Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Sunday. Pictured are, seated from left to right, the Reverend Nancy Arnold, interim minister, Martha Potter, and Mark Potter; standing, Mark Ewald and John Andrews. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.
By Stephen J. Kotz
This weekend, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a “Homecoming” service on Sunday at its meetinghouse on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton.
Longtime member, Mildred Granitz, 94, of East Hampton, remembers well the congregation’s humble beginnings on the East End.
“A second homeowner ran an ad in The East Hampton Star, in the late ’60s or early ’70s, stating an interest in Unitarian Universalism and asking if there were others who shared it,” she said this week.
The result was the formation of the East End Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, an effort that disbanded after a decade because of a lack of full-time residents who were members, she said.
But within a few short years, the fellowship was replaced by the South Fork Unitarian Universalist Society, whose members started to meet in the Water Mill home of Paul and Kathy Rogers, two founding members, in 1984.
“That’s about when I got involved,” said another long-time member, Jeanne Wisner, who moved east from Freeport, where she and her husband had been involved with the local congregation.
“I remember sitting in the grass—it was summer—and were always sitting outside with a topic to talk about. We always had conversations about concerns about ethics, social concerns, civil rights,” she said.
A commitment to progressive ideals remains today, Ms. Wisner said, pointing out that a number of congregants had attended a recent march to raise awareness about climate change.
The Reverend Nancy Arnold, the congregation’s interim minister, who has served since the Reverend Alison Cornish moved to Philadelphia, said the congregation has “sent personal invitations to some of those who were here in the past with the hope that they will come and celebrate with us.”
The regular Sunday service, which takes place at 10:30 a.m., will include a photo-video presentation set to music of the congregation’s history. It will be followed by lunch and a hospitality hour. The night before, the congregation will present a concert by Valerie DiLorenzo at the meetinghouse at 7 p.m.
Within a year of its formation, the society had obtained its charter from the national Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and moved into rental space at the Hampton Day School. From there, it moved to the Water Mill Community House, before building its own meetinghouse on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, which was dedicated in 2006, and making yet another name change—to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork.
“Owning property for our own meetinghouse is a quote miracle,” said Ms. Wisner. The congregation bought its 2.25-acre Bridgehampton property, which is next to the Long Pond Greenbelt, for only $100,000 in 1999, just before real estate prices skyrocketed. The meetinghouse, which cost about $900,000 to build and furnish, was dedicated in 2006.
Since that time, the congregation has provided space for the non-profit prekindergarten and nursery school, The Rainbow School, as well as the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, a Jewish congregation. In November, it will also be home to the zendo, which used to meet at the Sagaponack home of the writer Peter Matthiessen.
Being inclusive and tolerant are two of the traits about Unitarian Universalism that has drawn Ms. Wisner to the faith.
“One of the things that makes it really important for me is that everybody is expected to have different religious backgrounds and beliefs,” she said. “Everybody in our congregation—I’m absolutely certain of this—has different beliefs about God, spirituality, about no God. Those are personal thought and beliefs, and people’s personal beliefs are held sacred to each of them. Everyone is welcome here, with whatever their religious beliefs are.”