New and Updated Histories : Minnesota


Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

A new congregational history — Bemidji was not represented in Part 2 of the original.

Beginning as early as 1962, a group of liberal-minded people from Bemidji, MN met (for 5 or 6 years) to discuss intellectual topics. This group included Bob Naegler, who had a dream to have an officially organized UU group in Bemidji. Bob pursued his dream, and 28 years later, in 1990, he placed an ad in the local newspaper inviting interested persons to gather at the Holiday Inn on June 10th. Those who came thought the idea was worth pursuing, so continued meeting during the summer to develop bylaws and look at buildings. However, the group felt it was too soon to become involved in property ownership.

On September 9th, 1990, at the final congregational organizational meeting, 22 people signed the books as Founding Members. Bylaws were adopted and the name Headwaters Unitarian Fellowship was chosen. (The name was changed to Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship when the Articlces of Incorporation were issued on December 3, 1990.) We were accepted into the UUA and Prairie Star District on June 19, 1991.

Over the years we have met at the Northern Town Hall, the Masonic Hall, the Nary Community Center, the former St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church (the oldest church building in Bemidji), the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts, and the Senior Citizen Center — always seeking space for our children’s religious education as well as our adult services.

From the beginning, we have been a lay-led congregation holding services every Sunday except summers. We not only have access to many excellent local speakers, but also invite UU ministers to conduct services several times a year. We have had two part-time ministers, Rev. Lisa Doege and Rev. Laurie Bushbaum. We regularly include Native American and Pagan speakers as well as a large variety of other topics and religions. A variety of music has always been a part of our services in addition to our “Once-In-A-While Choir.”

Religious growth and learning was begun early in our first season with paid religious education coordinators most of the time. Several summer camps have been held, and our youth have attended Youth Cons in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. We have held adult education events such as book studies, Evensong, Articulating your Faith, Building Your Own Theology, and Writing Your Own Spiritual Autobiography. We have utilized two paid administrative assistants, but have decided to carry out the work of the Fellowship with volunteers. Three long-term editors have consistently published a monthly newsletter named Current Ripples to represent our Mississippi River Headwaters name. We also maintain an up-to-date web site and have been selected as a beta test site for PSD.

Three people are licensed to conduct very individualized weddings. We also do child namings and dedications, memorials and funerals, house blessings, and new member orientation and recognition ceremonies. We have sponsored seven people to attend Midwest Leadership School, and Susan Smith was a MWLS faculty member. We are most proud that one of our members, Neen Lillquist, received a PSD Keeping the Faith Award in 2005.

We are proud that we have always paid our full share dues to the Unitarian Universalist Association and Prairie Star District. Since 1996, we have conducted an annual canvass with one-on-one input to learn about the strong and weak points of our congregation and to encourage everyone to be involved. We have a building fund of $20,000. For the first time in 2004, we included a building pledge in our annual canvass drive, and the Board made a commitment to meet a $5,000 per year contribution by adding to the pledges if they did not equal this amount. The amount was increased to $7,000 in 2005. In 2002, we were proud to be one of a few UU congregations in the District to establish an endowment fund for our future, presently over $8,000, with Northwest Minnesota Foundation.

In 1996, we were one of five congregations chosen to receive PSD support for consultation. Rev. Stefan Jonasson from Winnipeg came to help us develop our now much-honored and loved vision statement that we aim to live by and repeat at the end of all of our services — “Seek Truth, Practice Love, Celebrate Life.” In September 2000, Rev. Kathy Fuson conducted a workshop to help us strengthen our worship services and to develop a covenant statement. We have also printed tee-shirts with our colorful logo and vision statement.

We have held many types of fund raisers, such as the Northwoods Folk Collective and Coffee House; rummage, garage, plant, tee-shirt and calendar sales; waffle breakfasts and concerts including Peter Mayer. Since 2002, our major fund raiser has been a Goods and Service Auction at the end of the year, which also helps us keep in contact over the summer.

Our community involvement has included: Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, the Food Shelf, Interfaith Caregivers, Take Back the Night, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, contributions to the Heifer Project, UNICEF, Kids Against Hunger (tsunami), 4th of July parade float, Nymore Soup Kitchen, Senior Cleanup, Christmas food boxes, One Voice Choir sponsorship with meal, and Churches United.

We had a very successful 10-year anniversary celebration with ALL of our former presidents in attendance. This year we are holding our 15th anniversary celebration. We still have four founding members, one founding friend, and eight members of 10 years or more. We have established annual traditions — ingathering all-participation first service in the Fall, a Memorial Service at Samhain, candlelight services during the Christmas/New Year’s season, famous UU women, Flower/Apple/Earth Communion, Intergenerational Service, and Last Meal potluck at the end of the year. This is our first year to try once-a-month summer Sunday evening services in addition to our very successful once-a-month summer potlucks.

Membership from 1991–1998 hovered around 50. When we had to make a sudden move to the Headwaters School of Music and Arts, our membership plummeted to 25. However, since then we have had an average gain of 6 members per year. Presently, we have 60 members and 40 children. We have achieved a 39% retention rate and a total of 156 people have been members over our 15-year history. We now have a very enthusiastic and committed group of people to carry on our vision, mission and covenant in this large area of north central Minnesota. During this past year we have experienced the largest number of visitors we have ever had, a total of about 120, and our average Sunday attendance has risen to 50.

For the first time in 2000, we established 5-year goals and objectives which are updated annually.

Our present five year (2005–2010) goals and objectives are:

1. To assure consistent, quality Sunday services  including a minister at least nine times throughout the year, involving congregational input through the canvass process and congregational meetings, training of Service Coordinators, providing child care, and having a Music Coordinator.

2. To aim at ownership of our own identifiable space  serving our needs in cooperation with other interested social & religious groups, designating $7,000 per year to the Building Fund, aiming to recruit at least five people as Chalice Lighters, and examining the feasibility of a new building.

3. To maintain and support our 100 active members and friends with an expansion to 150  by welcoming, greeting and socializing with visitors and new members, designating a specific person to connect with visitors after the service, holding new member orientation and recognition, celebrating life passages, communicating openly and frequently with visible outreach, and encouraging active involvement of everyone for a full participation lay-lead fellowship.

4. To revise administrative work to be shared more equally with a sharp focus on priorities  by conducting an annual canvass to meet our expenses and expand our services and growth, conducting fundraisers to help raise additional money to support Fellowship goals. conducting a Board orientation in May, and maintaining Board books, demonstrating accountability and effective use of our money; providing support and direction to committees by conducting committee chair orientation with job descriptions and committe notebooks for committee chairs that contain pertinent documents and information, assigning specific objectives to committees based on annual goals, and developing a contract with a financial service for oversight and consultation.

5. To have religious/spiritual life-span education available for children, youth and adults  by offering children’s religious education every Sunday, encouraging youth attendance at UU events, establishing and encouraging a youth group, and conducting two to four adult enrichment sessions throughout the year.

6. To encourage and support attendance at UU sponsored events  including Midwest Leadership School, Prairie Start District Annual Conference, UUA General Assembly, and PSD/UU workshops.

Written by Neen Lillquist, Sue Nokleby, and Tricia Andrews, July, 2005.
Edited by PSD Heritage and Archives Committee.