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


2023-2024 Year

Our intent is to complete all business and cease operations as soon after the final service is held on May 21st. While there are no known reasons that this cannot take place before the end of June, it is possible that some tasks may persist into July. As a result, we will need to elect trustees for the three expiring terms and approve a budget. This will take place at the meeting on April 30th.

Voting for board members:

  • Alice Logie (continuing) for secretary
  • Bonnie Rowan (continuing) for member at large
  • Cass Cochrane (new) for member at large
  • Nominations from the floor

The proposed budget consists of $18,693 in expenses, the single largest element being legal fees that will most likely be billed before June 30th, and the remainder being services (e.g. bookkeeping) required should operations run through the end of the year. The proposed budget can be found here: https://firstunj.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/2023-2024-First-U-Budget-for-Approval.pdf

Special Congregational Meeting on April 30, 2023

A Special Meeting of the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield (dba First Unitarian NJ) shall be held immediately following the regular worship service at 3:30 pm on April 30th, 2023 at the Fanwood Presbyterian Church, 74 S. Martine Avenue, Fanwood, NJ 07023 (enter from McDermott Place).

The purpose of this meeting is to take actions required to dissolve the congregation.

Meeting Agenda:
  • Dissolution of the Society
  • Distribution of assets
  • Authorize the board to act on behalf of the congregation 
    1. Waive the bylaws to allow dissolution and distribution of assets 
    2. Board Election for year beginning July 1 
  • Approval of budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1
Anyone requiring an absentee ballot must request one in advance from Charlie Neiss by emailing president@fusp.org or calling 908 239-1319.

Absentee ballots must be received no later than 3:30 pm on Sunday, April 30th, 2023.

Town Hall – February 19, 2023

On Sunday, February 19th, 2023 rather than hold a traditional Sunday service, the Special Committee on the Congregational Future held a townhall-style of presentation of the decision to dissolve the congregation. The main topics covered in this presentation were the work being done to ensure members have a path to a new UU home, and the plan to distribute the remaining financial assets based on input from the members of the congregation. 

  • Due to resource constraints the congregation will cease to hold services after a final service in the spring of this year.
  • The members of the congregation will be presented with a resolution to dissolve the corporate entity at a public meeting in the coming months.
  • Remaining assets, including the endowment funds, will be divided into four pools and distributed in support of First U’s existing mission:
    • Remaining operating funds will be distributed to local UU congregations based on member election.
    • A portion of the endowments will be distributed to recent recipients of our Share-the-Plate collections, based on member election.
    • The bulk of the endowments will be transferred to another UU congregation to be held in trust for continued social justice work, including the food pantry and other organizations we support today.
    • The Angel Fund will be used to provide post-secondary scholarships for the children below college age currently in the congregation.

The whole presentation can be found here.

2022-08-03 Letter from the President

We have begun our new congregational year and it looks like it will be a busy one. I thought I’d provide a bit of insight into where we stand from an organizational perspective, since there has been a good deal of change and, at the same time, we continue with our mission and ministries.

The congregation, having reduced the board to five members earlier this year, has seated a new, slimmed down board. Alice Logie, Joanne Macaluso, and Sylvia Walker have joined Bonnie Rowan and myself on the board. Joanne is serving as Vice President. We all owe our thanks to board members who have completed their terms; Mike Sutterlin, Cass Cochrane, and Guenevere Zucker. 

The board has also selected members to fill the leadership positions necessary to carry us forward. Cass, while no longer a board member, will continue as Treasurer. Chris Baglieri will be serving as the chair of the Worship Committee. Maureen Erwin will continue as chair of the Endowment Advisory Committee and Alice Logie, Mike Sutterlin, and Mark Williams will continue to serve as members of that committee. As Vice President, Joanne will serve as the chair of the personnel committee. The board will function as a committee of the whole when dealing with finance and religious education. 

The board has also established the Special Committee on Congregational Future and will continue the Working Group on the 8th Principle. The special committee will consist of Reverend Ann Marie Alderman, myself, one other board member, and Chris Baglieri. This committee will self-organize and select a chair or other such leadership roles as they see fit. Denise Soppas will continue to lead the 8th Principle Working Group.

As you are probably aware, worship this summer will consist of a mix of small group ministry and shared worships with neighboring congregations. 

The Special Committee on Congregational Future will be leading the effort to chart the path forward for the congregation. This committee will work with the congregation to identify what is most important to us and what our needs as a congregation will be going forward. They will manage the process of Outreach to other congregations and the UUA to determine what options exist to best meet those needs. They will identify the assets and resources (financial and otherwise) we have to work with, and potentially to offer to another congregation. Progress will be reported monthly to the Board, culminating with recommendations for the Board to use to create a plan for the congregation to vote on in the coming church year.

The 8th Principle Working Group will continue to foster First U NJ member’s connection to the 8th principle. Perhaps more importantly, this working group will be engaged with the Special Committee on Congregation Future to ensure that any potential partner congregation will continue the important work we have begun to intentionally identify and deconstruct practices and systems that perpetuate racism in our institution, and replace them with accountable and actively anti-racist constructs in programs, ministries, and congregational leadership, as will as to continue to provide our individual members with resources to foster their own journey towards spiritual wholeness through identifying and addressing their own relationship with white supremacy, white privilege, and personal and institutional racism

Our work in Plainfield is not yet done. Our food pantry continues to operate out of the Crescent Avenue Presbyterian church, providing food for 60 families each month. For many of our members and friends, including myself, this service is a spiritual practice.

We also have developed a strong partnership with Social Justice Matters, serving Fanwood and Scotch Plains. For the past two years our contributions of both time and money have gone a long way towards making the annual Juneteenth celebration a success.

I plan to continue with periodic letters such as this, but I cannot guess what everyone wants to know. If you have a question or concern, just reach out to me at president@fusp.org

In service,

Charlie Neiss, President of First U

2022-06-19 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Power Hoarding

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at the last one; Power Hoarding.

Power in an institution is controlled both through formal structures and informal relationships.

Power hoarding can be seen if there is little perceived value in sharing power, if power is seen as a limited commodity with only so much to go around, and if people in power feel threatened or personally attacked if anyone suggests changes in how things are done.

When there is power hoarding those in power don’t recognize that they are hoarding power or that they feel threatened by suggested changes. They believe they have the best interests of the organization at heart and see those suggesting changes are ill-informed, emotional, or inexperienced. They attack those suggesting changes rather than look at the suggestions as an indication that something is wrong. 

The antidotes for this require changes to institutional practices for governance and decision-making:

  • Power sharing should be an explicitly stated value
  • Power sharing and development of others must be goals against which leaders are evaluated
  • Leaders must understand that change is inevitable and challenges to leadership are often healthy and productive
  • Leaders should never take challenges personally
  • Focus on mission and values, rather than staying in business for the sake of staying in business
  • Leaders must learn and practice the racial equity principle of “know yourself”. Act from a place of integrity rather than fear or anxiety about your importance



2022-06-12 – Juneteenth

Next Sunday is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. Juneteenth  commemorates an important step towards the end of slavery in the United States. It was only recently declared a federal holiday. On this day, the nation comes together to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and chattel slavery in this country. On June 19th 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Galveston, Texas, almost three years after it had been issued and a month after the Civil War ended. 

Many local communities are celebrating this holiday this year.   

Our congregation should take pride in again being one of the financial sponsor’s of the local Juneteenth Celebration in Scotch Plains which will take place at the historic Shady Rest Golf and Country Club next Saturday. I encourage you to come join the celebration and revel in the moment.  But also join in to acknowledge the importance of the ongoing struggle. While the Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in the rebel states free, slavery continued in the Union until the passage of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865 and legal challenges persisted in Texas until 1874. 

The legacy of slavery continues today.  We need to raise our voices to pass legislation for the Reparation Task Force, to close youth prisons, for same day voter registration, and police accountability.  You can do this by writing to legislators or by joining other UU’s and local organizations at the New Jersey Social Justice Institute March and Rally for Reparations, Justice, and Democracy in Newark NJ this Friday.  (i will put some links in the chat with more information about writing legislators) 

Celebrate Juneteenth as a way of telling those who would drag us backward that we will continue moving forward toward justice, equity, and equality for all.

Here are some links if you are interested in taking action and write to legislators

For Reparations Task Force http://www.400yearsnj.org/

To Close Youth Prisons http://kidsnotprisons.org/

Same-Day Voter Registration democracyinaday.org

Police Accountability policeaccountabilitynj.org

Juneteenth March and Rally for Reparations, Justice & Democracy

#150 Years is Enough 

March and Rally in Newark June 17

Raise your voice to pass legislations for Reparations Task Force (A938/s386), invest in youth and close youth prisons, same day voter registration (A1966/s247) and for police accountability


12 pm March from Seated LincolnStatue (Market St & Springfield Ave.)

1:30 pm Rally at Newark City Hall (920 Broad St)


Masking and Social Distancing Encouraged

Social Justice Matters Juneteenth Celebration in Scotch Plains

June 18th

Shady Rest Golf and Country Club


Tour the Shady Rest Museum 

Vendors, Music, Mini Golf, workshops, Golf putting competition 

This year there are many children activities

Amani – will play again from 6 to 7:30


For more info https://www.socialjusticematters.org/

2022-06-05 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Fear of Conflict

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at Fear of Conflict.

To be more specific, it’s fear of open conflict. People in power do not want conflict expressed. They try to ignore it or run away from it. When open conflict does occur the response is frequently to blame the person raising the issue rather than actually examining the problem. They are accused of being impolite or rude and can be implicitly or explicitly punished for raising the issue. A response to people angrily expressing an opinion is to be told to “calm down”. As the internet meme instructs us, “NEVER in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.”

The antidotes for this require significant changes to institutional culture as conflict needs to be seen as a valid means of transformative justice. There are many changes that can be undertaken, including:

  • Plan for ways to handle conflict before it happens
  • Distinguish between being polite and raising hard issues
  • Don’t reject discussing hard issues when raised in a way that can be seen as rude or disruptive
  • Be transparent about power and decision making processes before engaging in conflict
  • Engage a third party to support exploration of the conflict
  • Once a conflict is resolved, review what happened to see how it might have been handled differently



2022-05-29 – White Supremacy Culture in Action – Mental Health and Gun Violence

Once again, this week we will set aside our ongoing exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture and turn to the news. Guns have grabbed the headlines again. We are once again grieving the loss of children and two of their teachers who gave their lives to try to protect them and it had been just ten days since the massacre in Buffalo, New York.

When challenged to institute even the most basic gun control legislation; legislation that had proven effective but had been allowed to expire, those in thrall to the NRA and gun manufacturers have once again raised the issue of mental health. 

While the mental health of people who commit these crimes can justifiably be questioned, is addressing mental health really the solution? Which demographic group has the least access to mental health treatment and which has the greatest access? Black women and white men, respectively. Which group is most likely to commit mass shootings and which is least likely? White men and black women, respectively. 

Should we, as a society, put more money into healthcare, especially mental health care? Yes, absolutely. If we direct that aid where it’s most needed, will it actually be directed towards those who commit these crimes of terror? No, it won’t. If it is directed towards white males, we’ll once again be short-changing the black women in need of additional mental health resources.

Moreover, when those who are looking to avoid gun control are talking about mental health we must ask if they are looking to provide health care or to criminalize mental illness.

The epidemic of school shootings in the US is a problem of White Supremacy Culture. It’s about an entitlement to power. It’s about not just acceptance, but idolization of the use of force in conflict resolution. Until we change the basic value structures of this country we will continue to see mass shootings. We must establish sensible controls over gun ownership and use. We must also provide adequate healthcare for all. 

2022-05-22 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Objectivity

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at objectivity.

This is a particularly difficult one for many to grasp, especially UU’s who pride themselves on rationalism and enlightenment.

To begin with, the belief that there is such a thing as being objective needs to be examined. We are all bound by our language and culture. It defines how we view our universe. Can we truly be objective?

Objectivity includes the belief that emotions are inherently destructive, irrational, and should not play a role in decision-making or group process. This point of view invalidates people who show emotion. It also requires that people think in a linear fashion and those who think in other ways are ignored and invalidated.

Antidotes for this are based in valuing everyone as individuals. :

  • Realize that everybody has a world view and that everybody’s world view affects the way they understand things; realize this means you too; 
  • Push yourself to sit with discomfort when people are expressing themselves in ways which are not familiar to you; 
  • Assume that everybody has a valid point and your job is to understand what that point is