Our Congregation was founded in 1989, when Joan and Tom Patterson and Winnie and Pete Bennis decided to start a Unitarian Universalist congregation that would fill the need for a liberal religious voice in southern Rhode Island. Twelve people attended the first meeting at the Pattersons’ home in Richmond.
With financial support from our denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the congregation became a nonprofit corporation on July 1, 1991 and elected its first board of directors, with Cindy Cole Berry as president. Regular Sunday services led by guest ministers began in September of 1991. On January 17, 1993, Charter Sunday, thirty-one people signed the membership book.
Our first gatherings were at members’ homes. When our numbers grew, we began to meet at a local library, and later moved to St. Augustine’s Chapel, on URI’s Kingston campus, where we held Sunday afternoon services for several years. Our next meeting place was an American Legion hall between Peace Dale and Kingston. During that time we rented office space in Wakefield, increasing our visibility in the community.
Vicki LePree was our first music director. At the American Legion hall, Cynthia Burke led us in singing, drumming and dancing. Michael Galib, our current music director, is a talented musician who greatly enhances our music program, particularly through his work with our choir.
Sally Barney, Debbie Hedison, and Pam Santos have served as Directors of Religious Education (DRE). Our DREs provide creative educational leadership for the children during regular worship services and guidance to our high school youth group at flexible times. Bethany Vaccaro is our present DRE.
Between 1995 and 2004, a series of part-time interim ministers served the congregation. In May of 2004 we reached a major milestone when Rev. Betty Kornitzer answered our call to become our first settled minister. Betty’s enthusiasm and warmth drew many new members, and we soon outgrew our rented space. In August of 2008, after an ambitious capital campaign, we bought our current home at Lily Pads Professional Center in Peace Dale. In February of 2009, after extensive renovations, we moved in.
Rev. Betty Kornitzer retired in June of 2013, setting us in a period of exciting transition. Rev. Dr. Judith Smith-Valley served as our interim minister from August 2013 to June 2014, followed by Rev. Jan Knost, who served a two-year term as our interim minister from September 2014 to June 2016. In June 2016, we welcomed Rev. David Helfer as our settled minister.
Social action has always been an important part of our mission. The UUA recognizes us as a Welcoming Congregation, one that has taken intentional steps to welcome to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Many members participate in Standing on the Side of Love, a public advocacy campaign sponsored by the UUA that seeks to harness love’s power to stop oppression of all kinds. We also are accredited by the UUA as a Green Sanctuary, a community committed to living in harmony with the Earth and creating sustainable lifestyles. Many members also take part in Habitat for Humanity projects and assist Welcome House, the local shelter.