Cedars was founded as The Unitarian Fellowship of Bainbridge Island on June 9, 1959, when its bylaws were signed. This occurred as a consequence of the erroneous and misleading headline “Unitarian Lecture Set By Bremerton Pastor” above an article announcing a Unity Church program in the March 5, 1959 issue of the Bainbridge Review and a responding and more accurate “Unitarians to Hear Seattle Guest Speaker” announcement of a lecture by the minister of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church a month or so later. Local Unitarians consequently found each other and created the fellowship that has persisted through subsequent years.
Meetings of the new group were held in rented accommodations and in member homes. In some years the group met weekly with simultaneous activities for adults and children, in others the children met weekly during after-school hours and the adults met monthly, and sometimes activities were reduced to only the children or only the adults.
In 1963 and 1964, the level of activity reached a low-point recorded in correspondence between the fellowship and the district office in Seattle that discussed possible disbanding of the group. The record is weak (reflecting the organization’s fading energy) but the fellowship apparently continued with programs for children before adjusting its nature to suit the needs of a modest membership.
Adult discussion remained the fellowship’s central focus throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and its membership stayed relatively constant (limited perhaps by the average size of member living rooms). To help maintain denominational identity, guest ministers were invited to visit periodically, and an annual promotional activity was a public “Forum” in which the general island and north Kitsap community was invited to hear a distinguished guest speaker such as University of Washington historian Giovanni Costigan.
In the early 1990s, the fellowship resolved to try a more welcoming format and began meeting at the Winslow Senior Center. A Sunday morning intergenerational program was added in 1993 using a Montessori School for a twice-monthly meeting place, with Saturday evening programs continuing once a month as before.
When attendance reached 49 adults and 44 children in the fall of 1995, the fellowship realized that it needed to move. Membership had tripled in just a few years, and larger accommodations were found in the private Hyla Middle School and its newly constructed assembly hall.
The fellowship made the decision to seek its first minister In 1999, and Rick Koyle was engaged as a half-time Consulting Minister. In the second year of his ministry, following further growth in membership and energy, the fellowship applied for acceptance into the UUA’s growth-oriented Extension Program, which would provide a specially trained full-time minister with a three-year subsidy to defray some of the costs.
Excitement over program acceptance was soon tempered by a lack of suitable extension minister candidates, and the UUA selected the Rev. Dr. Peter Raible, distinguished minister emeritus of Seattle’s University Unitarian Church and familiar with the fellowship through guest minister visitations and support over many years, as a one-year Interim Minister while continuing its search process. The fellowship was also given an additional subsidy to support a half-time role as Director of Religious Education for Leif Oden, and Jeanne Pupke was named to assist Peter as an Intern Minister.
In the spring of 2003, the Rev. Andrew (Drew) Johnston was selected and affirmed as the Extension Minister. With Drew came a new sense of arrival, and recognition that the fellowship was moving dramatically forward in its development. Lisa Ashley was named to fill the newly-vacant Director of Religious Education role and the RE program reached a new enrollment high of 60 by the end of the church year.
In the fall of 2003, Drew led the congregation through the development of a mission statement, an invigorating process stimulating soul-searching discussion of Unitarian Universalist principles and congregational desire over the course of several months. In February of 2004, the resulting mission statement was enthusiastically affirmed as:
with open hearts
Nurture a learning spirit
Serve justice with compassion
And love without judgment
Acknowledging its significant accomplishment, the fellowship then voted to change its name to Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church in January of 2005.
Energized by its new sense of mission and identity, the congregation began offering two services in order to increase Sunday seating capacity and broaden its accessibility, and membership reached a new high of 127 by the end of the year and grew to more than 150 in the next year. A larger facility was needed, and in the summer of 2005, the congregation moved to the Playhouse facility of Bainbridge Performing Arts. The well-located facility provided 250 seats in its main assembly space, a sociable lobby with an adjoining pantry, and several classrooms (with plans for adding several more). At the same time, convenient new office space was found in the nearby Sterling Savings Building.
The 2005-06 church year then brought unexpected change and challenge. Drew seemed to withdraw, relocating to live some distance away and appearing increasingly less engaged in the services and other activities of the church. Following several months of difficult discussion, it was clear that the relationship was no longer viable, and Drew’s resignation was negotiated.
Faced with the loss of its minister and costs associated with that departure, the board asked the congregation to choose between continuing temporarily without professional ministry or finding funds to allow the immediate search for an interim replacement. The congregation was broadly supportive of the latter and pledged the necessary funding within a few weeks. A search committee was organized and the Rev. Julie Forest was selected.
Julie came to Cedars with the mutual understanding that the interim period would be for two years, that it was intended to provide an opportunity for repair and recovery in the congregation’s relationship with professional ministry, and that the 2007-2008 second year would include the search for a new minister for Cedars as well as Julie’s search for a new congregation.
Tiring of a Playhouse stage often filled with sets and props for dramatic performances by others and with the promise of classroom additions fading, Cedars again began looking for better accommodations. And again, a well-regarded private school was found to be adding a multi-purpose gymnasium and meeting space to its island facility. The school campus offered Sunday use of a meeting space accommodating as many as 250 seats in a variety of flexible arrangements as well as well-appointed classrooms and secondary meeting space. It was also conveniently accessible and centrally located for the island and north Kitsap congregation.
In April of 2008, surprising everyone, the search committee introduced its candidate as a married co-minister couple, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Wells ten Hove and the Rev. Jaco ten Hove. Co-ministry meant they would share one full-time position and that Cedars would be gaining the ministerial wisdom and experience of two individuals rather than one.
Concluding an active week of direct interaction involving as many Cedars members and friends as possible, the congregation voted enthusiastically to call the couple as its first settled ministers. Barbara and Jaco were welcomed into their new ministry with an installation service filling Cedars’ new worship space in The Island School’s Webster Hall. Many guests from other UU churches joined local members and friends to celebrate the ten Hove’s arrival, and the event significantly enhanced Cedars’ profile as a developing congregation.
The co-ministers brought complimentary skills and interests. Barbara brought a deeper sense of structure to worship, mentoring worship associates and introducing consistent liturgical features in services, as well as the oversight of religious education. Jaco brought an interest in governance and administrative functions, membership development, pastoral care, music, and adult education. Together, they represented Cedars and promoted its presence in the local community.
The significance of that presence became more meaningful as Cedars began to look toward its potential. Inspired in the spring of 2009 by the occasion of its 50th anniversary and a “Celebrating Our Past, Shaping Our Future” theme associated with that event, the congregation spent much of the next church year discussing and envisioning its programs, practices, and possibilities as they might develop over the next few years.
Comfortable with its sharing of The Island School’s campus, but hoping for better office and weekday activity space, Cedars began exploring facility possibilities in 2012. A promising opportunity was found in a well-located condominium office suite formerly used as the administrative headquarters for a private business school. With a previously formed capital fund and relatively modest additional fund-raising, a purchase was achieved, and Cedars finally had a home of its own: a rent-free Cedars Center, with flexible meeting space and offices for the ministers and staff, as well as work areas, a small kitchen, and storage.
The next years were filled with typical services and activities, but forward motion seemed to stall. Barbara and Jaco were away on sabbatical leave for much of the first half of 2013, with many of their responsibilities left in congregational hands while they were away. Religious education enrollment fell significantly with changes in the leadership of that program, and the congregation lost a number of younger families. Between February and May of 2016, Jaco took family leave to care for his ailing father in California. Barbara was also away for a portion of that time, and in May the ten Hoves announced their plans to retire from ministry in the coming January.
The board and a special transitions committee began considering options, and the Rev. Thomas Perchlik was selected as Interim Minister to serve for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 church years. His experience and wise counsel served the congregation well, and a new ministerial search committee was formed to guide the congregation through the UUA’s national search and placement process. Member comment and desire were gathered in small-group discussions and a congregation-wide survey, providing meaningful guidance as the committee carefully evaluated candidate possibilities.
In April of 2019, the search committee introduced Zackrie Vinczen as its selected candidate in a week-long series of well-attended services, meetings, and social gatherings. The interaction was deeply satisfying and appreciative, and concluded with an enthusiastic and nearly unanimous congregational vote to call Zackrie as Cedars’ next settled minister.
Zackrie came from the 400-member UU Church of Berkeley, California, where he had been on staff as the Program Coordinator and Acting Director of Family Ministry for several years following graduation from the Starr King School for the Ministry, and that congregation honored him with ordination as the Reverend Zackrie Vinczen in October of 2019.