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A Building Campaign for All the Right Reasons

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The third episode of the Unitarian Universalist Association video series "A Religion for Our Time" spotlights the building campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart (UUFE). In a small Indiana town that's been battered by the recession, the members of UUFE knew they were the only liberal religious voice in the area. That knowledge made them determined to go ahead with a building campaign, and a very successful one at that!

Download Episode Three (MP4) (right-click to save the file).


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Rev. Peter Morales:  I doubt that there are many Unitarian congregations who haven't felt some financial pain from this recession and you probably think that a Fellowship in a town whose name has become synonymous with high-end unemployment would never be able to pull off a building campaign
but, happily, you'd be wrong.

Narrator: Elkhart, Indiana, is a town of about 50,000.  It's often referred to as the RV capital of the world.  When those factories and many others
took a terrible hit in the recession, Elkhart became a national symbol of economic hardship.  It didn't seem like the place or the time for a UU congregation to launch a building campaign but that's exactly what the UU Fellowship of Elkhart wanted to do.

Shari Mellin: We were getting too crowded in our Sunday services and then we were having to have our coffee hour right afterwards in the Sanctuary and moving furniture and things all the time.

Linda Arbogast: We were bursting at the seams and we knew that some people would come, not find a place to sit, not find a place to park and not come back.

Narrator: And in this conservative area including Mennonite country that was the last thing the UUs wanted.

Shari Mellin: It is a very deeply conservative area and it's a very religious area and a lot of churches around Elkhart, I mean, that's something people will say to me "gosh, there's a church on every street corner" and there are but not too many liberal choices and I think we're an important voice in this area.

Narrator: And the importance of being a liberal voice was what moved people.  Luckily, for the Fellowship it first moved Linda Arbogast to push for a generous seat grant.

Linda Arbogast: My husband recently died and I'm on the Board of Arbogast Foundation and said "Do you realize this is the only liberal religious voice in our community?"  We lose our church; we lose the freedom to think religiously in Elkhart.

Narrator: So, the Arbogast Foundation offered $50,000 if the congregation could raise the rest which turned out to be a $125,000.  Now, this is a church with about 120 members.  Some are working and grateful for it but Reverend Amy says many are either retired or under employed or out of work
and many headed back to school for retraining but the congregation rallied.

Rev. Amy DeBeck: There was a moment in one of our Sunday morning worship services where one of our folks who was 70.5 years old stood up and for morning musing talked about how once you reach 70.5 you're allowed to tap into your retirement fund at no penalty as long as you give it to a not for profit and so she stood up their and led the charge for all of these retired people to give more money.

Narrator: One family gave up cable TV for a year and pledged that amount. Several families asked to stretch out their pledges from three to five years.  A retired member took a part-time job to fund a pledge and it all added up.

Rev. Amy DeBeck: We needed to raise $125,000 we raised $130,000.

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Unknown speaker: Well, we're very, very excited and we really see this new space that we're adding as having lots of possibilities, uhm, a gathering place, a place for concerts, a place for art exhibits, possibly children's classrooms, RE classrooms in the future on the lower level which we're not finishing at this point but we hope to finish in the future.

Rev. Amy DeBeck: I envision a lot of things for our Fellowship to be not only more special to us and more functional to our growing congregation but also for us to be able to have better and more activities where we
welcome in the wider community.

Linda Arbogast: Oh, it's hard not to start crying because I'm 71 years old now and I know this church will always be here if we just keep every 20 years we find a way to make a bigger impact in our community and that's what we're doing here and there'll be a place for all the people after meeting.

Narrator: And that's one of the goals of being a religion for our time; having a clear vision of being a strong liberal religious voice in the community where all members do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Linda Arbogast: Yeah, I'm so proud of this congregation.

For more information visit the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart website.

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For more information contact congstewardship @

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Last updated on Thursday, October 2, 2014.

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