Our History


Year Ministry Other Important Events
1959-1964 Lay-led fellowship  
June 1959 Fellowship chartered by 52 people with the generous help of the Palo Alto Unitarian Church. Began as a lay-led group. All business and Sunday programming was under the direction of members (volunteers) and their elected Board of Trustees.

Services held at YMCA.

1961 Fellowship incorporated.
1963 Campaign for fair housing.

Services held at Peninsula School in Menlo Park.

1964-1983 Professional ministry  
1964 Called the Rev. William Houff, our first full-time minister. This was the start of an exciting period of growth.
1965 Began capital fund drive to purchase a building.

Services held at rec building in Menlo Park.

The Rev. Houff went to Selma to participate in Civil Rights marches.

1966 Marched on Napalm factory in Redwood City.
1967 Purchased our present building from First Christian Church for $148,000.
1968 The Rev. Houff resigned to leave the area after a divorce. Called the Rev. Ken Helms. Declared Fellowship a Sanctuary Church.

First paid DRE.

Building remodeled.

1970 Anne Mayhew (Ansel Adams’ daughter) donated a large photograph, valued at $600. The photograph hung in the sanctuary for years. In 1982, it was sold for $22,000 and a $20,000 reserve fund was created.
1971 The Rev. Helms resigned due to mutual dissatisfaction and took a counseling position. The Rev. George Johnson was hired to serve as part-time administrator/ coordinator.
1973 Gerry Sylvester served as interim minister.
1974 Men’s Gourmet Dinner, a major annual fundraiser, initiated.
1975 The Rev. Johnson resigned and returned to the Methodist ministry. Called the Rev. Greg Denker.
1976 Ken Collier served as student minister.
1977 Jim Anderson served as intern minister. Open Gate Nursery School moved into our building and has been here since.
1979 The Rev. Denker resigned and left the ministry. Called the Rev. Virginia Knowles. Metropolitan Calvary Community Church leased space from UUFRC.
1983 Negotiated a resignation with the Rev. Knowles.
1983-1995 Return to lay-led status The Rev. Bill Greer, one of our members, provided pastoral care and was in the pulpit for some Sunday services.
1984 25th anniversary!

Paid off the mortgage on our building.

Installed metal chalice sculpture at front of sanctuary.

1985 Pat Crawford (founder and administrator of Open Gate Nursery School) hired as part-time administrator/program coordinator. Pat guided the Fellowship in the lay-led years.
1987 First year recognized as an Honor Congregation for giving to the UUA Annual Program Fund. Given each year since.
1988 Declared Fellowship a nuclear-free zone.

Became a Sanctuary Church.

1989 Annual retreat at Quaker Center.

Replaced roof.

1991 Provided health benefits for staff.

Installed stained glass chalice, a gift from a member who was moving away, at entrance on Brewster Street.

1992 New hymnals purchased.

Grand piano donated.

1993 Name of Fellowship changed to include “Universalist.”

Pat Crawford arranged for Sarah Lammert, a student at Starr King, to conduct 4 consecutive Sunday services so that the congregation might consider the possibility of returning to professional ministry.

1994 Congregation voted at Annual Meeting to search for a minister.

Choir formed.

Council of the Community formed. Chairs of committees meet approximately quarterly.

1995-present Return to professional ministry  
1995 Hired the Rev. Judy Welles as a one-quarter time ministerial consultant for a 2-year term. It was understood that Judy would leave when her husband graduated from Starr King School for the Ministry. New outdoor sign installed.

Annual Board leadership retreat initiated.

Annual silent auction held, which is the largest fundraising event each year.

Book Group started.

Scrip program started.

New Horizons (group for older members) started.

First water ceremony held.

Began marching in July 4th parade in Redwood City.

1996 Increased the minister to one-third time. First photo directory produced.

Welcoming Congregation classes conducted.

Annual retreat moved to Monte Toyon.

1997 Hired the Rev. Rachel Anderson as a one-half time ministerial consultant. Co-sponsored the Action of Immediate Witness “Banning Landmines—Saving Lives” which was accepted at General Assembly.
1998 Increased the minister to 60% time. Allocated corner office to minister.

Formed Adult RE committee.

Provided assistive listening devices.

1999 Called the Rev. Rachel Anderson as a full-time settled minister. Empty Bowls Project raised $5,070 to donate to hunger organizations.

Joined Partner Church Council.

2000 Empty Bowls Project raised $6,000 to donate to hunger organizations. Awarded PCD small congregation award for Empty Bowls Project.

First paid pianist, after years of wonderful high-quality music provided by volunteers.

First C Groups (small group ministry) met.

2001 Rev. Anderson resigned for personal reasons. The Rev. David Keyes served as interim minister. Became a Welcoming Congregation.
2002 The Rev. Marcia Olsen served as interim minister. Raised $13,450 for new piano.
2003 Called the Rev. Julia Older as a full-time settled minister. Ordained the Rev. Lyn Cox, who served as DRE before going on to Starr King School for Ministry.

First paid Music Director.

2004 Rev. Julia Older was ordained and installed February 8, 2004.  

Children’s choir formed.

MOCA (Ministry of Culinary Affairs) formed to ensure that visitors, friends, and members feel welcome before and after services.

Raised $9,700 for solar panels.

2005 Joined Peninsula Interfaith Action (PIA).

Formed Green Sanctuary Committee.

New sound system installed.

2006 Began donating one Sunday offering per month to local non-profit organizations.

Hired youth advisor.

2007 Nina Kalmouotis served as intern minister. Hired Welcoming Coordinator, Cindy Johnson.

Debra Schwab, hired as Administrator.

Began tutoring program at Roosevelt Elementary.

Tried two Sunday services.

2008 Futures Group formed.

Bought new chairs for sanctuary to replace the chairs that were purchased in 1967.

Replaced carpeting on chancel, stairs and balcony.

2009 50th anniversary!

Ordained the Rev. Bill Kennedy, who serves as Community Minister at UUFRC.

Aesthetics closet converted to meeting room.

2010 Michelle Collins served as intern minister.
2011 Received Green Sanctuary accreditation.
2012 Carol Thomas Cissel served as intern minister.
2013 The Rev. Older resigned to retire and relocate; granted minister emerita at UUFRC. The Rev. Dr. Stephen Furrer serves as interim minister. Began monthly Fools Mission street retreats in Redwood City.
2014-2015 The Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale is called as full-time settled minister 2014 Began theme-based ministry, Sharing Circles, Community Office Hours; converted lawn to drought-tolerant ground cover; replaced flooring; Debra Schwab retired; brought in Jeri Hover as Youth Advisor and Sara Morgan as Administrative Assistant
2016 Installation Ceremony 01/31/16; Beloved Conversations racial justice work with UUSM; installed Black Lives Matter Banner.  Malia Samai Fineasi hired as Administrator; Dawn Reyen hired as Music Director.  SAC began monthly signature-gathering table in support of worthy issues; Fools Mission Music program started; Welcoming Congregation Committee reformed; Roof replaced


Fellowship History

The Unitarian Fellowship of Redwood City was formed in June 1959 by a small group of Unitarians who believed there was enough interest in the Redwood City area to justify a liberal religious organization. Many of them also wanted to provide alternate religious education for their children other than what was available at neighborhood churches. With the generous help of the Palo Alto Unitarian Church, the Fellowship began with 52 charter members. It was lay-led from 1959 until the spring of 1965, with both its business and Sunday morning programming under the direction of it’s members and elected Boards of Trustees. During this lay-led time period, there were several ministers who provided consulting and pastoral services to the congregation.


Original meetings were held in the YMCA, with subsequent moves to member homes, a Seventh Day Adventist Church, Peninsula School in Menlo Park, and in a Menlo Park recreation building. With the need to find a permanent home, the Fellowship began a capital fund drive in 1965. In 1967 we purchased our present building, which had previously been the First Christian Church, for $148,000. In 1968 extensive remodeling was done, including removing the rooftop steeple. A watercolor painting of the original building with the steeple now hangs in our church office. Through the dedication and generosity of our membership, the mortgage was paid off in February 1984, the year we celebrated our 25th anniversary as a Fellowship!  This is also the year that our metal chalice sculpture was installed at the front of the sanctuary.


The Fellowship moved from lay-led status to settled ministry in 1965 and over the next 18 years were served by five full or part-time ministers. The first, the Rev. Bill Houff, was well-loved and appreciated, but the subsequent four ministries were all problematic and unsuccessful for varying reasons. In 1983, the congregation voted to return to lay-led status, and operated for a decade with the membership once again providing its own leadership, pastoral care, and Sunday morning programming. In 1993 we changed our name to include “Universalist”, becoming the “Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City.”


In the spring of 1994, realizing that we were aging, and not attracting enough new membership to have confidence in our future as a viable church, the Fellowship decided once again to enter into relationship with a professional minister. We began with a quarter-time ministerial consultancy, contracting with Judy Welles, newly graduated from Starr King School for the Ministry. In Judy we found an ethical, caring, and skilled minister. Her work started us on a growth path that put to rest our fears that we might be “dying out.” In October of 1995, we ordained her, the Rev. Judy Welles. During her three years with us, her hours increased from one-quarter time, to one-third, and then to half.


With Rev. Judy leaving to move on to co-ministry with her husband, we contracted with the Rev. Rachel Anderson for a one year, half-time ministerial consultancy, with the understanding that we would move into settled ministry the second year if we were happy with each other. We were, and we did. In the spring of 1998 the congregation voted to return to settled ministry and to call Rachel. The following winter we confirmed our decision with an Installation ceremony. Rev. Rachel’s schedule with us increased as our pledge level would allow, from 50 to 75% ministry, then to 80%, and finally in January 2000 we brought her to full-time status. Rachel’s four-year ministry here continued the growth that had started under Judy’s care. She provided us energetic, loving leadership, insightful and stirring worship services, and sensitive pastoral care.


With Rev. Rachel’s decision to leave for personal reasons, we undertook two years of Interim Ministry, and then called the Rev. Julia Older. Rev. Julia served UUFRC from 2003 to 2013, and in that period of time our Fellowship doubled in size. Highlights of Rev. Julia’s ten-year tenure included hiring our first paid Music Director, installing solar panels on our roof, hiring our first Youth Advisor (2006) and our first Welcoming/Membership Coordinator (2007), replacing our green plastic chairs in the Sanctuary with “real” chairs, installing a new sound system, receiving Green Sanctuary accreditation, hiring, teaching, and supporting three intern ministers, beginning a tutoring program at Roosevelt School in Redwood City, and celebrating our 50th anniversary (2009)!  Rev. Julia retired in 2013 and was given minister emerita status.


Our one-year search for a new settled minister culminated in our calling Rev. Stefanie Etzbach-Dale in 2014.  We celebrated her Installation as our settled minister in January 2016, using the imagery of a mobile to express our commitment to Shared Ministry.   Rev. Stefanie’s structuring of our church year through monthly themes inspired many creative and collaborative new opportunities for learning and community building.   Under her leadership our lawn was transformed into a drought-tolerant garden, a new chancel table and a Black Lives Matter banner were installed, an Interfaith Committee was formed, and our commitment to children and to serving the wider community was integrated into worship services.  Other early innovations include:  weekly staff meetings and annual staff evaluations, Community Office Hours, Sharing Circles, stronger social media presence, the formation of a Communications Taskforce and a Safety Taskforce, and an accessible new approach to teaching Unitarian Universalist history.  Dawn Reyen was hired as our new Music Director during and Jeri Hover was hired as our Youth Advisor in 2015, and Malia Fineasi was brought in as Administrator in 2016.


Challenges during this period include decreased membership due to rising housing costs – prompting the need to assess and adjust congregational structures in support of our mission.


* * *

Perhaps the most telling history within our congregation lies in the stories that have been passed down orally from our elders. Here are some of the short stories that reflect something about who we are today.


  • During the congregation’s “nomad” years, services were held at a local Seventh Day Adventist Church for one year. However, at the end of that year they chose not to invite us back because of the cigarette butts that were always left around their church after our services.


  • In the early sixties, before most people even knew about napalm, our congregation decided to march on the local napalm factory to bring attention to the issues. One evening, our members embarked on a trek through Redwood City toward the factory, carrying signs, singing and picking up people along the way, until we had gathered a fairly large assemblage. Local news coverage was attracted, and the group had attained its goal.


  • Late in the 1060’s, the Rev. George T. Johnson, our minister at the time, recorded two albums during his concerts at the Fellowship. The second one was entitled “Harlem of My Childhood: and focused on the issues of racism.


  • There are reports of anti-Vietnam War activists being camped out on the lawn of UUFRC for a few months.


  • In the early 1970’s, the congregation gave support to one of its members and her family after her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident. Her father, Ansel Adams, donated a photograph of a scene in Yosemite to honor the care the congregation had given his daughter. Some fifteen years later, due to financial and security concerns (we could no longer afford to adequately insure it) the photograph was sold, netting UUFRC $20,000. The decision to sell the Adams photo was a very emotional one, and we didn’t want to have the money jus “disappear” into the general budget. It was decided to set it aside in a restricted reserve account under the control of the Board of Trustees, and remains there today.


  • In the late 1970’s, UUFRC began a very special relationship – which continues to this day – in renting to a small nursery school called Open Gate. Early in the relationship, the little school was put in jeopardy by complaints from neighbors, who went to the city’s Planning Commission and got an order to shut Open Gate down. Even though there had been dissenters in the decision to rent our space to the little school, the congregation rallied around them and mounted its own campaign to “save” the school, filing an appeal with the City Council. At the deciding meeting, the Council chamber was filled with both Open Gate families and UUFRC members, and the little school was granted its Use Permit. Open Gate and UUFRC have lived happily together ever since.


  • In the 1980’s, UUFRC became a Sanctuary Church, providing sanctuary to three young men from El Salvador. The congregation even helped to obtain political asylum for one of the young men. Members of our congregation also visited El Salvador to witness and give support to the people in that country.


  • In the spring of 1999, after several years of study and discussion, our congregation voted unanimously to become a Welcoming Congregation – installing a rainbow flag as symbol of this designation.


  • In 2005, in support of the environment and our interdependent web of life, UUFRC began to seriously contemplate how we could lessen our impact on the environment. Over the next six years we installed solar panels, low flow toilets, hot water on demand, and in an effort to cut down on use of disposable products, switched to using cloth napkins made by members of the congregation.  We received Green Sanctuary accreditation in 2011 for our efforts.  In 2015 we began taking out the lawns and have since replaced them with native, drought tolerant plants.  This will reduce our water use substantially.


  • We began giving back to our Unitarian Universalist faith by hiring and working with intern ministers, helping to assist and support them in their journeys to becoming UU ministers. Nina Kalmoutis served as intern minister in 2007, Michelle Collins in 2010, and Carol Thomas Cissel in 2012.


  • Reaching beyond our walls, we joined Peninsula Interfaith Action in 2005, an active group of 17 different faith communities working together to identify and work on solutions to current issues within our local communities. In 2007, UUFRC identified education inequalities as an issue they felt was a top priority within our elementary schools, and began a tutoring program at Roosevelt School in Redwood City, which continues to this day.