford Fire House, and were so well attended that plans for construction of a building were soon underway. In 1894, the Church of Our Father was dedicated, and was used continuously until sold by the Society in 1977.

In its early days, the Society was truly a cultural force in Rutherford, hosting many plays and concerts in addition to religious gatherings. As Rutherford evolved from a genteel Victorian town to a working-class community, the Society went through changes as well. At its high point membership was so large that groups split off to form other Unitarian societies. At its low point special canvasses were held to pay the heating bills.

The Society had a woman, Elizabeth Padgham, as its minister from 1905 to 1927. At a time when there were few, if any, women ministers in this area, she also served as President of the New Jersey Clergy Association.

In the 1960’s the Society served as a locus for the civil rights movement in the area. By the 1970’s, membership had decreased to the point where the building was sold. The Society continued to dwindle until only a handful of members were left and services and programs ceased. It was decided that the money from the sale of the building would be used to start a racially diverse congregation in the Englewood-Teaneck area.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades (UUCP) was founded in 1989 as part of an effort by the UUA to create a number of “intentionally diverse” congregations. Twelve congregations were founded. Of the twelve congregations, only three remain. We are one of them.

In September 1988 the Reverend Lee Reid was appointed by the Extension Department of the Unitarian Universalist Association to organize a new congregation.

The first service of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades was held on March 19, 1989 at Flat Rock Brook Nature Center. The transition from the Rutherford UU Society to the UU Congregation of the Palisades was somewhat difficult, but by 1993, the new congregation was independent and began to flourish.

In March 1995, the congregation called Lee Reid as its first Settled Minister. However, a year later in November 1996, Rev. Reid was hit by a car on her way to a Board of Trustees meeting and died several days later. The loss of Lee was profound and deep.

The Reverend Tom Chulak maintained a part-time ministry with the congregation from February 1997 through June 2001. In September 1999, the congregation began to hold services and meetings at Liberty School in Englewood. In June 2001, Tom resigned as Minister to take on a new position as Acting District Executive for the St. Lawrence District of the UUA.

The Reverend Dawn Sangrey, a recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, came to us by way of the Metro NY District’s Consulting Ministry program and became our third minister. She began her first service in August, 2001 and served us until the end of 2003. She then became minister of the Fourth Universalist Society of Westchester, much closer to her Bedford Hills home.

In the fall of 2002, we began holding services in the First United Methodist Church. FUM is also a racially diverse congregation, allowing us to share more than just a building, including their beautiful sanctuary. We also had our own office and meeting space, and separate room for Religious education, which gave us the room we needed to thrive.

In November 2005 the congregation hired minister, Reverend Maj-Britt Johnson. Our next minister was Wendy Pantoja, and then, interim minister, Tony Johnson.

Currently, we have two wonderful ministers, both of whom were ordained by One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. Reverend Paul Dodenhoff has been with the congregation since 2012, and in, 2020, we hired Reverend Sonia Ketchian.

Known as the wandering Unitarians, UUCP has “lived” in nine places: Flat Rock Brook, St. John’s Church, Liberty School, First United Methodist Church, a storefront in Teaneck, West Side Presbyterian Church, Bergen Family Center, The Lydecker Homestead, and now, due to Covid, we are living on Zoom on line. All of the above, except for the storefront in Teaneck, and Zoom, have been in Englewood, New Jersey.

UUCP Resolution on Anti-Racism

WHEREAS the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades was founded in 1989 as an intentionally multiracial, multicultural spiritual community; and

WHEREAS the UUCP Vision Statement asserts that Unity in Diversity “is for a us a practical rule by which we, and the world at large, may realize our best potential”;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that we, the members of UUCP, affirm our identity as an antiracist community of faith by publicly and expressly stating that identity in our Vision Statement; and

WHEREAS we, the members of UUCP, are guided by the principles of our Unitarian Universalist faith which affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, with justice, equity, and compassion;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our anti-racist identity be reflected in the life of the congregation, its programs, projects, and activities; its organization and its culture, e.g. adult religious education, children’s religious education, worship service, community outreach; and

WHEREAS we acknowledge that racial justice and empowerment must precede the achievement of a meaningful diversity that honors all people;

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that we, the members of UUCP, enter into a covenant with one another to continue to learn about racism, and to develop strategies to dismantle it; that we support and nurture each other as we create and implement a UUCP blueprint to eliminate racism.

Adopted at the Annual Meeting June 1998

UUCP Resolution on Same-Sex Marriage

BE IT RESOLVED, that The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades supports the right of individuals to marry without limitation as to gender and that all marriages shall have equal benefits under the law.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that duly authorized actions may be taken in support of same-sex marriages in the name of the congregation.

Adopted at a congregational meeting 2004 October 10.

UUCP Resolution to Become a Welcoming Congregation

WHEREAS, The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades has engaged in a program of workshops, congregational resolutions, and activities that incorporates bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender life issues, and

WHEREAS, the members of the congregation desire to acknowledge their commitment to the support, outreach, and welcoming of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people, NOW THEREFORE

BE IT RESOLVED, that The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palisades affirms that we are a “Welcoming Congregation” and that we participate in the Welcoming Congregation program led by the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Adopted at a congregational meeting 2004 October 10