HUU Memories for our 20th Anniversary celebration

Finding HUU

I stepped inside the door of the old schoolhouse for the first time some two winters ago now. The room was full of folk socializing at a decibel level that could easily have blown me back outside. A far cry from the church service I had explored the week before where the silence was deafening. Was this a place of worship? I was a bit overwhelmed.

The music started, the bell rang, and everyone eventually settled into a seat. I liked the warm simplicity of the place, the bright flowers and beautiful glowing chalice on the wall behind the lectern. Someone explained that HUU was lay-led and that everyone was very friendly. I liked what I heard. And I could see that members of the congregation enjoyed being involved. Several folk jumped up to make announcements, everything from a protest demonstration in Washington to a food-drive for the homeless. That made me think that HUU really stood for civic engagement—walking the talk on social justice.

Then the lay leader at the lectern said something about nature and smiling and glorying in being together. She lit a candle and told us that UUs welcome everyone no matter what into their fellowship. That was good to hear.

After a rousing song, lots of people waited in line to tell us about their joys and sorrows—and some were really personal. That showed me a level of trust that was endearing. And I noticed that most of the people who shared a personal story said they had a sorrow that was also a joy. So I could see people did not see things as all black or all white. Refreshing.

Then I heard the best thing yet. The leader announced that UUs welcome all who search for their own truth and meaning with open hearts and minds. That grabbed me. Perhaps I could continue my own spiritual journey alongside these people? But mainly I focused on how on earth she kept her feet warm without shoes or socks.

I kept coming back to the old schoolhouse. I became a member a few months later. I am so grateful to have found a spiritual home. I am enriched by the fellowship offered me in the UU tradition. And I feel real pride and joy in our diversity; after all, some of us have warm feet and some of us really feel the cold. And that’s OK. ~ Linda Dove


I've never been a church goer, but when, at the suggestion of my friend Wade Wheelock, I attended the third or fourth meeting of the group forming HUU in August 1989, I was intrigued. The next day, a Sunday, I went with Deb and Randy Mitchell, the chief movers and shakers of the organizing group, to the Waynesboro UU church to see more of what it was all about. Their church was a house. I took my seat. The service began. And someone lit the chalice.  My eyebrows must have gone way up. What's this? I thought! Is this some kind of fire worship? I could have walked out. But, luckily, I didn't; I decided to give HUU a try. And here I am. ~ Jim Geary

How we chose our mission statement

It was in the days when we couldn’t agree on words like church, pray, worship, or, for that matter,  mission. That’s how we got the name Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists.  We just avoided the topic all together.

We were meeting at the Jewish Temple. We each were asked to write what we thought our mission might be.  When we had wrestled with that one for a while we broke up into groups, compared our notes and came up with something that spoke for the group. 

After hearing our summaries, we again broke into groups to consider what we had. And that’s the way we finally came up with Our Mission Statement.  We’ve grown a lot in the last twenty years but it is interesting that that original statement of purpose is still viable today. It speaks to our three key tasks very well.  ~ Beryl Lawson

The OK Corral

After meeting on Sunday evenings at the Jewish Temple we realized we needed to meet during the day when it would be more comfortable for families with children. The place we chose was a big, empty warehouse arrangement on route 42 right next to Dairyman Specialties.

We had the place for Sunday mornings.  Several evenings a week it was used for line dancing.  The line dancers were anxious to make the place comfortable to their clientele. Almost every Sunday there was another mural representing scenes dear to the hearts of line dancers: stagecoach, skeletons, Dolly Parton and things of that ilk. We began to call it The OK Corral. People who visited on Sunday mornings and stayed certainly didn’t stay for the ambiance. There was something there that drew them to us.

To this day the mention of The OK Corral brings a smile and a realization that it was a worthy part of our evolution.  ~ Beryl Lawson

Circle Dinners

My first memory of HUU was attending a Circle Dinner at the home of Beryl and Norm Lawson. Jim had been going to meeting/services from the beginning but I had shied away from attending. I remember Lucy Dambelkans was at the dinner too and how friendly everyone was. After that I started attending services on a regular basis and I remember Beryl's smiling face always being there to greet people. We were meeting at the OK Corral at that time. I've been coming ever since. ~ Pat Geary

Love Makes a Family

I first entered the doors of HUU about 16 years ago to see the “Love Makes a Family” exhibit.  It was a collection of large pictures, hung on tall display walls, showing various types of families as well as some information about the family in the picture. 

Christopher Gatesman was one of several people that had convinced the powers that be at JMU to fund bringing the exhibit to the Valley.  The concept was to make the exhibit available to the University and student community as well as the greater Harrisonburg community.  JMU hosted the exhibit on campus.  However, until HUU stepped forward, no one in the Harrisonburg community was willing to provide space for the exhibit at that time – which I believe was in 1994. 

As a result of visiting HUU to see the exhibit, I learned of a Sunday service planned where different families in our area were to be part of the service.  I decided to attend my first HUU service.  I remember that Christopher and his partner Peter spoke as an example of a same sex couple family.  I also remember meeting Chris Edwards and Robin McNallie for the first time during that service.  They introduced themselves as a couple, or family, living in sin as they were unmarried at the time. 

Not long after I found a need to have a connection to a spiritual and religious community and HUU naturally came to mind.  HUU became the start and end of my search. ~ Grayson Sless

How do you join HUU? 

Fifteen years ago when I first began attending, I was a little unclear about how joining was handled.

I had noticed though that what seemed to distinguish most of those who seemed to be “regulars” were those name tags covered in transparent plastic that they wore on Sunday mornings.  So imagine how surprised I was when Beryl Lawson ran into me smack dab in the middle of the Kroger Supermarket and on the spot asked if I was OK with her creating one of those name tags for me -- she could have it ready for me the next day.

So much for thoughts of joining HUU with any sort of pomp and circumstance.  My induction ceremony appeared to have taken place witnessed only by celery and the rutabagas. ~ David Lane

Building Religious Education

I am a charter member of this congregation, name on the document. But I did not attend for a few years after that. I was interest in providing RE for our daughter, Sasha, then in first grade in the fall of 1995. The RE building was just being completed. She put her real initials “AAR” in the cement of the steps. They are still there. ~ Barkley Rosser

Saving the RE Building

One of my favorite HUU memories comes from the winter of either 1995 or 1996….  Watt Bradshaw was building the RE building, and had completed the foundation, sub-flooring, and the framing for the exterior walls.  The roof was not yet on the building when we had a snow-storm drop at least a foot of snow.  The call went out to the congregation that the snow needed to be moved ASAP before it melted and warped the new sub-flooring!

I remember that at least a dozen folks showed up with snow shovels, and we all went to work shoveling the snow off the sub-flooring and out the newly framed window openings.  It almost had the feel of an Amish barn-raising!  Such a wonderful feeling of working in community.  It brought to mind Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use:”

I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest  and work in a row and pass the bags along, who stand in the line and haul in their places, who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out. ~ Elizabeth Scott

June 19, 1999

Juneteenth, of that “Party-Like-It’s-1999” year: Robin’s and my wedding day. Perfect weather. We’d invited the congregation in entirety, and the makeshift guest-book received 110 signatures. My grandson, Jacob, served as bellringer and ring-bearer. A former student of Robin’s donated a rock for the altar, explaining, “I heard Unitarians worship rocks.” Most refreshments were potluck (including a bowl of cherries beside a sign reading “Life”). The Rev. Barbro Hansson (then living in Staunton) officiated – having helped us narrow down our long list of poetry readings. We’d met five years earlier, back at HUU’s former “OK Corral.” The jubilant photos of the wedding crowd, celebrating under shade trees in front of our Dale Enterprise schoolhouse, seem now to capture a fleetingly wonderful moment in time, a family’s time and a community’s time. (They also show peeling paint on the red tin roof, since repainted.) Our joining has been so blessed!- ~ Chris Edwards

End of a life  

On Sunday morning, March 11, 2001, Al McNett, a member of HUU’s finance committee and choir (and former husband of my wife, Chris Edwards), entered the church and, as usual, went to the kitchen to start coffee brewing. There, he suddenly collapsed to the floor. As two or three early arrivals worked futilely to resuscitate him, and another called the rescue squad, the Rev. Kirk Ballin, scheduled to lead that morning’s service, informed arriving worshipers of the unsettled situation and began a quiet vigil. While the EMTs worked with Al before taking him to the ER – where he would be pronounced dead, at 58, from a massive heart attack – Kirk formed a “healing circle” outside the church, leaving space for the rescue team while comforting our stricken community. The shock felt by all was particularly deep since Al’s death, besides its suddenness, occurred in the same space where only the evening before we had celebrated our charter’s 10th anniversary. We held his memorial service that week, also in our sanctuary. Bagpipes were played. People recalled that as Al entered church that Sunday, he had expressed pleasure at seeing daffodils in bloom.  ~ Robin McNallie

Responding to 9/11

I am very proud of how HUU responded to 9/11. In particular, we were open to the local Muslim community, inviting speakers from there. Members would also later be involved in helping members of the local Kurdish population when they came under attack. ~ Barkley Rosser

Romance at HUU

My first visit to HUU was in 2002. And who was my greeter on my first visit to HUU? Eric La Freniere. I was going through a bad patch in life and not feeling social. Eric was very friendly, kind of a pest. Why was this big galoot following me across the room and asking me so many questions? I wondered if I'd wandered into some pushy evangelical church by mistake. Or were the Unitarians some sort of out-there devil cult as my Presbyterian mother warned? Four years later, we fell in love. It seems odd now that for four years we didn't talk much, and were only acquaintances. I knew I liked his services and his community dialogue questions. That may seem like an odd thing to spark a romance, but we both joke that it was his Cinema and Spirituality service that did it. I went up to him afterward and said it would make a fine master's thesis, but afterward went home thinking I'd said something stupid, and that he probably already had a master's degree. Fast forward to current day. Eric is now working on his master's degree and having a great time presenting papers at conferences and symposiums. It seems it is his forte after all. And I am still trying to convince my mother that the Unitarians aren't some out-there devil cult. ~ Meredith Moore

Christmas, 2007

I was organizing the children of the congregation to participate in a fairly traditional Christmas pageant, recruiting angels and shepherds and wise men. When asked which part he’d like, Jordan replied, “I want to be God.” In my frazzled state, with dyed pillowcases to be made into costumes at my side, I replied, “There’s no God in this story.” Carol, our RE Director, raised her eyebrows at me, so I added, “Of course, God is part of the story, but there is no costume for God.” Jordan grabbed a piece of cloth, threw it over his shoulder like a Greek God, and said, “Here’s my costume.” Eventually Jordan settled for being a shepherd and a wise man, but he reminded me that UU’s, even our children, will rightfully question my assumptions. He also reminded me that God is a part of our stories. And the manger scene with the traditional animals along with a pig, a duck and a bee brought home the message that “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” ~ Bernie Mathes


My first two visits I was hugged by Beryl Lawson. ~ Jim Tibbetts

Joys and Concerns

I remember the first time I spoke during joys and concerns. Three people spoke to me after the service, and each picked up on a different thread in what I had said. It was a moment that showed me a strength of small, intimate congregations—a strength I’ll strive to help us retain as we grow. ~ Judith Hollowood

Life lessons

Even though I’ve been a member of this congregation less than one year, I already have many memories:

The first time I facilitated a service, I learned a very valuable fashion lesson: No bell sleeves when lighting the chalice! My wool sweater very nearly caught on fire. Though I remained calm, I remember thinking how fortuitous it was that we happened to have a police officer speaking that morning; I had visions of her standing up and yelling, “Stop, Drop, and Roll!” ~ Jeanine Sellers