Church Updates


Board Update from Nicolet Lyon,
Board President

Runners talk about “hitting the wall,” the point at which they become so fatigued it feels like they can’t keep going. I suspect that our community, collectively, has hit the wall. The backdrop is a world that no longer even seems to have discernible news cycles – just a perpetual stream of reasons not to sleep soundly. I’m guessing that this might be your experience, too. We. Are. Tired.

And here come the holidays. Like so many other things this year, the holidays are going to be a strange one for many of us. As we forego travel and scale down our gatherings, we will likely have to grapple with a sense of loss, of feeling separated on a day we usually anticipate precisely because of the personal presence of loved ones. Nevertheless, I believe that this season can and will be rich with meaning, perhaps even more than in previous years. G.K. Chesterton wrote that the “critical thing” in life “is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

But is gratitude the antidote for exhaustion? Not exactly, but I think it can help. Fatigue often leads to frayed relationships, as we run short on patience, devote our limited energy to our own immediate needs, and struggle to invest the time and effort to understand (much less affirm) those around us. When we let someone know that we see and appreciate them, it not only recharges that person, it recharges us by reminding us that we’re part of a story bigger than ourselves, and we’re not on this journey alone.

At the Annual Meeting in June, the congregation approved an austere pandemic budget, with committee budgets greatly reduced and compensation for some staff significantly adjusted. The church applied for a PPP loan and we remain hopeful that it will be forgiven in part or in full as the new administration begins in late January.

The 2020 pledge campaign had been proceeding with excellent results and might have reached its goal had we not shut down so abruptly in March. A sizable group was able to contribute their pledges up front to assist in budgeting and the Board was very grateful. Not every hoped-for household was able to pledge this year, but most of those that did have been making steady payments, and we have received a number of generous gifts to the Minister’s Discretionary Fund, to help others in our church community.

In late summer we reinstated monthly Special Collections for our community justice partners, a ministry central to the congregation’s core identity. This fall, a generous anonymous donor stepped up to pay off the mortgage balance. Thanks to prudent financial management, the congregation had been steadily making payments and progress, but this gift lifted the burden of a monthly payment in a year when it truly matters.

Finally, I am proud to announce that the Financial Oversight Committee advised that we have the funds to re-instate full compensation for Lead Minister Victoria Safford for this fiscal year. Victoria led by example, taking a significant pay reduction, while also leading the charge in redesigning our whole concept of “church” in the COVID era. I am so grateful that church finances enable us to compensate Victoria for her extraordinary efforts.

As we head into budgeting for 2021-2022, the financial terrain remains uncertain, here as everywhere. We’ll continue with a flat-line budget, but with the hope of recasting it if we’re able to imagine gathering on-site again. Church staff are gathering a list of upgrades, improvements and equipment we would need to reopen safely (technology, PPE, air filters, screens, etc.). The church auction’s “Till We Meet Again” fund gathered over $16,000 for these anticipated costs and almost $6000 for  Black Lives UU, furthering our commitment to racial justice. The Auction itself, not including these special funds, raised over $16,000!

On-line attendance is strong on Sundays and for programming during the week – but it’s not in any way the same as in-person, on-site community. I am so grateful for our church’s strength and generosity during this time and I know we all look forward to services in our beautiful church building when it is safe to do so. I am overjoyed at the way our congregation has come together to continue our faith community in trying times and to support others.

My prayer for each of you is that, despite our fatigue and separation from loved ones, this season will be marked by gratitude and unmistakable reminders of the many ways in which you are a blessing to others.

– Nicolet Lyon, Board President


Board Update – 7/13/20

I am so pleased to announce in my first newsletter update as president of the board that WBUUC has been the recipient of a very generous anonymous gift that has allowed us to pay off the church building’s mortgage. As you may know from the budget presented at our annual meeting in June, the mortgage is the second biggest expense in our yearly budget after personnel. Understanding this, the member donors felt called to help ensure the future of this faith community. Their nearly $180,000 donation reduces our expenses by approximately $30,000 per year and makes it far more likely that we will be able to restore Victoria’s and other church employees’ salaries to previous levels.

This gift is beautifully Minnesotan; it is a practical way to support visionary values for a larger community. This gift and the gifts of many others, large and small, are sustaining WBUUC in these uncertain times. The vast majority of WBUUC’s budget covers the salaries and benefits of all the folks who make church work. Pledges are still vitally important for our programming and to support our talented ministers and staff as they reinvent “church” in the COVID-19 era. So many of you have stepped forward in generosity and, on behalf of the Board, the ministers, and staff, I extend my deepest gratitude for your belief in the life and vision of WBUUC.
– Nicolet Lyon, Board President


Dear Friends,

Since mid-March when we closed the building and moved church on-line, our lead staff and Board of Directors have adapted programs to serve our mission and our people as best we can through the pandemic.  I am inspired and humbled by the dedication and flexibility of our “essential ministry team” and by the readiness of other staff to step in as needed.

Here’s a summary of staffing changes discussed at the Annual Meeting on June 21, 2020.

With gratitude we have said farewell to two staff members who have left our team:

Betsy Bance resigned her position as Communications and Events Coordinator in February to take a new and exciting position elsewhere.  Her resignation preceded the pandemic.  We are not currently seeking to fill this position.

After many years of dedicated service, offering music carefully chosen and beautifully performed, Mary Duncan is retiring as part-time Pianist/Accompanist.

With reluctance, we are suspending the positions of Youth Choir Director (held by Russell Packard) and part-time Nursery/RE staff (Annika Johnson-Dupre, Britney Goetz-Smith, Britta Bjerke, Jenna Weber, Leah Stein, Marlee Van Ostrand, and Nikki Vang) pending resumption of regular programming.

Other positions will continue at full or partial capacity as we go forward with on-line programs and maintenance of our beloved church home. Benefits for all will continue.  With regret (and also hope to reverse these adjustments as funding allows), we are reducing the hours of our Assistant DRE and custodial staff, and cuts to ministry will range from 0%-15% for the three positions.

With gratitude and deep respect for the talent and commitment of our staff team,

Victoria Safford



Dear Friends,

So much has changed in our congregation since mid-March, when in response to the pandemic, we closed the building and moved the church on-line.  So much has changed in our world since late May, when in response to the murder of George Floyd, millions and millions of people, here and everywhere, have raised the call for justice.

Through all of this, on Sundays, our souls have been restored, our spirits renewed, our heavy hearts inspired, by music. Week after week, Carol Caouette has reminded us how to give voice to the spirit;  we’ve heard recordings from the choir, and on May 31 we saw and heard our beautiful choir again, singing “separately together” under the direction of Thaxter Cunio.  All of this is healing balm in a troubled time.

Even before the COVID pandemic, we knew changes were coming in our music program.  In January, Thaxter Cunio shared quietly with me his intention to retire in June 2020 (and his desire not to share the news until later in the spring).  Carol Caouette graciously agreed to consider shifting her role as “Principal Musician” to “Director of Music,” and together with Thaxter and two lay leaders, we made plans to share news of his departure with the choir and the congregation, as well as plans for an interim choral year.

Then came March, with all its changes, including the heartbreaking reality that choral singing cannot resume here for a long, long time.  The good news is that Thaxter has agreed to stay on, in a new, and smaller, role as Choral Director.  We are thrilled that he will continue to direct our splendid choir, producing digital anthems throughout the coming year, and working with Carol Caouette in her new role as Director of Music.  We look forward to expanding the musical offerings on Sundays, as time and Zoom allow.

Music soothes and saves our souls. Singing fills us with breath and beauty, literally inspiring our hope.  I am so grateful to Carol and Thaxter for offering this gift.

In closing, some words from Thaxter:  Immense thanks to the board of directors and staff leaders for all the work in making this happen. I look forward to working with the choir on exciting virtual ensemble music. So glad that I can be of service. In these hard times there will always be singing.

With gratitude to all,



Financial Update from Alex Bartlett, President, with Treasurer Jim Van Ostrand
and Development Committee Co-Chairs Dana Boyle and Klay Eckles


Here we are in interesting times.

In one month, on Sunday 21 June at 11:15 AM, we will meet with the goal of electing new leaders and approving an operating budget for the year ahead. Unlike any prior Annual Meeting of WBUUC, this gathering will be held in a video conference. The following is intended to familiarize you with the circumstances at hand and initiate a conversation now that may well see us improve our situation in the coming weeks.

While the numbers herein are uncertain, the commitment of your board and the dedication of our exceptional staff are assuredly set to the goal of carrying forward in the spirit of our church. For all the wants we might have of our culture and society, we continue to share in a WBUUC community that fosters growth and service. No matter your capacity to contribute financially, you are welcome and appreciated for the essential role you serve as a part of our beloved community.

We entered the pandemic in a strong financial position, headed for a surplus this budget year. Revenue has since dropped substantially and in current projections we will only break even through June. Based on these results we are uncertain of the prospects for next year’s pledge figures.

Our pledge campaign was a success stymied by circumstances beyond our control. We achieved roughly 80% of our goal in the early weeks of March with exceptionally strong participation. Alas, our total pledges have, understandably, fallen short of our aspirations. Furthermore, most of our pledges were made before a global sea change altered everyone’s economic course.

Of the nearly $850,000 in pledges made, we have been able to confirm approximately $250,000. The remaining $600,000 in pledges are uncertain, as we don’t know whether people will be in a position to fulfill the commitments they made in early March, during a very different economic time.

Other fundraising efforts are also affected by current circumstances. Modest savings from lower utility bills won’t be near be enough to offset the expected loss of revenue from events such as the annual Auction and Dining for Dollars during the coming year.

The budget now under development is compelled to account for these changes. While the board felt strongly that the sudden shutdown in March should not hit our staff unblunted, the presently expected shortfall is more than future program cuts can cover alone.

We do have the benefit of a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan to help us in the year ahead. As the board had already voted to maintain our staffing levels from April through the fiscal year-end, WBUUC was eligible for and ultimately received approval to obtain a $136,800 PPP loan.

The proceeds of the PPP loan will be applied toward payroll, utilities, and mortgage interest. We subsequently expect $120,000 of the loan will not need to be paid back under the terms of the loan’s forgiveness program. The board approved this action to help preserve jobs and safeguard the essential services of our church.

Despite the loan, reduced hours and fewer staff positions will be necessary in the year ahead. With program cuts in excess of $100,000 already planned, our budget model showing 21% reduced revenue is balanced with $144,319 in payroll cuts.

Members and friends with ability to do so have responded generously to the Board’s request to consider paying pledges early. In some households the loss of travel and recreational opportunities makes additional giving possible. In others, we know that some are losing jobs or earning less.

No matter your situation, the board appreciates knowing what changes you expect. Thank you to all who have reached out to update or affirm your pledge. If you are able to confirm your pledge, increase your pledge, or if you need to reduce your pledge, this information helps greatly with planning. If you’ve not yet made a pledge, it is not too late to do so! Please be in contact with us as you are able.  (Contact Operations Director Anna Gehres:

Our congregation is vital and strong. Our programs continue to inspire us to grow our souls and serve the world, and our online outreach is growing.  At the Annual Meeting in June, with the full support of our Lead Minister and Development Committee, the Board will present to you a budget that is prudent for these times.

Together we’ll adopt, as we must, a 12-month budget for our congregation. But your Board envisions that we will call a Congregational Meeting well before next year to continue sharing our progress and optimistic new program updates and to adjust the budget in positive ways, as we’re able, where financial resources now constrain us into cuts.

With gratitude to each of you,
Alex Bartlett, President,
with Jim Van Ostrand, Treasurer
and Development Committee Co-Chairs Dana Boyle and Klay Eckles

Please join Alex, Jim and Victoria for a Zoom Conversation about this financial update! We welcome – and need – your questions and responses.

Tuesday, May 26 | 7:00pm
Computer, tablet, or smartphone:
By phone: +1 312 626 6799 | Meeting: 997 1934 7976



Draw the Circle Wide and Keep the Circle Whole: Update from Alex Bartlett and Victoria Safford


Dear Friends,

It has been exactly two months since our decision, on March 13, to move the ministry and program of our church on-line in response to the pandemic. It seems like a lifetime ago, and it is an eye-blink. Here’s a planning update on where we are right now:

Our first work in March, even before shaping that first Sunday service, was to gather the entire congregation, more than 1000 households on the mailing list, into online circles of care, connected by email once a week in a network of trust and support. Some folks opted out, but more are joining every week, for connection and encouragement.

Online programs include Sunday services and Cyber Social Hour, Wednesday Soul Work, Ministry Drop-in’s, two Youth groups, Men’s groups and others, Children’s Chapels and a class for new members, various committee meetings, including frequent meetings of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Pastoral care from our ministers and Pastoral Care Companions continues, and community-wide projects such as hearts on the windows, prayer shawl deliveries and mask distribution, are strong. (Over 120 masks, hand-made and delivered here each week by 10 volunteer mask-makers, have flown from the box outside the front door.)

The WBUUC eNews goes out twice weekly with Zoom links and updates, as well as a Monday reading for centering and reflection, and a Thursday pastoral prayer. We are tracking attendance at all online gatherings, reaching out to dozens of new visitors, recording and analyzing the implications of WBUUC’s ever-expanding presence through Zoom services, Facebook posts, YouTube, and Instagram. In a new way, in this strange time, the church is actually growing.

The Social Action Committee will meet soon to review WBUUC’s key partnerships (with People Inc., Project Home, the North Star Drop-in Center, local food shelves, and Habitat, etc.) and launch new ways to support the urgent work of these agencies. We’re eager to enlist members in “UU The Vote,” a national initiative from the Unitarian Universalist Association to champion progressive values in the all-important November elections, and we’re deepening partnerships locally with MUUSJA (the Mn. Social Justice Alliance) and Isaiah-MN, advocating in the legislature to center the needs of the most vulnerable Minnesotans. Our support for our sanctuary family continues: they had been self-supporting in their St. Paul home, but with lost jobs our help is critical again.

Our makeshift Sunday services have been mostly well-received, and we’re grateful for your patience as we mount a steep learning curve with our laptops and old microphones, duct tape, shaky internet connections and Zoom’s miraculous (though often capricious) capacity. Pre-recorded chalice-lightings featuring children and families have been a welcome addition; later this month we’ll add a “This I Believe” Sunday and a digital choir anthem; in coming weeks we’ll branch out with more music.

All of this will deepen and continue going forward into summer and beyond.

Phase 2 – July and August 2020

Taking our cue from the Minnesota Department of Public Health, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, the CDC, and national coalitions of congregations (including the UUA), we are beginning to think about what practices and protocols would have to be in place here to consider any kind of small group gatherings on site. For now, it seems clear that the church building will remain closed through the end of August to all gatherings of any size.

We’ll expand our online programming to include more classes and group opportunities; our Transgender Inclusion Group, for example, will pilot the UUA’s “Transforming Hearts” curriculum, with an eye toward broader participation in the fall. We’ll reconfigure online ministry for Young Adults and possibly the Third Thursday group for older members, and develop theme-based online packets for families to share at home. We’re hoping to prepare and offer at least two new modules of “Wellspring” to offer in the fall.

Phase 3 – fall 2020 and beyond

Here, “planning” must give way to speculation, as none of us can know what’s coming next. We’ll continue to develop protocols that might allow for onsite small-group gatherings sometime in the fall. It is highly unlikely that Sunday services will resume in the fall.

The Board of Directors is planning now for significant budget reductions, beginning on July 1, based on anticipated pledge shortfalls and an arc of economic instability that could stretch over many months. Program budgets, staff hours, and some staff positions, will have to be reduced or cut (perhaps by as much as 25-30%).

Draw the Circle Wide, and Keep the Circle Whole

The losses are many and real, and the questions before us are painful: how can we be a church if we can’t be together? We’ll need to reimagine and forego the very things we cherish most: congregational and choral singing; shared meals; handshakes at the door and hugs in every hallway; passing the offering plate (or a candle or a tissue or a squirmy baby) from one hand to another in the sanctuary; the ways we literally caress the sick, the young, the old, the dying and each other, all the time.

The losses are many and real, some permanent, and some perhaps not. Some things will surely be restored and some new possibilities will blossom – but right now, we can’t know what or when or how.

Here’s what we know for sure:

White Bear UU Church is a vibrant, vital presence in the lives of hundreds of people – an ever expanding circle of large-hearted members and friends, youth, adults and children. As we expand our reach and our creative capacity, some of the shifts we’re making now to online programs will continue, even in the future when we can meet again on-site. This is a time of building and imagination, as well as a time of loss. Our over-lapping and interconnecting circles of community and care are strong and beautiful, holding us in love and hope, together while apart. Our leadership is strong, from the Board of Directors to committee chairs and so many volunteers; our core staff team is nimble, dedicated and resilient. Every day, we’re growing our souls in hope and serving our world in love.

On March 13, as everything was changing, we sent this message, which still stands:

In the coming days we’ll prove together the abundant health of this community, its compassion and its courage, the strength of the bonds that hold us all in love. We will draw the circle wide, and we will keep the circle while.

That is even more true now.

We welcome and need your questions and responses. Feel free to contact either of us by phone or email, or join us this coming Tuesday, May 19, from 7:00 -8:00 pm for Zoom conversation (

Next week, watch for an update on budget plans for 20-21, from our Treasurer, Jim Van Ostrand; Development co-chairs Dana Boyle and Klay Eckles, and Alex Bartlett.


In gratitude and hope,

Victoria Safford, Lead Minister

Alex Bartlett, President


Join us Tuesday, May 19, from 7:00 -8:00 pm
Zoom conversation with Alex Bartlett and Victoria Safford