President’s Letter

January, 2017

Even though this time of year is a busy one, the winter has a way of reminding us of the simple things that are most important – warmth, light, shelter, and fellowship. The church has been busy, too, providing those basics in many ways, whether it’s by providing shelter to homeless families, welcoming new members, putting on the RE holiday program, supporting worthy causes by sharing the plate, collecting mittens and gloves through the holiday store or, most important of all, opening our doors to the community every Sunday to provide challenging, thought-provoking, and inspirational services and beautiful music. It’s become even clearer to me over the past few months serving as co-president, that the simple collective act of this congregation keeping the doors of this church open, providing a place for anyone to hear thought-provoking, uplifting, encouraging and challenging messages, is the most important, and the most difficult, thing we do. It sounds simple, but this group of people, by coming together to “provide the light of religious freedom,” is doing something radical and essential. So, I want to thank you all for being here, for the work you do, in large and small ways, to keep this light shining in the winter and through the year.

As we move into the New Year, we continue the process of looking forward to the longer-term future of the church. Recognizing the importance of UCN in the community, we will work as a board and as a congregation to set goals for the church, and make plans to achieve them. Look for more congregational listening sessions, where you can provide your input on the course ahead. In addition, as part of the pledge drive, the board will be conducting a survey of the congregation, to learn about your priorities and aspirations for the church. The more input we get as a board, the better we can work to strengthen and grow the church.

Thank you again, and best wishes for a peaceful holiday.

Paul and Chuck


December, 2016

My thoughts these days revolve around Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They Are A Changing.”

Come gather around people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

And if your breath to you is worth saving

Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changing

The election season was perhaps the most divisive in our memory. People casting votes citing a myriad of deeply held beliefs, values, or perspectives have strained friendships, families, and communities. The platitudes Mr. Trump expressed during the election has most UUs deeply concerned about the safety and treatment of those of Muslim faith, immigrant status, and LGBTQ orientation, among others. We fear for the environment and the “web of life”. These concerns, and our emotions and reactions to the whole political season, are very real.

To compound these emotions, the election results show that a majority of voters in Ozaukee, Washington, and Sheboygan counties voted for Mr. Trump. And although many who voted for Mr. Trump do not condone his controversial statements and behaviors, the result nonetheless makes many of us feel isolated and alone.

But you are safe at UCN. Times like this show the importance of the UCN community – to provide a beacon of hope amid such divisiveness. We come together and support each other. We have, and will continue to provide sharing sessions about the election. We will continue to advocate and fight for the values embodied in our “7 principles”, and we will do what we can to help heal the deep divide.

From what I gathered, there are few religious communities in our area making such efforts. You may have friends or acquaintances who are going through similar emotions and lack a supporting community; please tell them they are welcome at UCN.

Times like this give me renewed energy to support and enhance UCN. I hope you feel this energy as well and will participate and help as much as you can. We will become a stronger community as a result.

The times are indeed a changing.



November, 2016

As I write this message, I’m on my deck looking at a honey locust tree in my backyard. It’s a mature tree, it’s probably been around for 50 or more years. To the squirrels and chipmunks that endlessly run up and down the tree it is an integral part of their world. To the robins that reside on our property, the tree’s branches are a nesting ground; a place to raise their young. To the woodpeckers, it is a source of food. As part of the larger environment, the tree is a carbon dioxide absorbing / oxygen producing machine. On hot summer days, my kids see the tree as a source of shade.  Sometimes I find solace in shape of the tree, mystified by its dendritic branches, rough bark, and fine leaves. Perhaps the future owners of the house will see the tree as simply as source of lumber. This honey locust is just a tree, but its importance and function can greatly differ depending on the viewer.  

Similarly our church can be viewed in many ways, with its function and value varying among members. We are now at a critical point in our journey where we need to start making decisions that will, ideally, encompass how we all see UCN now and how we envision the mission of UCN in the short-term and long-term future.

To do this we need everyone’s input. To this end, this month the leadership board will be holding small-group discussions. They will be on the following dates: Wednesday November 9 at 6:30pm, Sunday November 13 and Sunday November 20 after services. In those discussions we will be collecting your thoughts regarding what aspects of UCN are important to you and what do you think UCN should be in the future.  We will also be rolling out an online survey, which will give the leadership board demographics and some quantitative information, from which to plan in the future. I ask that everyone participate in one of these sessions and participate in the upcoming online survey. We’re talking about the future of the church, a future we want you to be a part of!  



Summer, 2016

Dear UCN members and friends,

Thank you ALL for yesterday’s Annual Meeting – whether you were there in person or in spirit, it was gratifying to participate in a process so central to UU principles and to the functioning of UCN.  I realized later that in UCN we belong to a spiritual version of the living Co-Op I so wanted to join as an undergrad.  (Total and immediate parental veto on that idea…)

UCN is, in fact, a spiritual co-operative.  We depend on each other’s contributions and we look out for each other’s well-being.  Ours is a profoundly reciprocal community, and I think we can be very proud of that.

We move forward thanks to all of the committee work done this year, and we welcome the incoming leadership:

Co-presidents:  Paul Gasser & Chuck Winter

President-elect:  Ed Ahrenhoerster

Treasurer:  Bob Prestby

Financial Secretary:  John Hoff

Trustees (3 year terms):  Peter Blain, Amber Elsner-Miller, Joy Schroeder

Nominating Committee Members:  Jan Crosby, Jeanne Gurda, Ruth Duenk, Betsy Muellenbach


Outgoing trustees are Ruth Duenk, Rosa Gomez, and Jenny Elsner-Miller

Continuing trustees are Mark Ludwig, Stephanie Loehr, Karen Ringlien, Brain Monroe, Jackee Orozco and Katie Eagan-Bruhy


Janet Jensen (and on behalf of Jennifer Barton)



May, 2016

Dear UCN members and friends,

How ironic.  Last Thursday I was trying to get out of Madison (after a longer than expected meeting) in order to get to the UCN board meeting, when the isthmus was virtually shut down by protestors.  My first thought, and I shared this at the meeting, was that I was proud of student dissent and the legacy of campus protests, but that I didn’t know what it was about and I wished it could have been on a different day. I needed to get to the UCN meeting and prepare, among other things, to discuss UCN’s approach to the Black Lives Matter movement.  And – here’s the irony – that’s exactly what the demonstration was about.

The Daily Cardinal posted the following:

Hundreds of UW-Madison students and professors marched through the university Thursday, protesting the recent arrest of a black student and racist incidents on campus, and accusing UW officials of doing more to protect the institution’s image than they have to solve long-festering problems with its racial climate.

Up to 400 people gathered at the top of Bascom Hill at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, about the time one week earlier when a UW-Madison police officer entered a classroom to talk with Denzel McDonald, a senior who police say spray-painted several buildings with anti-racist messages. McDonald was later arrested on vandalism charges.

The arrest became another flashpoint for students and professors near the end of a semester in which the university was rocked by several high-profile, racially charged incidents.

Like their peers at colleges across the country, minority students at UW-Madison have pushed administrators in recent months for changes to improve their experiences on the predominantly white campus. They have also shared examples of racism they have encountered on social media under the hashtag #TheRealUW.

“How many times do we have to do this?” graduate student Michael Davis said at the start of the demonstration Thursday.

“The university wants us to believe that this is weird, it’s rare,” Davis said of racist incidents. “It’s been happening since the inception of UW-Madison.”

At Thursday’s protest, students taped a list of demands to the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the heart of campus, calling for McDonald not to face criminal charges, for the officers who arrested him to resign and for students and faculty to wield control over the UW Police Department’s hiring and firing decisions. The last demand echoes calls from local activists, some of whom helped organize Thursday’s protest, for community control over police in the city of Madison.

Students also marched down Bascom Hill behind a “Black Lives Matter” banner, occupied College Library for about 45 minutes and shut down several intersections before ending their demonstration at the spot on Library Mall where McDonald was arrested last week. Several wrote messages of support for McDonald in chalk on the sidewalk.

Some of the students held signs repeating a message McDonald is accused of writing on a university building: “Racizm in the air. Don’t breathe.”


I really thought, as a UW-Madison student in the 60s and 70s, that this whole racism ‘thing’ would be figured out and solved by now.  We were so sincere, so convinced we could do better than our parents and predecessors. Now I’m the oldster in this scenario, wrestling with what I woulda/coulda/shoulda done and what to do now.

I will start by sharing the UCN Board’s statement:  The Leadership Board of UCN supports the 2015 UUA General Assembly Action of Immediate Witness on “Black Lives Matter” and strongly encourages engagement in intentional learning spaces for improved cultural awareness. Pursuant to this, we encourage our congregation to take this challenge within our church, within the network of local UU churches, within our personal circles of acquaintance, and within the wider community.    

I will also share some information about my colleague of 30+ years, bassist Richard Davis (I don’t think related to Michael Davis, above).  Richard has been a moral “compass for the campus” and has dedicated much of his career and time and energy to confronting racism and diversity at UW-Madison and throughout the state and beyond.  He now spearheads the Madison Wisconsin Institute for Healing of Racism, Inc., the mission of which “is to raise consciousness about the history and pathology of racism and help heal racism in individuals, communities and institutions within the Greater Madison area and all over the US.”

We know we have much to learn, and we know there are many great teachers, Richard Davis and Venice Williams among them.


Thank you, all.


Janet Jensen


April, 2016

Dear UCN members and friends,

The Leadership Board meeting in March was powerful in several ways.  Accepting Deborah’s resignation as RE Director with deep regret, full understanding, and best wishes, we re-affirmed our commitment to the DRE position and the RE program.  At the April board meeting we will name a search committee, and would VERY much like to hear from anyone interested in serving.  Much of the work done on the 2015 search can be used again this time, thankfully!  We also need to fill the positions held by outgoing RE Committee Chairs Pat Flanagan & Betsy Muellenbach.

Outstanding pledges delay the planning processes for RE and for the coming year, and hence for end-of-year reporting.  We do VERY much understand the challenges, but we continue to hope they’ll all come in soon.

On behalf of the Social Justice Committee, co-chair Lucy Friedrichs presented multiple facets of the Black Lives Matter movement. These include websites and other information; information on the network known as Justice Builder Innovators, a national organization whose leadership includes Wisconsin UUs Mary Devitt and Ann Heidkamp; upcoming events; and a possible conceptualization of the movement for UCN consideration. The board was charged with studying all of the information prior to the next meeting, when discussion will continue.

Lucy’s presentation sent my thoughts back to the Social Justice Committee-led service in which Leigh and Scott Hofteizer read from an essay by Peggy McIntosh entitled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”  McIntosh’s words resonated deeply with me:  “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.  I decided to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life.  I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all of these factors are intricately intertwined.”  She then lists 50 conditions, many of which Leigh and Scott read.

From “I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me,” to “I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race,” to “I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection,” to “I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me” – these and the other 46 conditions listed began to bring me to a deeper understanding of ‘invisible’ and ‘systemic.’  I encourage looking at the entire list; I’m pretty sure that using ‘McIntosh’ and ‘knapsack’ as keywords worked.

Coincidentally, I heard a great “Precious Lives” segment on WUWM recently. I learned that The City of Milwaukee has a youth council, wherein young people ages 14 to ­18 are selected to represent each Aldermanic District.  Gun violence is one of the council’s top issues.  And recently, the council pushed forward a restorative justice effort to establish a youth court that represents an alternative to the usual courts and prison. Their aim is to provide peers a way to get back on the path to success, rather than continue on one that can lead to more crime, and even violence.  In this segment, two youth council members, president Kalan R. Haywood II and representative Isaac Hoeschen, talked about what they care about and why. Their wisdom and vision were, simply, amazing.

Grateful for the Kalans and the Isaacs and for all of you,

Janet Jensen, Co-President


March, 2016

Dear UCN members and friends,

This letter comes to you through the joint efforts of Jennifer Barton, Chuck Winter, Paul Gasser, and myself.  We call ourselves “the vice squad” – a sort of consortium of vice presidents – at any rate it’s catchier than calling ourselves the “co squad”!  We met recently in preparation for the Leadership Board meeting on Feb. 18, but also to share our thoughts about the coming months and year.  More on that as the spring progresses; what I really want to say is how much I admire them and the entire Leadership Board.

Together we look forward to pledge results that will continue the positive momentum of the current year. Thank you, thank you for your continued financial commitment to UCN.  With a solid financial base, we can focus on long-range planning and goal setting.    

But as crucial as financial support is, so too is service.  UCN committees bespeak UU values and principles – perhaps there’s one that really resonates with your priorities. The RE program, for example, needs readers, helpers, teachers and intergenerational support – and having children in the program is definitely NOT a pre-requisite!

And we need leaders – of committees and for elected positions.  If you might be interested, contact John Hoff – or me if that’s easier!


Janet Jensen, Co-President