Enjoy this brief history of our congregation, from our founding in 1955 through the present. In addition to this history, our history wiki contains entries contributed by congregants. If you’d like to edit or add to the wiki, click here to request editorial access.
The Fairfax Unitarian Center: 1955-1957
Unitarianism had an early start in the Washington area dating to 1820. But Rev. A. Powell Davies and his ministry at the All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC, provided a powerful burst of energy and commitment. From 1944 Powell Davies promoted activism for social change and championed the expansion of our faith by promoting new Unitarian congregations in the surrounding Washington area. Dr. Davies spoke at the first of four meetings held in Vienna, VA, to generate interest, after which 28 individuals signed the membership book of the Fairfax Unitarian Center in April 1955.
By the fall of 1955, this new fellowship held services and religious education at the Oakton Elementary School. We grew rapidly to become a congregation in 1957, hire our first minister, Rev. Edward Ericson, buy land in Oakton (in 1958) and become involved in the community. In the words of one of our founding members, Annabel Perlik, “We joined together to find a place where we could share common purpose in a vibrant church community for spiritual growth, mutual respect for individuality, meaningful relationships, shared activities and service to congregation and community.”
Fairfax Unitarian Church: The rest of the 20th Century
Rev. Rudolph W. Nemser succeeded Ericson as minister in 1960 and for 13 years inspired imaginative worship, vigorous social action and a spirit of mutual caring. Rev. Nemser joined other clergy in the Alabama civil rights demonstrations.
In 1960 the congregation purchased 11 acres on Hunter Mill Road in Oakton, mid-way between Vienna, VA, and Fairfax City, VA. We continued to meet at Oakton Elementary School until 1963. When construction of our first three buildings was complete, we moved to our new (and current) location in 1963. Our architect’s design featured our “setting in the woods” which we continue to enjoy and appreciate today.
In 1973, Roberta M. Nelson assumed responsibility for the religious education program. In 1980, she was ordained as our first minister of religious education.
Rev. David Weissbard began a five-year ministry in 1974, and we began employing summer ministers – theological students completing their training – in 1975.
In 1980, Rev. Ralph Stutzman was called as minister. Ralph’s ministry guided us in assessing our future needs as well as emphasizing human interrelationships and small groups.
In the late 1970s, our small choir was led by Jeanne Agee, a member who served as volunteer music director. In the early 1980s we hired Judy Harrison as part-time music director. Judy served for 25 years, until 2007, and built a thriving and innovative music program of singers and instrumentalists.
Our current Sanctuary Building was completed in 1985, following a successful fundraising campaign. The prior sanctuary became our Administration Building and meeting space.
Margaret Corletti came to us in 1986 as director of religious education; she was ordained as Minister of Religious Education in 1990.
We began our relationship with our Partner Church in Szentgerice, Transylvania, Romania, in 1990, a relationship that continues to be strong. The UUCF Chorale, our adult choir, visited Szentgerice and our Partner Church in 1992. A number of other UUCF members and youth have traveled to Szentgerice since then.
Ralph Stutzman retired in 1991 and Rev. Josiah Bartlett served as interim minister. His tenure included reappraisal and planning for our future, resulting in a revised annual canvass program, active participation by board members and staff and a more open process of congregational operational activities.
Rev. James Nelson was called in 1993 as our senior minister. His ministry included formation of a strong adult education program, a broadened arts program including an ongoing art wall and performances, and better intergenerational participation in all congregational activities. Rev. Nelson’s ministry also saw increased social justice programs, support for our partner church, support of Our Daily Bread providing food locally and sharing in the UUA Affordable Housing program.
Our adult education program blossomed after we were able to hire a part-time continuing education coordinator in 1993. In the summer of 1993, our first summer director of religious education was hired to run a 5-week summer program for our children and youth. This program has since extended to 10 weeks.
The congregation made a commitment in 1993 to increase Judy Harrison’s role to full-time Music Director, reflecting the central importance of music to our community life.
Music Director Judy Harrison and member Furman Riley organized a multi-faith, multi-cultural alliance of singers from around the region and Mosaic Harmony was born. The gospel-style choir still practices every other week at UUCF.
We became a Welcoming Congregation in April 1994.
Rev. Margaret Corletti resigned as director of religious education in 1996 and Eva Ceskava became the interim director. The Rev. Bill Welch was hired as assistant minister in the fall of 1997 and was called to be our associate minister in September 1999.
UUCF: Into the 21st Century
On Nov. 3, 1997, as the 21st Century approached, our congregation changed its name from the Fairfax Unitarian Church to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax. This was as significant and meaningful change to recognize both our Unitarian and our Universalist heritages and to convey the sense of community that “congregation” implies.
By 2001, we realized that our four buildings (the Sanctuary, Administration Building and two RE buildings) were inadequate and we began a capital campaign for a three-phased building project. Pledges totaled $2.1 million and the renovation of the Administration Building (phase 1) was completed in 2002. Phase 2 included the renovation and joining together of the two RE buildings to include a commons space and a new Chapel. Our new Program Building, which houses our Religious Exploration (RE) and adult classes and groups was completed in 2004. The next phase raised approximately $1.5 million more toward total project costs of $1.8 million, and expansion and renovation of the Sanctuary Building (phase 3) was completed in 2008.
In June 2003, Rev. Jim Nelson resigned in a period of stress for UUCF and Rev. Richard Nugent was hired for a 2-year interim ministry. Under the guidance of Rev. Nugent, UUCF effectively met the challenge of improving relationships affected by Rev. Nelson’s resignation, transitioned to policy-based governance and became refocused on the importance of financial stewardship.
In 2004, we started participating in the Hypothermia Project, a interfaith effort to house homeless adults in Fairfax County during the winter months. Two years later our congregation passed a Resolution on Preventing and Ending Homelessness in Fairfax County.
UUCF called Rev. Mary Katherine Morn as our parish minister in 2005, a significant year in other ways as well. We also celebrated the 50th anniversary of our founding, we added our second Partner Church in the Khasi Hills of India, and we hired Natalie Fenimore as our full-time Director for Religious Exploration.
We renewed our commitment to being a “teaching” congregation in 2006 when we accepted our first Ministerial Intern Lisa Kemper.
In 2007, director of music and arts Judy Harrison retired after 25 years of service to UUCF. Mark Vogel was hired for that position.
The Rev. Bill Welch resigned in 2009. We hired Rev. Russ Savage as our interim associate minister for two years.
In 2009 Rich Sider was hired as our first executive director. His title was changed in 2015 to director of administration.
In 2010-2011, UUCF was named a “Breakthrough Congregation” by the UUA, and was honored along with three other Breakthrough Congregations at the 2011 General Assembly in Charlotte, NC.
The congregation hired Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig to be our associate minister in 2011. Natalie Fenimore became minister of religious exploration following her ordination. When Rev. Fenimore answered the called to be a minister at another congregation, we hired Linnea Nelson as director of RE. That year, Rev. Kären Rasmussen became part-time minister for social justice.
In 2012-2013, we launched a new capital campaign; the Reach Campaign raised $2.6 million in pledges. That campaign funded a major upgrade of the parking lot, completed in 2014, to make it safer, more welcoming more environmentally sustainable. The campaign also funded new technology for video recording and live streaming of services and events, as well as other projects for our buildings and grounds. The Reach Campaign also made a commitment to devote 10% of funds raised ‒ about $250,000 ‒ to a major community outreach and social justice initiative.
In 2013 the congregation passed two significant congregational resolutions with commitments to live our values: the Resolution on Preventing Gun Violence and the Resolution on Climate Change. UUCF is a leader in formation of the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, bringing together more than a dozen faith-based communities to identify and advocate for solutions to climate change.
In January 2014, we kicked off the first MLK Weekend of Service honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our first Weekend of Service brought more than 218 adults and children to work together on six group projects over three days.
In 2014 UUCF experienced significant changes: First, when the Rev. Kären Rasmussen resigned because of increased hours in another ministerial position and John Monroe was appointed Acting Minister for Social Justice. John resigned in June 2015 to become the ministerial intern at the Sterling VA UU congregation.
Next, Director of Music & Arts Mark Vogel resigned after 7 years of service to move with his family to Houston, Texas. After a nationwide search, we hired Pawel Jura for that position in August 2014. (Pawel died suddenly on Feb. 24, 2015.)
Finally, Parish Minister Rev. Mary Katherine Morn resigned in June 2014 after serving UUCF for 10 years to take over as director of stewardship and development for the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Rev. Jennifer Brooks served a one-year interim ministry from August 2014-July 2015.
Rev. David A. Miller, former senior minister at the UU Fellowship of San Dieguito, became UUCF’s new senior minister in August 2015.
Laura Weiss was hired as UUCF’s director of music and arts in August 2016.
McKinley Sims became UUCF’s intern minister in August 2016.
We continue to grow and thrive as a community.