Who we are

We are a lay-led congregation serving Warren, western Morris and northern Hunterdon counties.

 

Most of our members grew up in other faith traditions and discovered Unitarian Universalism later in life. We are humanists, theists, Buddhists, pagans, atheists, pantheists, and more. What ties us together is our commitment to the seven UU Principles and our respect for each person's individual spiritual journey.

 

Many of us came to Skylands searching for a religious home for our young children. Others came looking for a safe place in which to explore life's biggest questions. All of us value this small outpost of liberal religious thought in NW New Jersey and the warm and open community offered by this congregation.

 

Being lay-led means that we have no resident minister. We invite guest ministers to speak on one or two Sundays each month.  Other Sundays we might have an outside speaker or a discussion led by one of our members or a special program designed to engage our children as well as our adults.

 

We have no paid staff. As a result, we rely on each other for everything, from creating the services to choosing and teaching our religious education classes, to engaging with the world in social action or community service, to being there for each other in times of crisis.

 

If you are looking for a place to feel active and engaged, where your ideas will be heard and your talents celebrated, where it is fine to be shy but almost impossible to stay on the sidelines, we hope that you will come visit Skylands and see how our Sunday experience feels to you.

 

And if it's not quite what you were looking for, please visit again. Each kind of service--lay-led, guest minister, or outside speaker--has a different feel, and it's worth checking out several services to find out what you might be missing if you don't come back!

Unitarian Universalism

The best way to find out more about our denomination is to visit the Unitarian Universalist Association's website at www.uua.org.

 

But before you go there, it may be helpful to know that Unitarian Universalism is by design an association of individual congregations which together choose national leadership to represent them and to accomplish certain tasks on behalf of all our congregations. Each congregation sends delegates to vote on issues of common concern at an annual meeting called the General Assembly but retains the right to determine its own mission, to choose its own religious education curricula and its adult programs, even to ordain its own ministers. Needless to say, each UU church, society or fellowship has a personality of its own!

History of our congregation

 

The History of Skylands Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Delivered by Bill Montfort at the Dedication in Beattystown on May 3, 2009

and updated August 2011

 

My talk today is on the history of this fellowship. lt is based on my wife Sue’s and my memories since 1969 when we joined, plus the memories of Karl and Virginia Brecheisen who made a cassette tape in 1993 about the fellowship. Also I have used some documents:   membership lists and newsletters. Unfortunately, some other documents were accidently thrown out about 25 years ago when we were renting space at the Washington Twp Historical Society.

We are no longer in contact with any of the original members because they have passed away or moved,  but having know some of them in the late 1960’s we can assume they established the fellowship  known as the Unitarian Fellowship  of Hackettstown as a place to search for answers for themselves and society. Incidentally, several of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowships in northern NJ were established about the same time, including Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.

 The 1965 Certificate of Incorporation lists the trustees as Robert Olsen and Frances Olsen of Long Valley, William Lloyd of Dover, and from Hackettstown Frieda Sabin, Elizabeth Lipman, Ruth Smith, and Frank Jeffers. Two of the names in early documents were people who had marched in Selma, AL – Clark Olson who was the first minister at the Morristown Fellowship and Gabe Williamson,  a member at MUF.  When we moved to this area in 1969 and joined, it was clear that Bob Olsen was the person who was the real leader in terms of services, discussions, and vision. Bob had a strong interest in ethical and spiritual issues. At the first meeting that Sue and I attended, Bob gave a talk about the spirituality of wine, and the refreshments afterwards included tasting some of the wine that he had made. In the mid 1970s, Bob and Fran retired to Cape Cod and attended the Nauset Fellowship in Eastham, MA.

The Unitarian Fellowship of Hackettstown originally met at the Hackettstown VFW Hall, but by the late 1960’s when we first attended, it had changed its name to West Morris Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and was meeting in the Bartley Chapel on Bartley Road in Flanders, now the Church of the Mystic Light. It had a big room on the main floor and 3 basement rooms with hanging light bulbs and an outhouse. Due to heating problems and lack of indoor plumbing, we moved to Long Valley Middle School where we met in the library—always sitting in a circle of perhaps 15-20 people, with RE for the children in classrooms. For about 15 years we rented rooms at Long Valley Middle School or Old Farmers Road School, where we met in the art room. When rental costs became prohibitive, we rented space in various places: Washington Twp Historical Society, Schooleys Mtn Fire House, Port Murray United Methodist Church, the Washington Township Library Community Room, St James Episcopal Church in Hackettstown (in the Parish Hall from 4:30 to 6 pm), Classic Ballroom in Hastings Square (where the reflections in the corner mirrors gave the illusion that we had quadrupled our membership), and most recently for the past 10 years in the Mini-Mall in Hackettstown.

Until 1999, this fellowship had been lay-led. Services when we first joined had very little structure, and no singing. In the mid 1970s the candle and chalice were introduced, we made a songbook, and we sang with me playing the guitar. RE was essentially the one-room school concept.

Through the years we had a wide variety of speakers and discussed many topics—I will mention just a few here:

1970s-  – Values Clarification, Amnesty, the Casino Gambling Referendum in NJ- its moral and social implications, The Invisible Minority (homosexuals), and an energy sharing workshops with George Prehmus and Luis Cavallone

1980s – Freezing the Nuclear Arms Race,  Self Image/Self Esteem with Sue Montfort, the “Building Your Own Theology” curriculum,  and  Allen Wells

1990s- Paul Callendar (from Newton UUF) and Rich Balzer on Zorastrianism

Various special activities began in the 1970s, including: a Thanksgiving Sunday service with special foods, gingerbread house making at Christmas, Rites of Spring in March, retreats, potluck dinners, and more recently, the Seder (introduced to the fellowship by Joan and Denis Sullivan)

Religious Education - In 1969 we don’t remember any RE programs for the kids, but by the mid 1970s there was a dedicated core of parents who worked hard to have an interesting RE program. We had many self-generated RE activities, and we used some of the UUA materials- “Haunting House” and  “Man the Cultural Builder”, and the Quaker Creative Response to Conflict Resolution, with a strong emphasis on art projects and nature, due to the interests of the adults who took turns doing RE. We all wanted RE to be a home and an extended family for the children, free of imposed religious dogma, but there were frequent debates about whether the emphasis should be on content or on social skills.

The women’s group was started in the early 90s, with Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, and it continues to be an important part of our fellowship life today.  

It is interesting to note that when several members of our Fellowship moved away, they established Unitarian Universalist Fellowships in their new home areas:

Cis and George Prehmus moved to Prescott AZ and established the Prescott UUF.

Karl & Virginia Brecheisen and Art & Sally Friedman moved to Stroudsburg,   Pennsylvania, and established the Pocono UUF.

I mentioned that the first singing in our services began in the late 1970’s, from a songbook that we all put together. In the 1990s, we were given some copies of “Singing the Living Tradition” by the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill, NJ.  Recently, we have added additional copies through a generous donation from the family of Richard Balzer… we appreciate those hymnals very much and are pleased that Balzer family is here with us today.  

One of the issues that was discussed at various times through the years was how to increase our membership—in the 1970s we grew mainly by “word of mouth”. It wasn’t until the mid 1990s with the leadership of Joan and Denis Sullivan, Jim Hall, and others that we changed our name to Skylands Unitarian Universalist Fellowship to broaden our geographical area and then we advertised our fellowship more actively, especially through the Internet.

Another issue that was discussed at various times through the years was whether we should have a minister, and whether we could afford one.  In 1999 we hired our first part-time minister:  Ron Sala, followed by Rosemary Bray McNatt, Allen Wells, Linda Goonewardene, and Julie Newhall.

In addition, we have been fortunate to have various Unitarian Universalist ministers come to lead our Sunday morning services. I am pleased to see that some of these ministers are here today.

 

Through the years there are some features that I think have been consistent here at the fellowship:

1.      A place where people could express themselves and test their ideas in an accepting atmosphere

2.      A place where people could search for meaning and would accept the fact that people were in different places, from different religious backgrounds, and could agree to disagree.

3.      A place where people valued justice and were concerned about social issues

4.      A place where people were supportive of each other, where people would reach out and try to help when members were having difficulty.

So these are some of my thought about our 45 year history…. And it is wonderful to be here today to celebrate in this building.

 

Some new activities since May, 2009, now that we have our own building:

Annual Christmas Eve service for congregation and community

Film series

Concerts:  Lew Gelfond and Andy Goessling, Concert for Haiti in 2010 with Jody Price, Kate and Paul, Mef and Angela, Nadine and Brian, and Renee Paddock

Riverside Rhythm and Rhyme Coffee house 4th Saturday of each month:  open mic plus featured performers

Tuesday Evening Series:  Tai Chi,  Belly Dancing,  Shamanic Journeying,  Green Tuesdays (films and speakers),  Singing Bowl Meditation

Welcoming Congregation activities:  speakers, discussions, workshops, films

Our mission

"We are a spiritual and intellectual community that embraces each child and adult in close fellowship, encourages the open exchange of ideas, provides religious education for all, and serves the larger community"

 

A congregation is an ever-evolving organism, so we periodically revisit the question of our mission in the world.  What is right for a particular group of people at a particular moment in time may no longer be helpful years later, as the world and the congregation itself change.

 

Our current mission statement was created through a series of small group sessions which led to an open session designed to pull our various hopes and goals into one cohesive statement. The final version was voted on and accepted by the congregation on November 20, 2005.

 

We use the statement to guide us as we make decisions about how to use our time and our resources as we plan activities within the Fellowship.

 

And we try to remember to "embrace...encourage...provide...and serve" as we live in relationship with one another.

 

Past Year's Services

Past Year's Services

in reverse chronological order

All services are listed, even though some Sundays are missing from the list. Those Sundays were either moving days (to our “new” old church in Beattystown), snow days, or days on which we had a purely social activity such as a brunch or a picnic.


UU Principles

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.