Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship History Highlights


  • The Fellowship started with a few persons who met at the home of Kate and Marv Fuller. Kate and Marv, who had met at Antioch College in Ohio, came to the area and joined the Great Books Club. A small group became friends and began meeting in each other’s homes to study world religions. Some went on to study The Epic of Unitarianism: Original Writings from the History of Liberal Education (1957) by David Parke, who lived next door to Marv and Kate at Antioch College. The book was influential in their decision to form a liberal religious community. For the first year, meetings were held in the homes of the members. Meetings continued at the Morton House in Benton Harbor into 1960. Kate and Marvin Fuller, Rafael and Lenore Marti, and Albert J. Martin were the founding members of the Unitarian Fellowship of Berrien County, recognized by the Unitarian Association in Boston in May 1959.


  • In September, the meeting site was changed to the Cove at the YWCA. From January 1959 to January 1960, about thirty individuals attended regularly. The Fellowship continued to meet at the YWCA until 1968.
  • The Unitarian Fellowship of Berrien County incorporated. The November 15, 1960, application for incorporation was signed by Marvin Fuller, Catherine Fuller, and Rafael Marti on October 31, 1960. The application stated that the purpose of the fellowship was:

“To unite together to develop religious attitudes objectively and honestly in order that life may become more meaningful for the members, families and our fellowman. The Corporation shall be nonpolitical and shall be devoted to promoting a spirit of brotherhood and a closer association between the members of the organization and to assist in charitable work of any nature deemed beneficial and to the best interest of the order and to society as a whole. The Corporation shall not be operated as a Church but merely to promote understanding between our fellowman.”


  • Beginning in October 1962, instead of having ministers from other Unitarian churches, persons from the community, or one of our own members, a student intern at the Meadville Theological School in Chicago served as “minister” every other Sunday. Ron Engle was the first student minister.
  • The Fellowship became the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Berrien County.
  • In September 1963, services which had been held Sunday evenings were moved up to the morning hour.


  • A wealthy member of the community, Elizabeth Upton Vawter, had also become a UUFBC member and in 1968 she offered the Fellowship financial assistance to purchase the former Evangelical Brethren Church at 601 Main Street in Saint Joseph, the site of the current Heritage Center. The Fellowship was excited and ready to take on the challenge of growth. With their own building, the Fellowship intended to be visible in the community and grow to its full potential. The first service was held in the building on September 15, 1968.


  • A dedication service was held on January 19, 1969, with a program of singing by the Chicago Children’s Choir and a speaker, Reverend Malcolm Sutherland, President of the Meadville Theological School. Mr. Joseph Drolen officiated as President. To supplement income from pledges and the plate, the building was rented. In addition, plays were performed, political rallies held, and the Silver Fiddle coffeehouse found a home in the basement. The fellowship produced programs like Don Juan in Hell, sold sandwiches and beverages to passersby on Blossom Parade days, had rummage sales, a bake sale to benefit the R.E. department, and put on a Fiesta Dinner to celebrate All Souls Day. To reduce expenses, members did the cleaning and painted and cleaned the downstairs fellowship hall. Members donated chairs and carpeting, stationery, and other things.

Fall 1973-Spring 1974

  • The Reverend Theodore F. Kennedy was called as full-time minister for two years but was dismissed after one year. After The Reverend Kennedy’s departure, the congregation continued the practice of using ministerial supply from Mead-Lombard Theological Seminary supplementing with lay led programs or guest speakers.


  • The name was changed from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Berrien County to BUUF, Berrien County Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.


  • Unable to afford the needed repairs, maintenance, and heating costs after Elizabeth Upton Vawter’s death in 1978, the Main Street building was sold. The Fellowship then held meetings at the Cove of the YWCA in Saint Joseph, where it celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1983.


  • The building at 4340 Lincoln Avenue, Saint Joseph, was purchased.


  • On May 4, 1986, the Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship dedicated the current building at 4340 Lincoln Avenue. Sarah McClendon, noted Washington correspondent and journalist was the speaker. Fred Upton installed a plaque dedicating the fellowship sanctuary to the memory of his great aunt, Elizabeth Upton Vawter, a charter member and benefactor.


  • The Fellowship hired Diane Fuller Brown, daughter of Marv and Kate Fuller and a Chicago Theological Seminary graduate, and her husband, Michael W. Brown, an active lay UU, to be the co-ministers of BUUF. The Browns lived in Chicago and drove in to Michigan two weekends a month. Members and outside speakers provided services on alternate Sundays. After a year at BUUF, Michael became a Meadville/Lombard student.


  • Roger Brewin, president of the Clarence Darrow Commission and Chicago Unitarian Universalist minister, presented a one-man program impersonating Clarence Darrow in a skit “Book Burning and the First Amendment.”


  • Jone Johnson was employed as a part-time minister.


  • On January 20th, the expanded and remodeled nursery was dedicated as Charlie’s Room in memory of Charlie Tedesco (November 13, 1997—July 17, 2001).
  • A membership retreat was held February 4-6 to examine where BUUF has been, where it is, and what its future should be and what should be done to make that future happen. The following people attended the retreat: Roger Brewin, Robin Crowell, Paula Crowell , Zackary Crowell, Lisa Dalgleish, Jim Dalgleish, Marv Fuller, Catherine Fuller, Fred Klawiter, Marilyn Klawiter, Charles Long, Dorothy Long, Viola Moore, Robert Moore, Virginia Nivens, Pat Ohmann, Gretchen Ohmann, Rosalyn Reeder, Zella Reinecke, Marian Steward, Bea Takeuchi, Mike Tedesco, Sara Tedesco, Gloria Weberg, Duane Westling, Charlotte Westling, Gene Whitlow, Heartha Whitlow.
  • Supported by BUUF, a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter was formed and held its first meeting at BUUF on July 10th.


  • In January, Renée Kauffman was hired as Director of Religious Education. The Fellowship received a three-year $7,000 Chalice Lighter’s grant to support her employment.


  • In January, funds from the estate of former member Algrid Barvicks were used to establish the Endowment Fund (General Endowment and Restricted Endowment). Income from the General Endowment Fund may be used for ordinary annual expenses. Each year, forty percent of the previous year’s dividends and interest from the Restricted Endowment Fund are available to support community outreach programs.
  • In February, the stage was removed from the sanctuary and in March construction of the religious education classrooms began. Classroom construction was completed June 10th at a cost of more than $47,000 paid with funds from the Barvicks bequest.
  • A membership retreat was held May 31st—June 2nd to re-examine goals and objectives for the Fellowship.
  • On October 17th, the Community Outreach/Social Action (CO/SA) Committee presented the forum titled: “The Gift of Sexuality: Homophobia Is a Curable Disease”
  • On Saturday, November 23, the first Our Whole Lives class at the Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was completed. Taught by Joanne Krettek and Harvey Johnson, the eight-week class for children in grades K-2 included: Emily Johnson, Tommy McIlwaine, Walter Dalgleish, Ian Dalgleish, Trevor Kauffman.


  • Matthew Cockrum, Meadville-Lombard Seminary Student, served as Ministerial Opportunities Development minister. Adult attendance averaged 29 and child attendance averaged 13.


  • Renée Kauffman’s completion of Unitarian Universalist Association certification as Director of Religious Education was recognized during the service on May 25th.
  • In May, supported by BUUF, Patriots for Peace was formed and through most of 2004 actively protested the American invasion of Iraq.


  • On January 20th the Community Outreach and Social Action (CO/SA) Committee sponsored a community forum, “Weighing the Scales of Justice in Berrien County.” For that achievement, the Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action was presented to CO/SA during the 2004 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. VIA (Voters Involved in America) was formed by CO/SA to increase voter participation in Benton Harbor.
  • James “Chip” Roush became the twenty-seventh Meadville-Lombard student to provide services regularly through the year.
  • The Race Relations Council of Southwest Michigan recognized BUUF’s outstanding serviced in improving racial relations.


  • Beth Lefever was employed as “Religious Leader” to provide two services a month in addition to attending monthly board meetings, writing newsletter articles, and providing pastoral care.
  • Thanks to Alan Andrews and Charles Long, a sidewalk leading to the sanctuary entrance was poured November 14th.


  • On January 6th the first tapestry for the history wall in the sanctuary was completed by Gloria Weberg and Bea Takeuchi.
  • The Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship was recognized by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Welcoming Congregation, a congregation that welcomes and celebrates the presence and participation of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people.
  • Thanks to Alan Andrews and Charles Long, a portico was constructed at the kitchen entrance.


  • January 2007 marked Reneé Kaufman’s sixth year anniversary as BUUF’s Director of Religious Education and the beginning of a new career path as the Niles/Buchanan Volunteer Coordinator for Hospice at Home. Teresa LaPlante became the new Director of Religious Education.
  • Beth Lefever won the Central Midwest District sermon award and presented her sermon at the District Assembly.


  • Along with Beth Lefever, The Reverend Dr. Roger Brewin, The Reverend Donald Wheat, and the Reverend Viola Moore conducted the Sunday services. Viola Moore and Beth Lefever each continued to provide monthly pastoral letters for the newsletter.
  • In October, the board selected David Sarra to serve as Director of Religious Education.
  • Several events celebrated BUUF’s 50th anniversary.


  • During the year, the Fellowship experienced the deaths of Gene Whitlow and two of BUUF’s founding members, Marvin Fuller and Catherine Fuller.
  • Ragtime pianist Bob Milne returned for the second year in a row to delight the audience with his music and humor.
  • BUUF affirmed its support of the GLBT community by committing the month of October to a series of Welcoming Congregation services.
  • The fourth annual Cabaret provided an opportunity to enjoy talent, food, and fun.
  • Beth Lefever, in her second year of seminary at Meadville Lombard, completed her fourth year of halftime ministry and left for a nine-month internship at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Muncie, Indiana, and The Reverend Jim McConnell served as interim minister.


  • During September and October, using lumber cut by Jim McConnell, members assembled, installed, and painted kitchen cabinets.
  • After it was determined that one of two 750 gallon septic tanks no longer had adequate drainage, an above ground septic system was installed at a cost of $11,900. Work began November 8 and was completed November 12. The system added a 500 gallon dosing tank with lift pump in the front yard and 20-by-50 foot drain field mound west of the parking lot.
  • In May, Beth Lever resigned as Religious Leader, but continued as pulpit supply while completing her degree at Meadville-Lombard Seminary.


  • The Reverend Jim McConnell began serving as BUUF’s minister.
  • Purchase and installation of a new sound system included a wireless microphone, podium microphone, CD player, and the capability of recording services as WAV or MP3 files.
  • In November, the new roadside sign designed by Bea Takeuchi was completed by a construction team led by Jim McConnell.


  • On March 13, Heartha Whitlow died at the age of 92. Heartha’s bequest created the Whitlow Endowment.
  • In May of 2012, The Reverend Beth Lefever accepted a pastorate at Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church in Memphis, Tennessee.


  • Fuller Hall renovation included replacing the ceiling tiles, removing the wall paneling, and refinishing the walls. With Charles Long, Walter Dalgleish, and Jim McConnell doing much of the work, the four restrooms were renovated and a restroom at the front of the building was made ADA compliant except for the signage.


  •  With attendance dwindling, disagreement about religious leadership, and the budget in the red, meetings were held to discuss, analyze, and address those issues.
  • BUUF teens joined with the teens at the OutCenter to host a Halloween party at BUUF on October 25th.


  • During the June 7th Annual Meeting, the members approved five proposals funded by the Whitlow Endowment: half-time Director of Religious Education, advertising, new website, new chairs, and a photovoltaic system.
  • On July 31st, the OutCenter presented BUUF the Communities That Care Award in recognition of the leadership and support provided the LGBT+ community in Southwest Michigan.
  • BUUF hosted a Halloween party on October 30 for GLBT teens from the OutCenter and Andrews University.
  • On November 1st, the 6.2 kilowatt ground-mounted solar electric system was dedicated. The system is a step in the process of becoming a Green Sanctuary, a designation given by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The system was made possible by the leadership of BUUF member Harvey Johnson and funding from the Whitlow Endowment Fund.
  • The BUUF Green Sanctuary Team is partnering with the Fresh Start Children’s Garden led by Emma Kinnard. The garden is located at the corner of May and Pearl Streets in Benton Harbor (1104 May St.).


  • This year members and friends of the Fellowship met in January and May to examine the State of the Fellowship and create a vision for our next 5 years.
  • A commitment was made to ensure the community knows a liberal religious option is here in Berrien County, become partners with the agencies doing social and environmental justice work we agree is important, and live the phrase ‘service our law’: service to our Fellowship, service to each other, and service to the community.
  • An Environmental Justice Film Series has been presented each 3rd Thursday (starting in fall 2016).
  • In October BUUF hosted the third annual OutCenter Teen Pride Halloween Party.
  • The goal of our vision is not just subsistence, but energizing growth. The following goals were set:
    Sunday Service attendance will increase by 50%
    Membership will increase by 50%
    BUUF will achieve Green Sanctuary certification.
    BUUF will re-new our status as a Welcoming Congregation.
    RE will provide support for Green Sanctuary and Welcoming Congregation requirements.


  • Viola Moore, Minister Emeritus of BUUF, died on April 5.
  • An application for Green Sanctuary candidacy was written by the committee and submitted May 31, 2017 to the Unitarian Universalist Association for review and comments.
  • In May we hosted Night for Equality 2, the fundraiser organized by Carmen Smith and Eve Berndt for the OutCenter Teen PrideProm.
  • Hosted 4th Annual OutCenter Teen Pride Halloween Party.


  • Sunday Service attendance increased by 50% since 2016, averaging about 40 people weekly; children’s RE participation is averaging about 6 children weekly.
  • Parents’ Night Out introduced.
  • Welcoming Congregation renewal assessment began.
  • RE Summer Camp offered.
  • We conducted Ingathering events in September and December.


  • We conducted Ingathering events in May.
  • New windows installed in the offices, sanctuary, kitchen and children’s room.
  • Activities and celebrations for BUUF’s 60th Anniversary and the 10th Anniversary of Rev. Jim’s ministerial service to BUUF.
  • Staff lay-offs were required for one month due to budget shortfalls.
  • Transitioned from electing Board Trustees to electing members to specific Board offices (President, Treasurer, Secretary).
  • Young leaders Katharine Lion and Beth La Fleur, with the support of the fellowship and their families, attended MidWest Leadership School.
  • Chalice Grant application was approved for hiring a Music Director to create BUUF’s Music Ministry. The grant will fully fund 5-hours per week position for 2019-2020; provide two-thirds funding in 2020-2021; and one-third funding in 2021-2022.
  • A Caring Fund was established to provide limited financial assistance to BUUF members in need.


  • March 15th BUUF transitioned from in-person services and meetings to gathering via Zoom, due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
  • Recorded services added to BUUF’s YouTube channel.


  • In-person gatherings resumed in July, 2021, with hybrid services for Zoom attendees.
  • Jim Fuller organized and led necessary driveway repair to correct drainage problems that contributed to erosion and potholes.
  • On November 21st, BUUF ingathered seven new members.


  • Chalice Lighter funding for BUUF’s Music Director position expires, but BUUF is able to continue the position.
  • On November 27th, BUUF ingathered five new members.


  • Gladys Peeples-Burks, a Friend of BUUF since the early 1960’s and a Member since 1989, died February 6 at the age of 94.
  • On October 8th, BUUF ingathered nine new members.