A Brief History of TUS (1955-2016)
TUS history goes back to 1955, when families from the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield organized the Unitarian Fellowship of New Brunswick and started meeting in the YWCA in New Brunswick. This was part of a “Fellowship Movement” sponsored by our national organization, the UUA, located in Boston, MA, to expand by lay led new congregations.
During its first year, the congregation worked out its Bond of Union, which is still the basis of acceptance into The Unitarian Society membership today:
“In the spirit of community and service. We unite in the quest for those values that give our lives deeper meaning and spiritual satisfaction, reserving to each individual the right to his or her own beliefs as to the nature of God and the universe.”
The Fellowship moved to the YMCA and then to an elementary school, before buying its present space, 5.9 acres of land on Tices Lane, East Brunswick, for its own building in 1959. In 1960 the congregation called its first minister, the Reverend Horace Colpitts, and soon after hired an architect to design its building. In November 1964, the congregation moved into its own new home, an award winning design by Jules Gregory.
Significant milestones since, include integrating the operation of a Montessori School, which has become a successful and diverse organization and a major part of our own mission. In 2000, we built a new wing, with classrooms, kitchen, and a beautiful “Gathering Room” designed by Jim Lieb, one of our own members. Both the Montessori School and our own Religious Education children share these lovely classrooms.
Since its founding, we have sought to involve members actively in the life of the congregation. Examples of ways we do this are our Board of Trustees, which is responsible for running the affairs of the Society, along with our democratic congregational meetings, where votes on budgets and major decisions are held. Congregational life includes involvement in planning, visioning, and decision making through committee work. Current committees include Membership, Hospitality, Music, Religious Education, Committee on Ministries, Finance, Stewardship/Canvas, Sunday Services, Social Justice, and Social Media/Web Site. Other ways to connect and engage are our affinity groups, such as the Buddhist Meditation Group, Socrates Café, a Book Group, a Shakespeare Group and a Parent Support Group.
Social and Community Action:
The members of the Society have sought many ways of taking social and community action through the years. In the 1960’s, members were influential in establishing Human Relations committees in East Brunswick and Franklin Township (Somerset), and promoting an Open Housing Covenant, which it circulated for signatures to our own members, to other churches and synagogues, and to organizations in East Brunswick, South Brunswick, Franklin and Metuchen, and to the local Clergy Councils. The Covenant stated: “I believe that discrimination is undemocratic and violates basic human rights and dignity. Therefore I will welcome anyone into our neighborhood regardless of color, religion, or national origin.” This covenant, which was signed by 70% of our members, was published in the Home News with 1500 signatures.
The Social Concerns/Action Committee format evolved into creation and support for targeted committees, to focus on specific issues through the years. In the 70’s we concentrated on women’s issues, supporting access to abortion, and Planned Parenthood, and approved use of the building by the New Brunswick Task Force on Gay Liberation. We sponsored the adoption of a Vietnamese family and followed through with housing, English classes and friendship. The family’s children blossomed in the New Brunswick schools and both became college graduates.
In following years, we supported the New Jersey Commission on Agent Orange, when it was in danger of being discontinued. We became a Welcoming Congregation, a designation of the UUA signifying LGBTQ openness. We supported the Bosnian Student Project, led by member Peter Kahn which allowed students from war-torn Bosnia to achieve outstanding educational careers at Rutgers University. We supported the Intensive Supervision Program, a program of the Administrative Office of the Courts and the NJ Department of Corrections. First, we participated in tutoring, and then their Screening Board prisoner interviews. Our longest and current project is Elijah’s Promise, the New Brunswick soup kitchen, which has expanded through the years to provide social services, a culinary school and catering facility. We cook for the kitchen guests once a month and donate to our Cash-in Basket frequently. Our environmental concerns led to a significant financial investment to install solar panels at the Center.
We achieved designation by the UUA as a Green Sanctuary 2014, meeting a stringent set of criteria to do so. We have extended our outreach to the community through our Cash-in-Basket program, which forwards each Sunday’s collection to a designated organization involved in solving society’s problems.
Music has played a vital role in our Sunday services and in the life of the congregation. We are currently in a year of envisioning our next music program, after the retirement of our Music Director Emeritus, Dan Lindblom, who served TUS for over fifty years. During that time, Dan built two harpsichords for the Society; one in 1971, which was donated in memory of Jean Day, a member, and the other in 2002 as a result of members’ requests to have a harpsichord in the “Gathering Room”. Through the years our music committee has brought us a wide variety of talented musicians and soloists, both during Sunday services and in special programs. Fred Ford frequently leads us in song and assembles a choir for certain occasions. Jim Jasion plays often Sunday mornings and other events. Philomusica, a highly regarded area choral group which has sung in such venues as Avery Fisher Hall, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Canterbury Cathedral, uses the building for rehearsals and donates a concert for one of our Sunday services each year.
(Based on materials from founding member Margaret Maurer, written by Ruth Varney, with additions from Reverend Karen G. Johnston)