History of the UUFC
In 1950, John and Myra Bregger and Ray and Muriel Rutledge, residents of Clemson, joined with ten
Unitarians in Greenville to form the Unitarian Fellowship of Greenville. For a time, the two couples journeyed to Greenville, but eventually there were enough Unitarians in Clemson to organize their own congregation. The Unitarian Fellowship of Clemson, South Carolina came into being in March 1954 with twelve charter members. Meetings were held in the homes of various members. For the first ten years, Ray Rutledge served as President and John Bregger as Secretary.
In 1958, the Fellowship began meeting in the Clemson YMCA. In 1964, the membership still stood at twelve. However, through the untiring efforts and enthusiasm of the members, by 1974 the membership had increased to fifty, and had outgrown the facilities at the Y. About that time, Merrill and Charlotte Palmer left the Methodist Church because of conflict over race relations (Merrill had invited an African American church choir to sing there) and found a new home in the Fellowship, bringing with them their gift of music. Merrill played the flute and directed the choir and Charlotte played the piano. Starting in the 1970s, the congregation offered the UUA sexuality education programs to adolescents from the larger community, which received a grateful response.
In 1978, the congregation decided to take a leap of faith and purchased two lots on Pendleton Road in Clemson. Construction began in 1979 on the 25th anniversary of the founding of the fellowship. On April 20, 1980, the Clemson Unitarian Fellowship building was dedicated. Rapid growth of membership resulted in adding a Religious Education wing in 1984 and an enlarged parking lot in in 1986-88. The religious education wing, including an upstairs teen room, served a growing number of children. Janie Shipley was the first paid RE consultant, followed by a series of RE directors (now called Director of Lifelong Faith Formation). Children were included in the first part of the service before going to their classes. In recent years, there have been more multi-generational services with the children present for the whole service.
In 1987, Dillman Sorrells, a longtime member and new graduate of Harvard Divinity School, was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist Ministry by this congregation. Now retired after a long career in parish ministry, she has returned to UUFC as a member. In 1988, the congregation changed its name to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Clemson. In 2014 Eve Stevens, who was raised in the congregation, was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry and is currently serving a congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The present sanctuary was added in 1994, along with substantial renovations to the existing building in order to accommodate a growing congregation of about 90. The original meeting room, which was a fortress-like space with only two narrow windows, became the social room, while the new sanctuary has many floor-to-ceiling windows opening on the outside world and the many trees and shrubs surrounding the building. The architectural shift reflected a change in the relationship of the congregation to the larger community as more open to the outside world and less barricaded from perceived hostility.
Over the years since the first building was constructed, UUFC had become an active member of Clemson faith community. Two of our members serving terms as president of Clemson Congregations in Touch, which sponsored many programs including the development of a food bank, community Thanksgiving services, an annual ministers’ cookoff, and a lay academy. Our three ministers, likewise, received a warm welcome into the local clergy association. As Clemson University grew from a small, all-male, all-white student body of less than 5,000 in 1960 to 24,000 today, the larger community became more diverse and more accepting of diversity in religion.
The congregation had several short-lived experiments with professional ministry in the 1980s, but by 1990s it was almost evenly divided between those who wanted to call a full-time minister and those who liked things just as they were. The question was tabled for a while, with Berniece Holt designated as our ordained lay minister to represent us in the larger community and offer some leadership, especially in pastoral care. The Program Committee arranged for a monthly pulpit supply with ministers from other congregations, while the rest of the services were lay-led. In 1994, a group of about ten members left to start a congregation in Anderson so that they could call a minister. That action coincided with the arrival of Rev. Ralph and Anita Stutzman, who retired to the area and joined the fellowship. Ralph was an ordained UU minister who had served a congregation on Long Island that began life as a lay-led fellowship, and his presence and shared experience persuaded the Board to reopen the question of professional ministry. In 1996, the congregation voted to initiate the process of seeking a full-time minister. With the support of the UUA extension program and a grant from Chalice Lighters in the Thomas Jefferson District, the congregation voted in December 1997 to approve the appointment of Rev. Cynthia Prescott as an Extension Minister, ending 44 years as a lay-led fellowship. She began her shared ministry with the congregation in February 1998 and was called as a settled minister in 1999, serving until June 2010. She helped us to strengthen our social justice work and our religious education program, prodding the congregation to have professional leadership in religious education.
Rev. Alex Holt served as interim minister from 2010 to 2012, followed by Rev. Terre Balof who served from 2012 until her retirement in June 2020. The congregation is currently served by interim minister Rev. Christina Branum-Martin.
In 1999, the congregation had the opportunity to buy two adjacent lots, one fronting on Pendleton Road and one fronting on Gregory Street. In 2001 UUFC purchased the building on Pendleton Road now known as Founders' House. The congregation raised the needed funds to not only purchase the building but also to build an environmentally responsible parking lot with grassed parking spaces supported by plastic grids, and to renovate the newly purchased building for office and meeting space.
Social justice was deep in the culture and history of UUFC. Two important milestones were becoming a Welcoming Congregation in 2005 and a Green Sanctuary in 2007. A long history of relationship with the African-American community dates back to the 1960s. Founding member Myra Breggar always hosted a tea for new faculty wives, and she invited Mable Wynn, wife of a newly hired African American faculty member.
Some of the ladies attending the tea were scandalized, but Mable became a lifelong friend of the congregation, although her husband chose to attend an African-American congregation where he served as deacon. An important milestone was UUFC’s role, along with the Clemson Council on Human Relations, in creating the Clemson Child Development Center in 1969. This non-profit entity is now located in a former African American neighborhood in a building that was once the segregated elementary school. Its purpose was and is to provide quality pre-school care and programming for less privileged children regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, starting with efforts to prepare them for desegregated public schools. Other local congregations joined in to support the Center, which not only strengthened UUFC’s ties to the black community but also to other local congregations.
A major focus of social justice during the first decade of the 21st century was the Unlearning Racism group, which interacted in many ways with the local African-American community and formed a sister church relationship with the Ba’hai congregation, which had a more diverse racial makeup. A long struggle over whether to fly a Black Lives Matter banner in 2018 resulted in a commitment to looking more deeply into the challenge of unconscious racism and white privilege. The response was a multi-congregational effort under the title of the Clemson Area Pledge to End Racism, spearheaded by Rev. Balof and UUFC. The effort began in early 2019 and is ongoing. These engagements in social justice work reflect the congregation's long history of commitment to social justice and environmental responsibility, values that we try to live in our individual lives
as well as in our congregational life.