A liberal group of Bemidji people met for 5 or 6 years beginning in 1962 to discuss intellectual topics. This group included Bob Naegler who never gave up his dream of having a UU group in Bemidji, Minnesota so 22 years later, in 1990, he placed an ad in the local Pioneer newspaper inviting interested persons to gather at the Holiday Inn on June 10th. Those who came thought the idea was worth pursuing and gathered again for a picnic on July 8th at Carolyn and Greg Fors’ home.
This was followed by an early Sunday morning meeting in the Hobson Student Union on the Bemidji State University (BSU) campus where Carolyn Fors reported that she had found two church buildings that might be purchased. Several people toured the buildings and declared one unusable while arranging for more people to look at the Nazarene Church on America Avenue. A committee was formed to investigate the financial possibility of buying it but after discussion, the group felt it was too soon in the young life of a fellowship to become involved in property ownership.
A committee composed of Shari Arneson, Vera Boyle, Carolyn Fors and Dick Lueben met on August 16th to develop bylaws.
On September 9th, at 11 AM, the final ‘congregational organizational’ meeting was held at the Holiday Inn in Bemidji. Twenty-two people signed as Founding Members. The bylaws were adopted and the name Headwaters Unitarian Fellowship was chosen. The first elected Board was: Dr. and Mrs. Fors as co-presidents, Dick Lueben as Secretary, Vera Boyle as Treasurer, Reid Hendershot, Diane Schwanz and Bill Wilson as Trustees, but the Fors soon asked to be relieved of their duties and Reid Hendershot was appointed President while Neen Lillquist was added as a Trustee. Articles of Incorporation were signed on November 28, 1990 and sent to the Secretary of State for official registration. We were accepted into the UUA and Prairie Star District on June 19, 1991.
For a few weeks, Sunday services were held at the Holiday Inn, but there was no way to provide for children, so we found an attractive, larger and less costly space at the Northern Town Hall but it consisted of only one large room with still no separate place for children. Then a couple of members contacted the Masonic Hall where there were separate spaces for children and we met there for about two years. We then moved to the Nary Community Center for a year and in November 1993 we rented the former St. Bartholomew's Episcopal church (the oldest church building in Bemidji) on 10th and Beltrami from the Methodists who now owned it.
We operate our Fellowship with the active participation of our members and friends on a 5-7 member Board of Trustees and Committees for Membership, Caring, Stewardship, Facility, Social Action/Environment, Finance, Leadership, Worship and Religious Education. We have a Once-in-Awhile choir. Everyone is welcome to be a committee member whether an official member or a friend.
From the beginning, we have been a lay-led congregation holding services every Sunday except summers with a dedicated group of people serving on the Worship Committee. We do have access to many excellent local speakers. Several UU ministers have been invited to conduct services several times a year. In January 1996, we hired our first part-time minister, Lisa Doege. She assisted us to strengthen our committees, improve our hospitality and work towards developing a vision and mission statement. When she accepted a full-time position, we hired Rev. Laurie Bushbaum who led our services once a month, conducted adult RE and workshops in personal spirituality. She has returned this year to conduct services, workshops and do consulting for us. We include Native American and Pagan regular speakers along with a large variety of other topics and religions. A large vairety of music has been provided by our members and friends throughout the years. We have sponsored 7 people to attend the Midwest Leadership School.
Religious Growth and Learning was begun early in our first season with paid RE coordinators most of the time. Susanne Rabel served as our first full-time RE coordinator and her daughter, Maranda served as RE Coordinator later on. Other RE Coordinators have been Ramae Hamrin and Deanne Kivi along with others who assisted: Kay Uday, Mavis and Tayler Jernigan, Gail Hendershot and Barb Houg. Our current Religious Education Coordinator is Sarah Shelton.
Several summer camps have been held along with our youth attending several Youth Cons in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. We have held various adult education events such as book studies, Evensong, Articulating your Faith, Building Your Own Theology, and Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography. We have utilized two Administrative Assistants, but now have decided to carry out the work of the Fellowship with volunteers.
We have consistently published a monthly newsletter edited first by Dick Lueben who created the name “Current Ripples” to represent our Mississippi River Headwaters name. Later newsletter long-term editors were Barb Houg and Neen Lillquist and for short times Lois Thomson and Rose Johnson. We have an up-to-date Web Site.
We have three people licensed to conduct very individualized weddings. We do child namings/dedications, memorials/funerals, house blessings and new member orientation and recognition. We have sponsored 7 people to attend the Midwest Leadership School and Susan Smith was also a faculty member. Three of our members have attended GA and several have attended PSD Annual Conferences and Leadership Workshops. We are most proud that one of our members, Neen Lillquist, receiving the PSD ‘Keeping the Faith’ award in 2005.
We have always paid our full share of dues to the Unitarian Universalist Association and Prairie Star District. In 1996, we voted to conduct an Annual Canvass for pledges and 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 $42,000 which we included as part of our Canvass drive for the first time in 2004. At the same time that the Board made an annual commitment to meet a $5,000 per year contribution by adding to the pledges if they did not equal this amount. This was increased to $7,000 in 2005. In 2002, we were proud to be one of the few UU congregations to establish an Endowment Fund for our future with Northwest Minnesota Foundation which is now around $11,000 and yields about $400 per year for community contributions or work of the Fellowship. Our annual budget is $30,000.
In 1996, we were one of five congregations chosen to receive PSD support for consultation. Rev. Stephen Jonasson came to help us develop our now much honored and loved vision statement that we repeat at the end of all of our services--”Seek Truth, Practice Love, Celebrate LIfe.” Then in September, 2000, we won a PSD workshop and 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 received a Green Star designation from Prairie Star District in 2008 for achieving a a 12% increase in membership.
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 helps keep us in contact over the summer.
Our community involvement has included at various times: 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 and meal and Churches United.
We had a very successful 10 year anniversary celebration with ALL of our former presidents in attendance. In 2005, we held our 15th anniversary celebration with our first president, Reid Hendershot giving the key note address. We still have 4 Founding members, 4 members of 15 years, 7 members of 10 years, 15 members of 5 years or more. We have established yearly traditions of an Ingathering--all participation first fall service, a Memorial Service at Samhain, candlelight services during the Christmas/New Year’s season, famous UU women, Flower/Apple/Earth Communion and Last Meal potluck at the end of the year. We have tried 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 and our membership plummeted to 25. However, since then we have had an average gain of 6 members per year. Presently, we have 62 members and 40 plus children. We have achieved a 37% retention rate and a total of 184 people have been members over our 17 year history. We 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. We consistently have a large number of visitors, up to 120 per year and our average Sunday attendance is around 50.
Seek truth, practice love, celebrate life!