Ensuring Our Legacy Endures

This past Sunday, May 21st, 2023, we held our last service. We will be dissolving the corporation that has existed since 1889 and our members will be joining other congregations. Despite that finality, I see a bright future for our mission.

Our congregation has had social justice at its heart as long as I’ve been a member. We have realized this through many ways, from advocating for peace resulting this building having been declared a peace site almost 40 years ago and having our members march and hold vigils against the unjust war on Iraq, to environmental activism through our green sanctuaries work and our presence at climate change marches (again), to our efforts to support marriage equality, including phone banking, marching (yet again) in Trenton, and wedding services in this building, to efforts to support the unhoused, to vigils and marches (again with the marching) for immigrants rights, to our long standing food security mission, and, of course, our work towards BIPOC justice, in which we did not stop with our early work of engagement and training, or our land acknowledgement that we first introduced almost a decade ago, we continued this effort – at a time when it could have been argued that we did not have the energy – we did the hard work of being an early adopter of the 8th principle, learning with other congregations as we went down an uncharted path. Through all of this we looked to the future through our children, building good people as much through example as through our RE program.

It has been this rich history that has been the focus of much of the work of the board and others in the past year. Current and former members of First U are family. We will remain so, even as we disperse across different UU congregations. What of our mission? What will be our legacy? 

Certainly, we, as individuals, will bring that drive for social justice to our new spiritual homes. We will be seeds cast to the wind, spreading in new fields. We have also ensured that we leave a lasting institutional legacy.

It is clear how sound a foundation we laid for that legacy by giving our old building to Plainfield, what was once the home to our many endeavors, is now the Plainfield Performing Arts Center (PPAC) and socially responsive programs served 20,000 people in 2022 That was only the beginning. Before we wrap up our financial and legal affairs, we will be leaving some gifts that will continue to support the mission of FUSP even after FUSP ceases to exist.

Our members have decided to further UUism in NJ by distributing a block of money to our neighboring congregations. Recipient congregations include Beacon-Summit, Somerset Hills, Morristown, Montclair, Ridgewood, Sussex, and Ocean County. The percentage of the pool each will receive is based on the votes by members. 

Our members have also decided to give an equivalent amount of money to our Share-the-Plate recipients. For quite some time we have given from our Sunday collection to organizations that are aligned with our mission and our Unitarian Universalist principles. For the past four years, that donation has been 100% of our Sunday collections. Nineteen organizations will be receiving grants of various sizes. It’s not surprising that the largest percentage will go the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, closely followed by ACLU New Jersey.

A report showing the percentages each congregation and organization will receive can be found here. The actual dollar amount will be determined next month, but careful stewardship, generosity of our members in honoring their pledges, and some unexpected avoidance of expenses will most likely result in significantly more than we originally thought.

A third pool of cash has been carved out of the endowment funds. The bulk of it will be transferred to Beacon, where they are setting up the Plainfield Legacy Fund. This fund will generate income that will ensure that our food pantry will continue to operate as long as we have people willing to run it. This income will also continue our sponsorship of the annual Social Justice Matters Juneteenth celebration and other good work done by that organization. The PLF will generate more income than is needed for these organizations, so we will look for other Plainfield area causes to support. On top of this, there will be a substantial grant to the Beacon Hope and Equity Center, a 501(c)3 organization created by Beacon to provide microgrants to communities of color in New Jersey.

Finally, we come to the future of Unitarian Universalism. The Angel Scholarship Fund has been giving scholarships to bridging seniors in our RE program for decades. We will be dividing the remaining funds between the six minor children of current members. The one bridging senior is Sam Beck. The other recipients are Teddy and Lily Robbins, Percy and Caspian Cattano, and Veronica Zucker-Stewart. I have had the privilege of standing with Sam on a protest line; we all have watched Teddy and Lily growing up as part of this extended family, and we welcomed Percy, Caspian, and Veronica when their parents, former RE students, brought them here. All we ask of them in exchange for these scholarships is that they carry our UU values forward as they travel the wide universe.

Charlie Neiss, President of the Board of Trustees