You will find here an inclusive and growing spiritual community, dedicated to living love more fully and fiercely into the world. Together we celebrate life and a liberal tradition that leads social justice work, heals the earth, and nurtures the lifelong journey of mind and spirit.
LOVE IS THE DOCTRINE,
THE INDIVIDUAL SEARCH FOR TRUTH IS OUR SACRAMENT,
SERVICE IS OUR PRAYER.
What We Believe
While our beliefs are varied, we unite to affirm and promote the eight principles to guide us on our journey.
1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person
2. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
8. Journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions
If you have been attending services and participating in our community, you may be ready for the next step in officially becoming a member of our UUS congregation.
Attend a Sunday Service
It is hard to describe what a truly inclusive faith service looks like. Find out for yourself by coming to a service in person or tuning in to the livestream.
Find a Group
Find a group that calls to you, from knitting clubs, to Secular Humanist potlucks, to Buddhist sanghas, to social activism, there is a group for you here.
Grow your Faith
We recognize the search for truth and meaning to be a lifelong endeavor and offer RE programming for youth and adults of all ages.
Minister and Staff
UUS is supported by full-time and part-time staff members who work together to make things run smoothly for our congregation.
Rev. Diana Smith
Director of Congregational and Community Engagement
Director of Lifespan Religious Education
Director of Congregational Music
Staff Pianist & Music Outreach Coordinator
Our 8 acre campus in Coralville allows us to connect spiritually with nature and gather with each other in a sustainably built and maintained building that has been dubbed “the greenest church in Iowa.” Gender neutral bathrooms, flexible indoor seating, integration of indoor and outdoor spaces and multipurpose areas provides an inclusive and welcoming space for people of all backgrounds to enjoy our space. Our outdoor spaces are open to the public and we encourage our interior spaces to be rented for events and group gatherings.
Net Zero Energy
With a wide variety of spaces available for rental use, we are able to accommodate all sorts of social and business functions. Our building includes:
- Conference Room
- Fellowship Hall
- Flexible meeting rooms
- Outdoor patio and grounds
- Commercial Kitchen
- Map of Building Facilities
Wedding ceremonies, memorials, performances, speakers
- Flexible seating for 275, overflow space possible
- Excellent acoustics and full A/V system
- Filled with natural light and woodland views
- Concert piano
- Moveable platforms and lecterns
- Map of Sanctuary with standard setup (pdf)
- Blank Sanctuary map (pdf)
Receptions, meals, workshops, social gatherings, charity events
- Capacity 257, overflow space possible
- Commercial kitchen with rear-door delivery access
- Direct access to patio and outdoor tables
- Integrated A/V and lighting systems
- Sofas near windows
- Equipment available:
- 30+ round tables for 6-8
- 12 banquet tables
- Matching tableware for 200
- White tablecloths, chafing dishes, coffee urns
- Map of Fellowship Hall with standard setup (pdf)
- Blank Fellowship Hall map (pdf)
Catered events, group meals, cooking parties or demonstrations
- Open to caterers, groups, and individuals
- Commercial ovens, stovetops, sinks, and dishwasher
- Ample refrigerator and freezer space
- Generous prep counters and serving counter
- Ice machine
Business retreats, meetings, dressing room for weddings, small gatherings
- Conference table seats 15
- Kitchenette and bathroom
- Large wall-mount display and whiteboards
- Privacy blinds and full-length mirror
Relaxed meetings, discussions, workshops, breakout sessions
Oak & Hickory Rooms
- Each holds 10-15 people, can be combined to hold 30
- Couches and comfortable chairs
- Wall-mount displays
- 10-15 people
- Round tables with chairs
- Wall-mount display
Rent Our Facilities
Our Sanctuary, Fellowship Hall and meeting rooms are available to rent for private use. Our facilities provide a great location to host weddings, business retreats, private parties and charity galas.
You are welcome here. We’re proud to support marriages and other gatherings for all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, or religious affiliation.
Our Sanctuary is a stunning, light-filled space with floor-to-ceiling windows that bring nature up close. With access to a concert piano, A/V equipment and excellent acoustics, it is the perfect location to host a wedding ceremony.
The Fellowship Hall adjoins the Sanctuary and is designed for receptions and other large social gatherings. It features a commercial kitchen and an outdoor patio.
Our building is perfect for social events, memorial services, performances, and speakers. The flexibility of the space makes it ideal for business trainings or retreats.
Our primary meeting room features a large table, whiteboards, modern A/V equipment, and a kitchenette. We also offer a variety of relaxed, multi-purpose spaces to fit your unique needs.
Our Sanctuary has a maximum capacity of 285, although we typically have just over 200 chairs set up. Our Fellowship Hall holds a maximum of 259 people, with up to 30 round tables (that work best with 6 at a table), and 12 8-foot-long rectangular tables.
We have classrooms and a conference room that can seat anywhere from 10-45 people.
We do not offer our own catering on-site, but we are glad to work with you to arrange catered food from a local caterer or restaurant, or you can make your own arrangements.
You may serve alcohol at your event, but you need to sign an alcohol agreement, and you either need to provide it for free to your guests, or you or your caterer will need to have an alcohol license.
You can request access to our microphone and sound system, which we will train you on. We also have a large rolling TV monitor and smaller monitors in classrooms where you may show a movie or video or slide presentation. You can plug into our sound system to play music. We have
several cords and adaptors available. We may we have someone available to livestream an event from our sanctuary. You are also welcome to bring your own projector or smaller sound system.
We have parking for up to 75 vehicles in our parking lot. Several of those are handicapped parking spots, and 4 spots have access to free electric vehicle charging stations. For larger events, street parking can be requested from the city (or is automatically available for Sunday
events), and there are also a couple of parking lots within walking distance that can be utilized. All parking is free.
We do not require any specific COVID procedures for rental events, but we do suggest that you have some masks available for those who might wish to have them, and we do ask you to sign an agreement that you will take into account the safety of participants in regards to COVID.
Can’t find the answer?
History of UUS
The story of our congregation begins in 1838 when traveling Universalist preachers bring their message of universal salvation to settlers in the Iowa City area. Merger with Unitarians begins in 1878, and their combined efforts build an enduring liberal religion in Iowa City that features early female preachers, a broadening of spiritual perspectives, and a deepening commitment to social justice and environmental stewardship.
The documents in this archival history of the Unitarian Universalist Society provide a range of perspectives on the congregation, dating back to the earliest meetings of traveling Universalist preachers with local settlers in a log cabin on the Iowa River in 1838.
Historical Documents and Resources
Augusta Chapin History of the First Universalist Church of Iowa City (PDF)
Written in 1871 by the congregation’s first female minister, this brief handwritten history describes the earliest years of the First Universalist Church of Iowa City. It includes a list of founding church members from 1841.
Universalism and Unitarianism in Iowa City, by Ruth Irish Preston (PDF)
A lengthy, two-part history of the congregation’s first seven decades, written in 1907-1908.
Edna B. Wilson and the Church Chart (PDF)
An oral history interview with an early and long-time congregation member, covering the years 1878-1933.
Universalism. Thirty-one Years of Its History in Iowa City, 1841-1873 (PDF)
A photocopy of a newspaper story published in the Daily Press in 1873.
History of the Universalist Church in Iowa: 1843-1943 (PDF)
This Master’s Degree thesis, written in 1944 by Elva L. Tucker, a graduate student in history at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa), provides a detailed discussion of the evolution of our Iowa City congregation and the larger Universalist movement in Iowa.
From Within These Walls – Building Centennial Booklet (PDF)
A series of 24 essays published in 2008 to commemorate 100 years in the church building at 10 S. Gilbert Street and covering a wide range of congregational life.
History of the Iowa City Unitarian Universalist Society, by Tom Mikelson (PDF)
Published in 1981 by Rev. Tom Mikelson, then minister of the congregation, based on his archival research and including a broad perspective on Unitarianism and Universalism.
Universalists are one of the very few denominations to carry their message to the American frontier. Circuit-riding Universalist preachers, often young women, meet with Iowa City settlers in their homes and find a receptive audience among people who are now free to explore new religious ideas.
The First Universalist Church of Iowa City is formally established at the Edward Foster home, and Rev. A.R. Gardiner arrives as the first minister. Gardiner’s petition to preach at the newly-built temporary statehouse in Iowa City is approved over the objections of other religious leaders who also use the shared meeting hall. This resulting publicity leads to what is reported to be the largest audience yet to gather in Johnson County to hear a ’’preaching”. Opposition continues from other Protestant Christian churches. The Presbyterian minister plans to extinguish all the candles at the next Universalist meeting, while the Methodists refuse to meet again in the hall after the Universal!sts have used it.
The congregation constructs a small brick church building at the corner of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street, funded in part with donations from wealthy Eastern Universalists, including Horace Greeley and P.T. Barnum.
First Universalist begins construction of a new building near its existing location, but a fire destroys it before completion. Rev. Augusta Chapin serves as minister beginning in 1869. She is the first woman to earn a doctorate of divinity in the U.S., and the first female settled minister in Iowa City. The congregation thrives despite moving to several temporary locations and hosts a number well-known female suffragists and abolitionists, including Susan B. Anthony, Jane Swisshelm, and Mary Livermore. First Universalist constructs a new building across from the University campus at Clinton Street and Iowa Avenue in 1873, featuring Byzantine architecture and plans for a campanile tower.
After Chapin’s departure, the First Universalist congregation dwindles and the building eventually closes. Meanwhile, the First Unitarian Church has become more active in Iowa City following its establishment in 1871. The American Unitarian Association agrees to help support a new minister (Rev. Oscar Clute) if First Universalist will allow regular use of their building. Clute preaches on the controversial topic of evolution and institutes “a vigorous social life,” including dancing, cards, a popular Shakespeare Club, and a youth group dedicated to the study of nature’s religion. Other churches in town and the University of Iowa President are worried about the church’s ideas and influence, and Clute responds by personally inviting each U of I student to attend services. The Unitarian congregation absorbs many Universalist members and the merged congregation becomes the First Unitarian Society of Iowa City in 1881.
The First Unitarian Society constructs a new building at 10 S. Gilbert Street that will serve as the congregation’s home for more than a century. The modest house-like design is based on plans from the American Unitarian Association that encourage congregations in “building convenient and beautiful churches without undue expense, without discord, and without debt.”
During the Spanish flu epidemic, which kills an estimated 675,000 Americans, the church serves as an annex to the University of Iowa Hospital (then located in what is now Seashore Hall), providing 3500 meals to health care providers over a three-week period. The Women’s Alliance also makes gauze face masks for children to help slow the spread of infection.
Rev. Evans A. Worthley works with a local Baptist minister to integrate Iowa City restaurants in the 1940s, and in the 1950s Rev. Alfred Henriksen accompanies African Americans to local barbershops that practice segregation. In 1951, former First Unitarian minister and dedicated social activist Rev. Arthur Weatherly co-founds the Holmes-Weatherly Award with the Unitarian Society for Social Justice to annually honor an individual “whose lifelong commitment to faith-based social justice is reflected in societal transformation.”
Rev. Bill Weir helps found Iowa City’s Community Mental Health Center and participates in the Selma Freedom March. The congregation formally changes its name to Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City in 1965, four years after the two denominations merged at the national level.
The congregation adopts an “open door policy” that allows building use for activities such as political party functions, arts performances, gay and lesbian dances, and yoga classes.
Congregation members begin serving lunch on the second Friday of each month for the Iowa City Free Lunch Program, a practice that continues to the present day.
Deepening its existing commitment to including and supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, the congregation undertakes a two-year process of self examination that leads to a unanimous congregational vote to become a formal UU “Welcoming Congregation.” An Interweave chapter is formed to continue the work of the Welcoming Congregation process.
The congregation begins distributing all Sunday service cash donations to local community service organizations, a practice that is still in place.
The congregation moves to a newly-constructed building on eight acres of woodlands in Coralville. The building is designed to be the “greenest church in Iowa” and features passive solar design, geothermal and photovoltaic energy, sustainable building materials, on-site handling of water runoff, and inspiring visual connections to nature. During the same year, the congregation is officially certified as a “Green Sanctuary” by the Unitarian Universalist Association, formalizing its commitment to ongoing learning and work related to environmental sustainability.
Diana Smith, 2020-Present
Diane Dowgiert (Interim), 2018-2020
Steven Protzman, 2010-2018
Benjamin Maucere (Interim), 2008-2010
Nancy Haley, 1997-2008
Oren A. “Pete” Peterson (Interim), 1996-1997
Michelle Tonozzi, 1992-1996
Elizabeth Kerman (Interim), 1991-1992
Fritz Hudson, 1984-1991
Theodore “Ted” Webb (Interim), 1984
Thomas J. Mikelson, 1971-1983
William Weir, 1965-1970
Khoren Arisian, 1958-1964
Alfred J. N. Henriksen, 1951-1957
Evans A. Worthley, 1931-1951
W. Rupert Holloway, 1929-1931
Arthur Weatherly, 1922-1929
Franklin C. Doan, 1920-1922
Vincent B. Silliman, 1919-1920
Charles M. Perry, 1913-1919
H. Houghton Schumacher, 1911-1913
Robert S. Loring, 1907-1910
Duren J.H. Ward, 1900-1906
Eleanor Gordon, 1896-1900
Charles E. Perkins, 1892-1896
Robert C. Morse, 1889-1891
Arthur Beavis, 1884-1889
Oscar Clute, 1878-1884
Augusta Chapin, 1869-1873
Joseph Kinney, 1866-1868
William Brattain, 1863-1864
Eben Francis, 1858-1860
N. K. Peck, 1854-1856
I. M. Westfall, 1846-1849
A. R. Gardiner, 1841-1845
Detailed UUS Congregational Timeline
Click the above link to see our detailed timeline from our archives that shows the full history of our congregation.
In some ways our journey toward building the Greenest Church in Iowa began in the early 1990s, with several intermittent stops and starts. But from another perspective, our journey began on January 27, 2013.
Our 10 S. Gilbert church had served us for over a century, but limitations were becoming increasingly apparent. Accessibility, space for large gatherings, energy/environmental wastes, and other problems had been recognized by many since at least the early 1990s. Several groups formed and disbanded over more than a 20-year period to attempt to address these limitations, each exploring and learning about various options. Remodeling plans had been carefully drafted and considered but failed votes had been divisive, creating groups pitted against each other. There was a continuous pattern of hard work followed by no agreement to action. Even though there seemed to be consensus that the facilities were less than adequate, there were also broad and deep emotional attachments and fond memories of weddings, funerals, and other important life events that took place in the little church that looked like a house at 10 S. Gilbert Street.
After a 2011-2012 facilities task force once again learned a lot but didn’t get traction with the congregation, at the January 27, 2013 congregational meeting one of the members of that facilities group announced a gift and a challenge. Adam Ingersoll stated that he recognized the decades-long impasse on facilities, and thought this might help us get unstuck: He announced that his family would donate $107,000 to the Society ($1000 for each of the building’s 107 years of existence), and $262,000 matching two-for-one funds from his family, if the Society raised $131,000 or more toward facilities and met another condition. The total gift would be $369,000, and with the Society’s $131,000, we would have half a million dollars to jumpstart a facilities project. But he added this important condition: The $107,000 gift was to be spent on facilities if we chose to commit to a decision about facilities, and if we did not it would remain as a gift to our general operating budget, but the $262,000 match would not be made. Those matching challenge funds would be given only if we made a decision about facilities by the congregational meeting on May 4, 2014. The decision could be to remodel, to tear down and rebuild, to move to another location – any of many options was acceptable, but not deciding would mean that the challenge wasn’t met and the $262,000 donation would not be made. This created a sense of urgency that followed recent momentum (the Society had, in the past year, created a new mission and vision, and had just voted on a new strategic plan at this meeting). Now for the first time we had a deadline regarding facilities. This sense of urgency, along with the anticipated half million dollars to jumpstart a capital campaign, made things different.
To address the financial challenge the board created a Faith in Our Future (FIOF) fund, and established a committee to ensure that we met the challenge. Members were Barbara Haring, David Jepsen, Jan Locher, Jerry Nordquist, and Paul Pomrehn. Over the course of the next year and a half, contributions to the fund, including the match, grew to approximately $600,000.
Next, in April of 2013, the board created a Facilities Steering Committee (FSC) with two deadlines. The first was to conduct a vote no later than November 17, 2013 to determine the Society’s willingness to move forward, and the second was a vote no later than May 4, 2014 that specified what we would do (remodel, tear down and rebuild, move, etc.). The FSC would also “lead and coordinate” the Society’s efforts, was charged with recruiting additional volunteers, and the board promised to support and advocate for what the FSC recommended. The FSC was chaired by Tim Adamson, and included Kris Barrash, Jill Stephenson, Theresa Ullerich, and Kirk Witzberger, with Rev. Steven Protzman as an ex officio member. Kirk had led the 50+ member workshop that created the new mission and vision statements in September of 2012, and Tim and Kirk both served on the committee led by Sue Otto that created the new strategic plan approved at the January 2013 congregational meeting, so the committee was rooted in this recent work.
The FSC read volumes of documentation from past facilities committees. It noted the divisiveness of past efforts, and so, with the board, the Society set a threshold of an 85% supermajority affirmative vote in order to move forward. Many found this daunting, but we stated that we were doing this together “as an intact community or we’re not doing it. We care about our beloved community more than bricks and mortar.” The FSC conducted many listening forums to learn what mattered most to members, regularly shared the results of what was heard, created a “top ten” list of members’ priorities for facilities, and worked with the board and staff to conduct a vote on November 10, 2013. Leading up to the vote specific details were provided as to what we thought we could afford ($3 million) and why remodeling was not feasible to accomplish our goals. The FSC created a campaign designed around the tagline “Journey Together,” and the theme “Imagine.” Between the early and late morning Sunday services we displayed, on computer monitors, hundreds of various facilities images, and asked members to imagine and consider what was possible. We distributed and often referred to a brochure with a dozen or more phrases that began with the word “Imagine.” For instance, “Imagine inspiring, welcoming, light-filled worship space where we share our values and beliefs, and nurture our spiritual and ethical growth.” John Lennon’s “Imagine” was played frequently during this facilities project.
The board was not neutral regarding facilities, as had been past practice in previous decades, and it and the FSC advocated for what we perceived to be the approach that met the needs our members expressed. We overtly asked members to vote “Yes” to the following: “I believe that in order to strengthen our ministries and fulfill our mission and vision, we, the UUSIC, must find new facilities,” essentially eliminating the remodeling option. On November 10, 2013, 91% of us said, “Yes.”
The FSC immediately recruited members to investigate the many options for “new facilities” and the following subcommittees were formed in the following days:
- Committee on 10 S. Gilbert (10 SG; tear down and rebuild, possibly with partnerships)
- Committee on Land (find a lot where we could build)
- Committee on Properties (find property with a building that could be repurposed)
- Committee on the Greenest Church in Iowa (investigate sustainable practices for any of the above)
Amazing members volunteered and worked diligently in each of these committees, and on March 26, 2014, the following members attended a celebration, dinner and drinks in Channing Hall (the fellowship hall in the basement beneath the sanctuary), appreciating the progress already made, and a pay-it-forward appreciation for future work. Each person below was given a unique, signed appreciation card that included a short note about his or her specific contribution to date:
- Tim Adamson (FSC)
- Kris Barrash (FSC)
- Sharon Beckman (Property)
- Pete Brokaw (Board)
- Kirk Cheyney (Greenest Church in Iowa)
- Barbara Haring (10 SG, FIOF Fund)
- Kurt Hamann (architectural assistance)
- Sally Hartman (Greenest Church in Iowa, Board)
- John Hayek (10 SG)
- Adam Ingersoll (10 SG)
- David Jepsen (FIOF Fund)
- Jim Laughlin (Land)
- Russ Lenth (10 SG)
- Jan Locher (FIOF Fund)
- Christopher Malloy (Property)
- Diane Martin (Board)
- Mary McMurray (Property, Board)
- Tom McMurray (Property)
- Mark NeuCollins (Greenest Church in Iowa)
- Jerry Nordquist (FIOF Fund)
- Sue Otto (Land)
- Paul Pomrehn (FIOF Fund, Board, Land)
- Steven Protzman (ex officio, Board and FSC)
- Deb Schoelerman (Greenest Church in Iowa)
- Vicki Siefers (Board)
- Jill Stephenson (FSC)
- Chris Taylor (Board)
- Peter Thorne (Greenest Church in Iowa)
- Doug Wallace (Board)
- Kirk Witzberger (FSC)
- Theresa Ullerich (FSC)
- Mark Yuskis (Land)
One of the top 10 priorities was to remain downtown, and enormous effort was devoted to making this happen. Maureen Patterson, who co-chaired the 2011-2012 facilities work, joined the 10SG committee, and this group explored partnerships with 10 developers, examining how we might be able stay at 10 S. Gilbert as part of a larger downtown project. These partnerships were extremely complex and time-consuming, and we realized we would not meet the May 4, 2014 deadline for the matching funds. The Ingersolls agreed that if our good faith efforts would continue, the deadline would be extended. At the May 4 annual meeting, Tim, as the FSC chair, asked every member who was working on any of our subcommittees to stand and be recognized. In addition to those listed above, this also included a “Preservation Committee” (Jill Stephenson, Sherry Dolash, Steve Vincent, Gay Mikelson, Jeanette Carter) who took on the task of discerning the items of historical significance that would move with us to a new setting. We had proxies stand to represent those not present, so that the congregation could see over three dozen people standing, each helping them fulfill our shared goal. We wanted it to be clear and visible that this facilities effort was different – most members knew and respected at least one of those standing, and this was a large, inclusive, representative effort that was going to succeed (we just didn’t know how yet). We also took steps to aid in the coordination and communication regarding this complex project: At this same May 4 meeting Kirk was voted to the board and became a liaison between the FSC and the board, Maureen began helping the FSC with written communications, and the FSC began conducting monthly “supercommittee meetings” in Channing Hall – working meetings where every subcommittee openly discussed what they were doing, where their efforts might overlap with another subcommittee, what they needed support with, etc. Members of the board and members of the Society were invited to witness the work in action, and some were present at every meeting. Many other meetings were conducted as needed to hear from members about their opinions and perspectives on specific issues.
After giving it much more than the old college try, we learned that staying downtown was both too complex and too expensive. In the process we became clearer about what we wanted and about the value of our property on the corner of Gilbert and Iowa streets. We increased our original estimate of that value from $800,000 to $1 million, and we increased our facilities budget to $3.5 million. One of the enduring gifts of our 10 S. Gilbert home was that its sale would fund a large portion of a new building, and we would forfeit those funds if we stayed and rebuilt at 10 S. Gilbert. We sadly but realistically conceded that we would move outside the downtown area.
Near the end of 2014 we found a 3-acre property in the northeast corner of Iowa City (the Larson farm, adjacent to ACT) and we explored this option thoroughly and conducted a two-month campaign to persuade members to buy this property and move our congregation there. Maureen introduced Kevin Monson of Neumann Monson Architects (NM) to the FSC, and the FSC introduced him to the congregation at a November 16, 2014 facilities forum. We conducted a programming workshop with NM at St. Patrick Church on January 17, 2015 – it is notable that our church was too small for this 100-person interactive gathering. The purpose of this workshop was to help our architects know what we wanted to accomplish in our new building, and the results were not tied to a specific location or design. We scheduled a vote on February 1, 2015, and Maureen and Kirk (with lots of help from Tim and several others) prepared a nine-page Guide to the Facilities Decision. The vote was delayed to February 8 because of inclement weather, and on February 8, 2015 92% of us agreed to purchase the Larson farm property. SUCCESS!! But no. Our two-month-long open and transparent campaign for a “Yes” vote allowed a developer to be aware of our intentions, and he bought the property days ahead of our vote. We were back to the drawing board, but in the process we had created a solid relationship with NM, and they had bigger drawing boards.
The FSC was originally chartered to conclude its work in May of 2014, and by the time the February 8, 2015 vote was concluded its members had gone above and beyond what was originally envisioned in both time and intensity. A new committee, the New Facilities Committee (NFC) was created to take us the rest of the way (into a new facility, where ever and however that might occur). Kirk Witzberger stayed on to ensure continuity, chair the committee, and continue as liaison with the board. Adam Ingersoll agreed to co-chair and be the liaison with NM. Other committee members were Deb Schoelerman, Jeffery Ford, Jane DeWitt, Steve Locher, and Sue Otto, with Rev. Steven Protzman as an ex officio member. The committee had its first meeting on Feb 23, 2015, creating a seamless transition, and the supercommittee meetings continued, with flexible changes as some committees completed their work (e.g., Properties), and other committees were added at various times (e.g., Transition Task Force).
We agreed to partner with NM in November, even before we knew where our new location would be, and this proved a fateful choice. They were working with Jesse Allen, a local developer, on a potential downtown project, and were able to navigate political ground that enabled our historical church on 10 S. Gilbert Street to become part of a larger partnership between Jesse Allen and the City of Iowa City. With hopes and plans but no firm commitment, we made plans to sell our property to Jesse Allen with a gentleman’s agreement that he, NM, and UUSIC members would try to keep the old church from being demolished. But included in the political maneuvering we needed to demonstrate that we were willing (though not wanting) to demolish the church. A vacant lot downtown at the corner of 10 S. Gilbert was worth far more to a developer than a lot with an old church that some community group might fight to keep from being demolished and developed, and the new owner would pay us considerably more if we agreed to demolish the church. The prospect of this unofficial historical site being demolished was not desired by anyone, and though board president Vicki Siefers had 95 thoughts and feelings against it, she asked our indulgence and posted a demolition permit on the church door where it remained for weeks. This was emotionally difficult for a majority (perhaps all) of us, but along with other back-channel maneuvering it allowed Jesse Allen and NM, with our support, to create a downtown project next to the old church, and we would be able to sell the property for $2.4 million, three times our original estimate and a record price per square foot in Johnson County. Now we could build something… if we had a place. And we needed a place soon because if we executed this as planned we had a buyer who wanted possession in September of 2015.
In early April of 2015 we learned that Duane and Jill Miller were selling 5.55 acres of what seemed like a mini-nature reserve at our current location, 2355 Oakdale Road in Coralville. The setting would allow us to connect with nature more than any place we had seen, but a developer had just made an offer on the property. Duane and Jill were former Peace Corps folk, had a soft spot for our UU principles, and were pleased to hear that would leave much of the property in its natural state. They had a pending offer from a developer, and asked us to make an offer within one week. We learned from the Larson farm process, so within a day or two Tom McMurray (on the Land Committee), Vicki Siefers and several others strolled through the property on a beautiful day, and the board immediately negotiated and signed a purchase agreement contingent upon congregational approval, and gave the Millers earnest money. It helped in our negotiations that we could demonstrate that our previous votes were 91% and 92% “Yes.”
We prepared a 14-page Guide to Our May 31 Facilities Vote, describing and including maps of the Miller property, outlining the process of selling 10 S. Gilbert, discussing the transition period, summarizing the new budget of $5 million, including FAQs, the text of the legal resolution, a full report from the Land Committee describing why this was our best option, and more. The guide asked our members to vote “Yes” to the following: “Shall the congregation authorize the board to purchase the Miller property on Oakdale Road (Resolution A), to build a new facility there, and to sell our property on Gilbert Street?” It contained the unanimous endorsements of the board, NFC, and Land Committee, listed at the end of the document:
|The Board of Trustees||New Facilities Committee||Land Committee|
|Vicki Siefers||Kirk Witzberger||Paul Pomrehn|
|Jim Olson||Adam Ingersoll||Jim Laughlin|
|Diane Martin||Sue Otto||Tom McMurray|
|Adam Ingersoll||Deb Schoelerman||Linda Fisher|
|Chris Taylor||Jane DeWitt||Dave Martin|
|Pete Brokaw||Jeffery Ford|
|Steve Vincent||Steve Locher|
|Mary McMurray||(and Tim Adamson)|
|Kirk Witzberger||(and Maureen Patterson)|
|(and Jessica Zimmer-Saltzman)|
In addition to the above, distributed throughout the guide were 18 testimonials endorsing the vote, including a sentence or short paragraph from past UUSIC presidents (and one president-elect) from 1992, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
On May 31, 2015 222 members voted (77% of our voting members, some via absentee ballot), 202 voting yes and 20 voting no, so again 91% voted to purchase the Miller property for $600,000. (Soon after we purchased these 5.55 acres Adam Ingersoll negotiated a charitable gift of an adjoining 2.3 acres – from the bank where we agreed to have our mortgage – so that our total property is about 8 acres.)
We were now able to purchase the Miller property and sell the 10 S. Gilbert church as planned. There were tense moments when the demolition of the church seemed more likely than we hoped in order to make other pieces fall into place, but Jesse Allen, and Dave Zahradnik of NM, with support from members of UUSIC, were able to delay and eventually not only avoid its demolition but have it named a historic landmark – a permanent part of Iowa City’s visible history.
Leading up to this May 31 vote a Capital Campaign Committee (CCC) was formed with Jamie Sharp and Jeffery Ford as co-chairs, with members Barbara Haring, Jim Laughlin, Dave and Diane Martin, Vicki Siefers, with Kirk Witzberger in the initial phases. This group, with members of the board, met on June 2, 2015 via videoconference with Mark Ewert, a capital campaign consultant. After he came to Iowa and interviewed several of our members he estimated that we could raise $1.5 million in our campaign, with $1.8 million as a possible stretch goal (this was in addition to the $600,000 generated by the FIOF Fund).
The NFC worked with NM to help them understand our nine priorities (having eliminated the option of staying downtown and renovating). We told NM three of these priorities were non negotiable: 1) capacity to comfortably meet as a whole congregation at one time, 2) exceptionally accessible, and 3) exceptionally green/sustainable. We said that we wanted our phrase “The Greenest Church in Iowa” to not just be an expression but to actually be true. Another priority was “affordable,” which didn’t mean inexpensive, but early conversations with NM about what met our desires were in the $8 million range. There were many conversations to discern how far we were willing to push – we did not want to revisit this in 20 or 30 years and have another building project and another capital campaign, yet we didn’t want to bankrupt the Society. In addition to NM we partnered with McComas Lacina Construction (MLC), and together we worked to determine what we might build at a few price points. One of our options was to build in phases, constructing a fellowship hall that would double as a sanctuary in the first decade or so, and adding a sanctuary later. Several of us knew of other churches that had done this, and some never made the addition, so the board, with deep input from the NFC and other members, chose to go all in, took a deep breath, and set $6 million as our budget. This was far beyond our initial estimates, but we knew that our 10 S. Gilbert property was selling for a record amount, this new location seemed a great venue where we could generate income from weddings and other event rentals, our Society’s Endowment Committee had done a superb job of establishing a $1 million endowment (from which interest income could be used for the mortgage), and the engagement and energy we were seeing led us to take a leap of faith that our capital campaign would hit its stretch goal.
On Tuesday, June 23, 2015 we held a Design Workshop with NM, again at St. Patrick Church. 130 members attended this 3.5 hour workshop on a weekday night – we were engaged! At this interactive workshop we generated creative possibilities for how we might design our new place. NM printed dozens of images of various churches and gave each of our 130 participants three dots to place on the ones we liked the most. A clear consensus emerged (which they said was unusual): lots of glass in a design that helped us connect with nature.
During the summer of 2015 the NFC met frequently with NM and MLC to finalize the design concept for the new facility. This was an iterative process, learning and changing the design three times, each with congregational input after meetings in Channing Hall with NM or the NFC presenting NM’s next round of a design concept. At the end of August we agreed on a general concept, and NM began working with MLC to create specific blueprints that fit our budget and specifications.
One benefit of the Miller property was that Miller’s house could be used as our Society offices after we sold our old church and while we were building our new one. In September 2015 our staff moved to the new property, but we needed a place to hold Sunday services. We made arrangements to rent space at the Sanctuary Community Church in Coralville, just two miles from the new location, where we held afternoon services for the year or so that our new building was being constructed. A Transition Task Force, led by Meredith Gall and Katrina Ingersoll, helped recruit and coordinate volunteers who did some heavy lifting, emptying the 10 S. Gilbert property, helping the staff move into the old Miller house, and preparing for a new Sunday experience. Many members helped sort, pack, move and do whatever else was needed. Various members stored our grand piano and other items at their homes. Early estimates had us moving into the new building in the spring of 2017, but some delays pushed this to the fall. We chose to move our Sunday services to the Kirkwood Regional Education Center at the beginning of the fall so that we could once again have morning services. This location is a four-minute walk, less than a quarter mile, from our new property, so our members became familiar with their new commute.
On Sunday, September 13, 2015, our congregation held a Gala Celebration, including a potluck meal/picnic under a big tent on our new property, and our future building’s actual footprint was outlined on the ground in rainbow ribbons. Steve Vincent and other members of the board and NFC arranged the event to celebrate the first large gathering on our new property, the terrific work of our Transition Task Force, the process of the NFC and the approved building concept by NM, the success of the Endowment Committee, and the launching of the capital campaign. 75 volunteers helped with this event that was attended by over 200 members. We started with a Water Communion Sunday service, followed by specific, heartfelt appreciations. Jamie Sharp, co-chair of the CCC, made the closing remarks, announced the official launch of the capital campaign, and stated the goal of $1.8 million. Once again we were practicing our belief that generosity follows appreciation.
The NFC continued to meet regularly with NM over the fall and winter months, with board president Jim Olson often attending, but the NFC remained quieter with the congregation as the CCC took center stage. Many of our members were extraordinarily generous, and the CCC was warm, professional, and successful in its interactions with the congregation as a whole and with each individual member. In the end it outperformed the consultant’s stretch goal, and our members pledged over $2.1 million!
By the start of spring, blueprints were complete enough to begin construction. On Earth Day, April 22, 2016, we held a groundbreaking ceremony at the property. Earth Day was the appropriate day to begin to build the Greenest Church in Iowa, and the building was designed so that, with the solar panels, it is expected to draw zero energy from the electrical grid on an annual basis, and at the time of this writing the plan is to be certified as a Net Zero building. (Deb Schoelerman led much of our green efforts, including having the solar panels become a reality on our property.) About 100 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony, and board president Jim Olson, Mayor of Coralville John Lundell, NM architect Matt Krieger, CCC chair Jamie Sharp, FSC chair Tim Adamson, NFC chair Kirk Witzberger, and Rev. Steven Protzman each made brief remarks. Then anyone with a shovel, of any age, formed a large circle and participated in breaking ground.
During construction there were still thousands of decisions to be made regarding furniture, phones and security, kitchen, signage, AV, liturgical furnishings and unexpected construction issues that emerged. Each member of the NFC took the lead in one of these areas and usually helped in others. During this time our full-time staff (Emma Barnum, Saunia Powell then Jessica Zimmer, and Peggy Garrigues) and Theresa Ullerich, who led the furniture effort representing the Aesthetics Committee, attended NFC meetings and contributed immensely to the big picture and the minutia involved in these decisions. Deb Schoelerman became increasingly active, ready to provide indispensable leadership frequently as weekday meetings regarding construction and other issues arose. Jim Laughlin also became increasingly involved as construction progressed.
In the fall of 2017 we were ready to move in. Another Transition Task Force, led by Kris Barrash and Peg Voelker and again involving dozens of members, gathered and moved the many artifacts that had been stored in members’ homes, and helped our staff move out of the house and into the church. Over the months of planning and making choices we increased our budget from $6 million to $6.4 million, and the building turned out better than expected. We held the first service in the building of our dreams on October 15, 2017. We held a public Open House on Sunday, October 29, attended by 856 people! The formal Dedication Ceremony for our new building was held the following Sunday afternoon, November 5th, at 4 p.m., with Rev. Steven as the master of ceremonies and the sermon by Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs, co-minister of Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, MN. Then some of us rested.
Service on Sundays at 10; Office Open Mon-Thurs 9-4 By Appointment