Susannah Jackson

Hi all,

My name is Susannah Jackson. I’ve been coming here since I moved to Tucson about 4 years ago, but my attendance has only been consistent for about the last year and a half. I grew up about an hour north of Boston in a very conservative, largely Catholic town. Mom took us to a fairly liberal church as young children, but when I was in 5th grade, I announced that I didn’t believe in God. I was an atheist and did not feel I should be attending church any longer. To her immense credit, my mother accepted this decision, and that was pretty much the last time I stepped into a church for the next 15 years.

My college roommate, Sam, was raised UU, and introduced me to the basics. I did an ethnography paper on her church at some point during college, and while I found it an interesting and comfortable idea, had zero interest in attending church. Unitarian Universalism was filed away under the mental list of “Things That Are Cool, But…Eh….”

After college, I joined the Peace Corps, and I spent two years in Senegal, in West Africa. Near the end of our service, a friend and I were discussing our anxieties about re-integrating and being able to relate to people after this profound and amazing experience. We were both gay and both moving to very conservative areas. We batted around different ideas for finding community, and UU churches seemed like a natural solution.

When I arrived in West Virginia, I poked into the UU Church of Marietta, Ohio, right across the state line from where I lived. It was in a stunningly beautiful old church, the new reverend was an undiluted flower child, and the first person I heard speak was a returned Peace Corps volunteer who had served in Africa in the 70’s. He was talking to the congregation about raising funds for wells and spigots in the village in which he had served. I was hooked! The congregation took me in with open arms, and I attended regularly until I moved to rural Arizona for a job. Once I moved, there were no official UU congregations within a 4-hour drive.

About 5 years ago, fate got sick of waiting, and expressed in no uncertain terms that I needed to change paths. Homeless and unemployed, I drifted around the country with my dogs for a few months, and basically moved to Tucson on a whim. It seemed like an interesting enough place to be for a couple of years. Why not? Plus, it had TWO UU churches! So the dogs and I hopped in my truck and moved to Tucson, searching for sunshine and liberals. (we were not disappointed on either count.)

I started coming to MVUU about two weeks after I arrived in Tucson, and lurked awkwardly in the back for several months. I didn’t know what I wanted from this community or how to figure that out. Eventually Adria approached me and asked me to help with the YRUU group. I did what I could for a year or so, but my availability was sporadic at best. However, it helped me feel more integrated in the church community, and feel more like a member rather than an awkward lurker.

My past 4 years in Tucson, while overall a huge success, has not been without struggles. With an entry-level position at a hotel, I struggled desperately for about two and a half years just to keep myself fed after paying for bills and Tobydog’s medications, special food, and emergency vet visits. Contributing even four dollars to the weekly offertory posed a significant financial burden. I did what I could to alleviate my self-imposed guilt about not contributing financially to the community that treated me so kindly, but for the first three years I know my membership cost the church more money than I was able to contribute. Conversations about pledging were very hard for me, but it was very meaningful for me that these were always brought back to focus on “time” and “talent” rather than “treasure.” However, my self-imposed shame was so strong I still turned down a couple past requests to do a testimonial. Apparently, Tom Bunch doesn’t give up very easily!

Over the last year, money has gotten easier. Moving into management has helped, and innovative veterinary medicine means that I no longer have to spend insane sums every month just to keep my dog from tearing himself to shreds. I was able to buy a house this past January, and I have finally been able to start going out to eat occasionally, buying modest things I like just because I like them, and contributing more to church. It is nice to finally feel like I am not purely a recipient of the goodness of the congregation, but that I am able to contribute something in return for what it offers.

And this congregation has offered me SO much. This past summer was a series of unfortunate emotional events. Traumatic event after traumatic event seemed to pile up without respite. Before I was able to process one, another happened. My grandmother’s memorial, the Pulse Nightclub shooting, a best friend’s father falling ill, my other best friend being stalked and threatened. Those were just a few. The horrific domino effect lasted from the first week of June into September. I completely fell apart. I was falling apart and my normal support systems were the ones who needed me to be strong for them. All summer long, I sat in this church, in these services and wept uncontrollably. I wept for myself, for the people I loved, and I wept because this was the only place in which I did not have to be strong for anyone else’s sake. This was the place in which I was surrounded by people who could be strong for me. And you were. You hugged me and let me cry without judgement, and you held me in your strength when I could not find my own. This congregation and its unyielding love pretty much single-handedly provided the strength I needed to crawl out of that crippling depression.

Finally, over just the last 6 months, I have not only been able to contribute most weeks to the offertory, but I have also been sending a small check every two weeks when I get my paycheck. While I am probably not up to my recommended giving level, I am steadily working toward that, and I am hoping to get to it in the next financial year. Right now, it has been a huge step for me to be able to give consistently to a community that has stood by me through crippling poverty, career success, buying my first home, awful depression, and many other huge experiences. I’m definitely going over my time at this point, and I’m not really sure how to close this whole thing up, but I want you all to know how much I truly appreciate you, and you bearing with me and supporting me through the times when I didn’t have a whole lot to offer. Thank you.

Greg and Jan Mulder

mulder-jana-gregGreg: I’m Greg Bedinger and, along with my wife Jan Mulder, am a relatively new member of Mountain Vista.
Twenty years ago we responded to a three-line invitation in the classifieds of our local weekly to visit a UU fellowship on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Jan was raised UU and was interested in giving this small group a try; for me it was much more a hesitant leap of faith to take this step.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we were warmly greeted and made to feel welcome. Jan had warned me that once we made it through the door, we would almost certainly become engaged. And so it was. We had found our community.

During our time there we found many ways to contribute to the life of the church, each serving on the Board, Committee on Ministry, and various Stewardship Campaigns. I also served 4 years as a Worship Associate, and Jan served on our Ministerial Search Committee.

Now, I can’t imagine my life without a UU community; leap of faith confirmed! Since arriving at Mountain Vista, we’ve been warmly welcomed, made new friends, and participated in community life opportunities like Cholla Chow Time, the Snowbird/Rainbird gatherings, and most recently, our first Finding Hearts group.

We’ve each volunteered to join the Stewardship Team this year, certainly because we enjoy the opportunity to meet other members and friends but, really, I’d say it’s mostly due to the welcoming energy we’ve experienced in the short time we’ve been attending. We recognize that this is one way we can support our community.

Jan: For many years, Greg and I have had a personal goal of pledging at, at least, the sustainer giving level, a sliding scale that reflects approximately 3-7% of adjusted income. This is the level Mountain Vista is asking us to strive for. This year, for us, that means pledging about 5%.

Contributing to Mountain Vista’s operating budget through the annual Stewardship Campaign is integral to our household budget.

Our pledge is a joyful “cost of living”, if you will, that allows us to contribute meaningfully in support of our beliefs and our community.

We sustain this pledge even as we contribute to other organizations we care about. However, Mountain Vista is unique in being central to our lives and, therefore, worthy of a deeper level of commitment.

This year, we have the opportunity to also participate in a once-in-a-generation capital campaign to invest in the future of this congregation.

Greg and I are making a financial commitment to Mountain Vista’s future that feels good to us. This is not an expense that we anticipated a couple of years ago but, by examining our priorities, we realize it’s doable. And, yes, we’re excited to have arrived at this place, Mountain Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation, at just the right time.

Barbara Gates

I am Barbara Gates, and I first walked through those doors at the back of this room in December, 2004.  From that first entrance until now, MVUU, then of a different name, has provided me first and foremost with community.  That very first day, after I stood up and said I had just bought a home in Sun City, I was greeted warmly by Ann Ellsworth and Adrian Korpel, who have remained fast friends.  That was the beginning.  It would be hard now to document how many others have become part of my church family here and among my most cherished friends over the past 12 years.

On the brink of retirement in 2004, I was ready to be a more active volunteer here than I had been able to be at my UU church in Newark, Delaware, when I was working full time at the University there.  That church is still a part of my life, it pays my UU dues, and it will remain close to my heart so long as I am able to return to Delaware for half a year.  But this church, too, is home, and one I have actually been better able to serve.

So just how?  First and foremost by serving as a Worship Associate for eight years under three ministers. I was attending one of my first Finding Heart groups when one of the members said I seemed qualified to be in front of the congregation.  Betty Miekle, your interviewer then, concurred, and that initiated my many years up here behind the pulpit, both as a WA and as a presenter.  I have given sermons on such topics as forgiveness and grace and wayfaring deeply.  I have also tried to reacquaint us with some of our heritage, addressing the lives and words of prominent Unitarians like Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson. I have remained a great fan of the Finding Heart groups and have co-led two of those.  I have also supported a number of the auction events, most recently star parties with Bonnie Grant Baird.  And I have been a member of the Tuesday afternoon book group for a number of years.

As a half-timer, I have two UU organizations to support financially and have tried to give equivalent pledges to both wonderful churches.  This has reduced by half my pledge here.  I am sorry about that, particularly during the several times when MVUU has called out for much-needed further contributions.  I have hoped that my service has in part compensated–with extra time, perhaps talent, buttressing my annual pledge amounts.  

I came to UUism most in love with the seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” I have tried throughout my life to give an equivalent amount of time and money to other organizations that promote that principle– time, like nursing injured and abandoned wild birds, and monetary contributions in amounts equivalent to my UU contributions.

Nevertheless, now more than ever I am fully aware that we here at MVUU need two very important kinds of support—loyalty, wherever we may be in the next several years while we are more homeless than we have been for some time, and monetary support to make our new home the best, most beautiful and useful structure it can be.  And that is why I am up here today.

Kathy Kouzmanoff and Bob Wallace


Hoping to inspire, Stewardship asked that we share our MVUU pledging motivation.

“Open Hearts Open Pocketbooks” seems to say it all.


MVUU is the first religious organization I’ve ever officially been a member of.

I grew up in a family that had no religious affiliation at all. So this type of commitment was a foreign concept to me.

But now I’ve reached a point in my life where death, and how to live well, are the most pressing issues. I’ve lost my parents and one of my best friends. I see that we each have to make the absolute most of what years, months, and days we have. To do this, I have to participate in a community whose members support each other in facing this challenge, in every part of their lives. For me, UU-ism and MVUU are this community.

Kathy:I’ve also taken a long time to 100% commit to an intentional religious community.  Community is demanding, but I need its kinship.  Real commitment, which happened about four years into my membership, is really transforming me.

I no longer have mental reservations about this being my tribe or about really living with an open, caring heart.  I am more transparent and less guarded, and nourished by sharing sacred space with you, personal intimacy and, yes, even joking around.

It seems to us that open pocketbook flows naturally from open heart.

Bob: The annual pledge that we make is in line with the national UU guidelines.    

Kathy:  Capital Campaign guidelines suggest we pledge four times our annual pledge.  We’re doing that, and more.

We used intuition to choose the amount, asking ourselves, what will make a real difference, and what can we afford to squeeze out of our budget?

Bob:  The amount we came up with is $60,000, or $20,000 a year for three years.

Kathy:  How?  It’s not in our regular budget.  So… if our investment returns are not good, and we feel the pinch, well, then, we’ll feel the pinch, and we’ll cut back across the board for a while.

Why?  We LOVE this community.  In the six plus years I’ve been a member, I’ve seen us grow, it seems a lot, more inspired, more loving, and well, more community.

We want to support building unto “seven generations,” as the saying goes.  We support a beautiful sanctuary, in a beautiful setting, for us, for our kids, an inspired ministry, adult education, the choir, and social outreach.

Bob: Like other people whose savings are mostly in the stock market, we’re aware that we can’t be sure about the future. So anxiety, even fear, plays a role.   But this is an important moment for MVUU and for our community. UU-ism has held up the values of equal respect for all—of love for our neighbors—since it was part of the anti slavery movement before the Civil War.

These values are more relevant than ever today. We are proud to help carry on this tradition, and we invite you all to be equally proud and to help us all, in every way you can, to move forward in this great task.

Jim Donnelly

This is the third Unitarian Church I’ve been mainly known as “Pam Donnelly’s husband”. Pam and I have been UUs for nearly 20 years, first in a large church in Denver, First Universalist, next in a smallish church in Corpus Christi, Texas and now here.

We are both lapsed Catholics and neither of us feel particularly scarred by those experiences. In fact we both miss the grandeur of Catholicism; the stained glass windows, the Gregorian chants, the incense and the sacraments. Our problem was that over time our faith just kept eroding until there was nothing left of it. If you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you have no business masquerading as a Christian.

As our kids got older we began to search for a church we could comfortably raise them in. After all, I told Pam, “we owe it to our kids to give them something to reject when they become teenagers”.

Turns out we picked the wrong faith, our kids loved going to church. They actually bugged us to go on the Sundays we felt too tired to make the trip. The benefits of a larger Church, First U in Denver had RE programs for over 50 kids. The OWLS (Our Whole Lives) class, for example addressed sexuality, both plumbing and spiritual, to 14 and 15 year olds. It was taught in the best tradition of liberal education. Give kids all the information and let them make the choices; they will usually make the right decisions. Our daughter is a graduate of CSU and she still says OWLs was the best class she ever took.

In short, Pam and I believe in liberal religion. There has to be somewhere where the agnostic or atheist can go and receive spiritual support. There has to be somewhere where those who believe in God, but are unsure as to His likeness can go and feel comfortable expressing his view. There has to be somewhere where a Buddhist leaning person can practice without feeling a need to conform to certain lifestyle choices.

That somewhere is right here. And if not here, I don’t know where. I believe we all have one thing in common. It’s a belief that life is more than just a slog. It has to have some meaning. This may not seem like much, but it is. It is what separates us from any other group.

Now, Tom told me to discuss donating to the Church, but I can’t, because I don’t do it myself.

You see, “donation” is defined as “a free contribution, a gift”. When we pledge, we really aren’t “giving” to the church, we are promising to pay for something that otherwise would be given to us absolutely free. Each week we park in a free parking lot and enter a building with no charge. We are entertained and inspired by professionally directed music without paying. We listen to the reflections of our Minister at no charge. (If you have ever done one of these 5 minute things, you get the feel of how much preparation goes into those 20 minute reflections.) If we have kids, our kids are at least babysat and hopefully taught spirituality, again, without a charge. We are provided with a wealth of activities and opportunities- Fun stuff like Mah Jongg, Bridge, hikes, dinners, movies; and serious stuff like adult religious education, Finding Heart Groups and Friday circles. All with no charge.

Most of us are old enough to know, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The electric bill must be paid. We must compensate our professionals fairly. A building doesn’t maintain itself, on and on.

How much are all of those things, plus the fellowship, worth to you? $10 week ($5 a person if you are a couple) is a pledge of $520 a year. $25 a week ($12.50 per person if you are a couple) is a pledge of $1300 a year. You get the idea.
We all know the UUA guidelines. I, of course, urge you to attempt to meet those suggestions. Because we are not like a movie theater that charges the same for each person. As a church and community we recognize that some can pay more than others and therefore need to shoulder more of the burden of the church so that all can be welcome. But even if you can’t follow the guidelines and some of you can’t, pledge something, if only a dollar a week. We are all “owners” of this church and we each need to take an ownership interest in it.

Katie Phares

Good Morning. I am Katie Phares. For those of you who don’t know me, I am married to Reverend Ron. Ron and I met at First UU Austin when he was in seminary. We got to know each other better when I volunteered to help teach the high school Religious Education class with him.

Now, I grew up in a religiously liberal household, whether my parents realized it at the time or not. In Murray, Kentucky, where I lived until I was eight, my parents, two sisters, and I attended the United Methodist Church.

However, my parents opted NOT to have their daughters baptized there because they found it important that the decision of dedicating our lives to Christianity be left up to us.

When my mom re-joined the military, we moved to Luke Air Force Base here in Arizona, and then later to Silver Spring, Maryland. And church was always a constant for us. I was an acolyte and very involved in youth groups.

When I was fifteen or so, I remember my parents telling me that it is important for me to find the religion and the truths that are right for me. They also affirmed that I can love whoever I want to love, and they will be supportive. Looking back, I like to think that my parents were always a little bit UU, they just didn’t know about it.

I think that this is true for many people. A common response to finding our faith tradition is, “Where have y’all been all my life?!” But tragically, Unitarian Universalism runs under most people’s radar. And I mean tragically. That we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people really does save lives and souls. That we affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning and that we do so by sourcing science!, poetry, myth, and the transcending wonder of nature feels like home, spiritual home, for many who do not have one.

Now, I consider myself an Evangelical Unitarian Universalist. Even the most casual acquaintances in my life usually get introduced to Unitarian Universalism at some point. I am always ready with my elevator speech- a quick few lines to open the door. I think that many UUs have an aversion to talking about our religion outside of our walls. But if not us, then who? How do we expect people to know we are here?

Because, this place is a spiritual home for me. It makes me feel a part of something bigger than myself. Connected. I love how challenging our faith tradition can be, because every day I can ask myself how I am working towards justice, equity, and compassion. My faith asks me to have an understanding that all of my choices have a continuous impact on the interconnected web of existence of which we are all a part. I am so grateful to have this spiritual home where I can come together with all of you and be challenged to live into my best self, and know that my daughters are being enriched, and supported, and empowered to do the same.

This is why I give of my time, talent, and treasure. In the past, I have had the privilege of co-leading the youth group, I get to sing in choir, and I am currently working on the chalice in every room project. Which, by the way, I am looking for one or two others to work with, so if you are interested, please talk to me after church.
Ron and I also help to financially support this congregation.

The UUA has a Fair Share Guideline which is very easy to access online and if you have not looked at it recently, I encourage you to check it out. It shows a sliding scale for the percent of income appropriate for four different levels of giving. Are you a supporter, sustainer, visionary, or transformer? Ron and I give at 4.5%. I am a student and Ron is our sole income, so our budget feels this. But we see it as part of our spiritual practice. And it feels good. Part of that practice for us is working toward the eventual goal of being transformers, giving 10% of our income to help support the mission of this congregation. Because I am so grateful to be here. That you are here, that we may be here for others still.  And we are on this journey together.

David Greene

My initial membership with a Unitarian Universalist congregation was in 1993, when I accepted a position at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. My son was entering the 10th grade and when I heard there was a fledgling UU group in the city, I hoped it might offer him, and me opportunities to meet people who might be more open to the attitudes and experiences of Southern California transplants. What we found there was a small, but active youth group and a congregation of about 60 friendly, interesting, fun loving and inquiring people who welcomed and embraced us immediately.

I soon realized that being “embraced” by a group of UUs also meant being involved so by the time I retired from the university in 2002, I had served two terms on the Board of the Ogden church, and participated in the search for their first called minister, with whom I later worked to develop and lead the first Worship Associates program at the church. That affiliation also involved serving as a delegate to approximately six UUA General Assemblies and participating in two separate land purchases as the congregation sought to build its first church building.

When you are an involved member of a UU congregation other interesting outside of church opportunities can arise. For example, the Ogden congregation had proudly become a Welcoming Congregation, and one of our members nominated me to serve on the Board of the Utah ACLU. During my tenure with the ACLU I had the opportunity to attend the ACLU national meeting in New York City and to march with the ACLU in the annual Pride Parade.

There are also opportunities to become involved in UUA activities. For example, I served as a proposal reviewer for the UU Funding Program and participated in a UUA Leader Development project. I also became a facilitator for the Beyond Categorical Thinking Program which offers training workshops for congregations in search for a minister.

It was at a General Assembly, that the minister of the Ogden Church, who knowing I was moving to Tucson,  introduced me to the person who was then minister at the UU Congregation in Northwest Tucson (now MVUU). That’s how I ended up here with you. But obviously I hadn’t learned my embracement lesson yet, and eventually I realized that I had served a total of four years on the MVUU Board, encouraged the development the Worship Associates program, and led a strategic planning process. And even when my mind was screaming; “ENOUGH ALREADY!” I served on the search committee for our new and current minister and now I am on the team that is searching for an architectural firm to design a new building that will match the dreams that our congregation has defined.

Now it may surprise you to know that I do not think of these experiences as a personal resume. All of this was, and is, a part of my spiritual journey. All of the experiences I have mentioned were guided by the UU principles that, to the best of my and others ability, we were attempting, in various ways, to practice in the real world. Those have been my attempts to practice what I say I believe and am committed to promote and support.  That’s why I’m still here; because I think it’s important. Even though I am not here every Sunday, I’m still here — close enough to hear the call, to find my way back, to reassure myself that MVUU is still here. Because it’s important.

Our mission is not just about ourselves, it’s about others. While we appreciate being welcomed, our mission is about welcoming others. As great as it feels to be cared for, our mission is about caring for others. As much as we may need to be inspired, our mission is about inspiring others. That’s why we encourage freedom of thought, respect differences, and celebrate diversity because when we do those things we promote a better life experience for ourselves and others. This mission is important.

In a recent Buddhist publication, the singer k.d.lang said: “There’s a river we need to cross in our spiritual lives and we need to get to the other side. We have a far better chance of getting across the river if we get in one boat, as opposed to straddling two or three.”

MVUU is the boat that accommodates our diversity of background, thought and belief. It’s important that we keep this boat afloat and continually renewed so that we can cross the immediate river and the many rivers we each will have to cross as we continue our personal journeys. We do this by supporting each other on our individual paths and, as we are able, by generously offering some time, whatever skills or talents we may have, and by providing consistent financial support to this congregation,

I do what I can in support of MVUU because I think that if I put what I say I believe, promote and support into practice, perhaps my life can, in some small way, contribute to making the world a better place for all living beings.

And that’s important.

John Clark

I’m involved in several activities at MVUU. Many of you know me as a Practice Associate; some of you know me as the leader of the Sunday Morning Book Group.  It’s the book group that captured me a couple of weeks after Meg Kidwell invited me to attend MVUU in the Fall of 2004.  About 80 books later I can say that the Book Group has been the single most important contributor to my intellectual growth in the past 12 years.  It takes us several weeks to read each book so we can discuss each chapter in depth.  We share views and ideas on big subjects like the history of Unitarian Universalism, the components of human personality, why there is something rather than nothing in the universe, how medicine can help us live better lives as we age, how mindfulness meditation changes us, why people have different values and currently how evangelical Christians learn to hear God talk to them.   I would never have confronted those and dozens of other topics on my own.

The choir was actually the first activity in which I participated at MVUU, but I had to give it up almost immediately because the early service we had in 2004, at which the choir sang, conflicted with the Book Group.  About 5 years ago when there was no conflict, I rejoined the choir to satisfy my musical spirit.

Serving as Worship Associate, now called Practice Associate, for nearly eight years has challenged and deepened my understanding and appreciation of worship as we conduct it here at MVUU.  I really hadn’t ever thought about what a worship service consisted of until Christiane Heyde invited me to be a Practice Associate eight years ago.  Since then, I’ve come to every service when I’m in town and have stayed awake through every Sermon and every Reflection so I can discuss them at the next Practice Associates meeting.  I’ve had fun working to make each service, for which I’m Practice Associate, have a continuity of message.  Now that my Practice Associate service is coming to an end in June with my retirement, I’ve had to find some other service to offer.

You can see my new service in the cartoon at the left of the slide; it’s as an unofficial fact-finder.  A few months back I started a column in the MVUU monthly Newsletter called fUUn Facts.  You can find each column in the menu at the upper left corner of the Newsletter.  Our Office Manager, Donna Pratt, usually provides a big green arrow to remind readers that there are many ancillary articles on MVUU life available just one click away.  So far I’ve explored the two ways by which the UUA assesses congregation size, how MVUU membership and attendance has risen and declined over the past nearly three decades and several other topics, including how generous we’ve become to our monthly charities in the past five years.  By the way, the number of UUs in this country has dropped in the past year from 152,000 to 150,000.

Given the important role MVUU has played in my life since I came here in 2004, I decided to support the capital campaign generously.  I’m not a member, so I didn’t vote to find a new site for MVUU, but I would have voted with the majority. I hope the new building has a comfortable room the Book Group can call home as long as this congregation exists.

Debbie and Jim Gessaman

Debbie: My parents grew up in blue-collar families where the men worked, one as a house carpenter and the other as a laborer at Minneapolis Moline. The men probably trained on the job. Their wives raised children and kept house.

Maybe that’s why Mom and Dad decided to provide more opportunity for their three children than they had, so they both worked long hours at basic jobs.  Mother was a waitress at a Jewish Country Club, with a catering business on the side; Dad was a timekeeper at Ford Motor in St. Paul.  Two salaries helped, along with their fix-it gene; thriftiness; modest investments; and saving for their “dream rambler” and college for us was a priority.

They were not church-goers, but they made sure we rode the bus to John Hus Presbyterian church, where we were christened, confirmed, and participated in youth group.

Over 40 years I’ve been a UU member in just three congregations:  as Membership chair in Fort Collins;  President and Vice-President of the Steering Committee that organized Cache Valley UU in Logan, UT, where I was also a paid RE Coordinator; MVUU Board Secretary for three years and on Membership for two years.  I’ve always sung in choirs.  In order to challenge and enhance myself at MVUU, I’ve moved into justice work with the JCC Steering group and CoW.  As a Humanist/Pagan, I exhibit high energy, enthusiastic support, and inspired giving, in concert with my husband, Jim.

MVUU offers me the most meaningful opportunities I’ve known in community with stimulating UUs—more deep meaning in Sunday Services; more inspirational and thought-provoking sermons/reflections; more beautiful music; and more meaning with Finding Heart and the best, free adult education courses in Tucson.

Imagine what we can build on new land:  a building with windows to the sky and sun; and doors open so wide that we’ll move “outside our walls” to welcome all who share our principles.  I expect our congregation to mature fully, realizing our vision to ”transform ourselves and our world through love, justice, and peace”!

Jim: Since 1996 I have been a UU, 11 years in a fellowship started by Debbie and others in Logan, UT and now have been an MVUU member for nine years.  At MVUU, I have been Buildings and Grounds chair for more than 3 ½ years, a niche that I have thoroughly enjoyed, and before that I was on the Board of Trustees and Stewardship chair for 2 years each.

Because I am a volunteer service junkie, MVUU has enhanced my life by giving me an opportunity to do big and small Buildings and Grounds projects almost every week of the year. I am grateful for the time spent working with others on these projects; their dedication, enthusiasm, and humor help make my day.  My rewards come from seeing weekly the many Buildings and Grounds projects that have helped maintain and beautify the infrastructure of the MVUU property and enhance its safety and security.

We annually give about five percent of our Gross Income to MVUU by transferring stocks into the MVUU Scottrade account, eliminating withdrawal taxes on our donation.  Every year, we increase our annual pledge by about 4%.  We give another four percent of Gross Income to other non-profits, including UU affiliates such as Guest at your Table, UU Service Committee, and to our Cache Valley UU church in Logan.  To “stretch our giving” for the MVUU Capital campaign over the next three years, we plan to double our giving per year to MVUU, a commitment to the Capital campaign of about three times our annual pledge. To meet this commitment, we plan to reduce giving to other non-profits for three years and, also, dip into our savings.

Tina Zayhowski

I was born in Queens, New York around the beginning of World War 2. My Dad, who had migrated to Brooklyn with his parents during Germany’s severe depression in the 20’s, had been raised Catholic. He and my grandparents were very angry with the Catholic Church demanding money while they were struggling to put food on the table. Needless to say, My Dad never saw religion as something one needed in life. The only time I saw my Dad grace the inside of a church was when I was married in a Lutheran Church in 1963.

My Mom, born in the Bronx, lost her father in an auto accident when she was 10. She had to quit school when she was 16 to support my grandmother. There seemed to have been some sporadic connection with the Episcopal Church on my Mom’s side of the family.

My parents separated when I was 7.

Mom always read books, so we spent lots of time in the local library. She had become part of a book club and most of the book club members belonged to the Hollis, Queens UU Fellowship. I clearly remember when I was 10 and Mom passed her GED exam with flying colors. At the time, I could not understand why this was so important to her.  

I eventually developed a very strong interest in education. Fortunately, I had wonderful high school teachers, especially math teachers. Through the Grace of God and the will to tackle the requirements to get certified in teaching, then counseling and then finally administration, I was happy to take on a variety of fascinating roles in large busy high schools.

I first visited MVUU in March of 2013, and immediately felt comfortable with the congregation. I enjoyed Ron’s sermons that really made me think about the choices we make in life.

That spring my husband, John, suffered a mild stroke. As John’s health rapidly deteriorated, we learned that he had brain cancer. All my energy went into his care and well being. I remember how much I wanted to visit MVUU and listen to Ron but I had to be on duty 24/7. I was exhausted and grieving. John passed comfortably, under the super care of our family and hospice, on March 22, 2014 and my life changed dramatically.

For the very first time in 52 years, I had no responsibilities other than Teddy, our precious kitty. So I returned to church on a regular basis and, still in a sad fog, signed up to attend a membership class and joined MVUU in May of 2014.

While at the membership meeting I first heard a gentle but obviously necessary explanation from Tom Bunch regarding financial stewardship. I was somewhat prepared and willingly pledged an amount that, as Ron would say,”hurts but not too much”.

I eventually joined the Firewalkers, the Finance Committee and then the Stewardship Committee. I have found the Heart to Heart groups a great way to connect with members. Also the meditation classes I attended were very rewarding. I’ve come to know some members of congregation by gathering checks for the Arizona Tax Credit Program for two schools in the Flowing Wells School District.

After reading a book entitled “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate”, I’ve gained a clearer understanding of Financial Stewardship and increased my pledge 10% this year. I also felt comfortable making a donation to our Capital Fund.

Recently I had to face some decisions about moving to Plano, Texas where my kids and grandkids now live. Being involved with MVUU has a lot to do with why I’m here in Tucson and now have no plans to move. You are a kind, giving and very thoughtful congregation.

(Editor’s note: some time after this testimonial our dear friend, Tina, chose to move to Texas. We miss her and wish her well.)