Significant Events in the Life of Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church

Prepared by Nancy Harrison, who welcomes corrections

This chronology mentions only major events, and names only a few of the many people who have made the church what it is. Some of their names are here.

More personal, beautifully written histories have been published: “An Ordinary Miracle,” by Neil Chetnik, written for the occasion of the church’s 35th anniversary in 1989 and “The Miracle Continues,” by Glen Jacob and Bob Meyerson, written for the 50th anniversary in 2004. They include warmly personal memories, and give due recognition to many more church members who contributed much of their lives (and money) to the church’s founding and nurturing. Photographed copies of those books are available here. A few precious original copies are available in the church office, by request.

Material through 2004 was taken primarily from those publications. Material for the more recent years was taken from various documents, primarily annual reports.

The Church’s Birth and Early Childhood

1954: On June 21, a group of 18 people, almost all of them young members of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, met in a living room in San Leandro. Tired of driving to Oakland, and outraged that the Oakland church leaders had signed a McCarthy-inspired loyalty oath in order to maintain tax exempt status, they decided to start a new Unitarian church. In short order they formed a Board of Trustees, wrote the first set of Bylaws (two pages long), doubled their numbers, started a church school for about a dozen children, and chose the name “Starr King Unitarian Fellowship” for the church.

Some founders: Gil, Ruth, Tom and Stanley Weiner; Marian, Bill, Jill, Judy,Mina and Steven Balche ?); Ray and Betty Busch; Jack, Cathy, and Johhny Dye; Edith Argento
Members of the Oakland Church in 1954, including these Starr King Fellowship founders: Gil, Ruth, Tom and Stanley Weiner; Marian, Bill, Jill, Judy, Mina and Steven Balche; Ray and Betty Busch; Jack, Cathy, and Johhny Dye; Edith Argento

On November 7, the congregation held its first Sunday service  in what was then the banquet room of the Cathay House Chinese Restaurant, at 20710 Rutledge Rd, in San Leandro. Like everything else in the church, Sunday services were mostly do-it-yourself, sometimes using sermons written by Unitarian ministers from around the country presented by congregants, guest ministers, and seminary students. Church life was very free and easy, with much of the meager budget coming from wine tastings.

Pioneers who joined before 1960: Renata Ornea, Bryne Golec, Margaret Bried, Cathy Dye, Claus Bried, Art Emmes, Phyllis Perry
Pioneers who joined before 1960: Renata Ornea, Bryne Golec, Margaret Bried, Cathy Dye, Clem Bried, Art Emmes, Phyllis Perry
Founders photographed in 1969. Nate Thornton, Rose Paine, Jean and Bill Gaylord, Helen and Wink Smith
More pioneers: Nate Thornton, Rose Paine, Jean and Bill Gaylord, Helen and Wink Smith

1955: Sundays services were moved to the Hill and Valley Club (originally called  Woman’s City Club) at 1808 B. St., Hayward.

1958: Sunday services were moved to what was then Founder’s Loan Association Bank at 1151 A St., Hayward.

1960: The number of member families topped 100 for the first time, due partly to vigorous efforts to get mentions in the local newspapers. Sunday services were held at what was then a Seventh Day Adventist Church at 964 Blossom Way, Hayward. The church school had almost 150 students. But volunteer burnout dictated that change was needed. A Forward Planning Committee was formed, and recommended the hiring of a minister. The congregation was surveyed, and 39 of 70 respondents were in favor, so the first ministerial search was begun. In that year the annual budget was $5000.

Growing Up

IMG_80041961: It was agreed to offer a new minister a salary of $8000, much of it to be subsidized by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The congregation made an offer which was accepted, but the candidate withdrew his acceptance shortly before arriving. Charles Blackburn, age 29, a just-ordained minister from Starr King School of the Ministry, sought the post and was hastily selected. He brought a more traditional approach to the pulpit.

1962: Sundays services were moved back to the Hill and Valley Club at 1808 B. St., Hayward.

1963: The church officially joined the Unitarian Universalist Association, and hired its first paid church school director, Marilyn Cope. During her tenure the school offered 10 classes each week, from nursery care to classes for teenagers. She had 18 volunteers teaching classes. During the following years, some church school directors were paid, others not. Some were professionally prepared for the position, and others were willing volunteers. For many years a great deal of work was also done by “Co-ordinators.”

IMG_80031964: The church had grown to 189 members, and had a social action committee, an adult education program, a committee dedicated to finding a permanent home for the church, and a budget of $12,000. Reverend Blackburn decided that his real calling was in the south, so he resigned and moved to Alabama in June. Over the Summer, another search committee brought John Evans, a seasoned 47-year-old minister. He held strongly liberal, brutally pessimistic political views which he frequently brought into the pulpit.

1965: An outside business, Berg’s Nursery, was paid to provide Sunday care for the 21 nursery and kindergarten children. In addition, about 70 volunteers assisted with Religious Education classes for children and youths over the course of a year.

1966: The owner of a nursery at 22577 Bayview Avenue in Hayward offered the property to the church at “a good price,” but said he needed a down payment of $5000 immediately. The church Treasurer wrote him a check without approval, which caused some turmoil, but ultimately the purchase was approved unanimously. The total purchase price was $30,000. The property included an older building almost suitable for an office. Planning began to build a sanctuary.

1968: The congregation reached agreement on the design of the new sanctuary and financial arrangements. Constrained by finances, they chose a 36 x 72 utility building design. The shell was completed by a construction company, and volunteers completed the rest of the work. It cost $29,000, financed by a loan, with a dozen congregation members putting up $1000 each as collateral. They all eventually got their money back.

1969: Reverend Evans led a dedication ceremony for the new, bare bones, uninsulated sanctuary on November 7, exactly 15 years after the first Sunday service.IMG_8008

Jon Dobrer, a first year student at Starr King School of the Ministry, served as Intern. He was 24, had never been to a Unitarian service until he came to Starr King church, and had been a stand up comedian.


1970: Reverend Evans decided to move on. During his tenure, the church had fractured over differing views concerning resolutions about the Vietnam War and civil rights. Enrollment in the church school dwindled, and some members left in protest. Remaining members stayed together partly through social activities such as bridge clubs, book readings, and music groups, and also because of the strong focus on creating a permanent home for the church.

IMG_8005Jon Dobrer was selected to serve as minister even though he had not yet completed his education, much less been ordained.

1971: Jon Dobrer was ordained at Starr King church, and brought healing with him, emphasizing the role of the church as a social and family organization. Some members returned, as did some good feelings. Unfortunately, finances began to be a serious problem. Pledges came in at $19,000, while the budget was $23,000. This pattern continued for several years. Moreover the church seemed to lose its sense of mission.

1972: Funds were allocated for Ornea Cottage, to serve the programs for children and youths.

1974: Reverend Dobrer moved on, and the church was without a minister for a year. Church attendance declined, Board meetings became combative. Eventually it was decided to hire a part-time minister.


IMG_80061975: Wayne Arnason, 25, a lifelong Unitarian and recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, was selected. Even before he arrived, pledges met the budget for the first time in several years . He brought new members along with him, along with an emphasis on theism, music, dancing, and social action. The church joined South Hayward Parish, a coalition of congregations providing a variety of social and educational services in the South Hayward community, and also began working toward sexual and gender equality both in and out of the church.

1977: Volunteers created the Memorial and Endowment Fund, with the use of the interest income limited to repair and improvement to the church property. The church never uses people the principal. Members are encouraged to leave money to the church as memorial donations or endowment during life.

1979: Reverend Arnason announced that he was ready to move on, and after a one-year search Mark Belletini, age 30, another recent graduate from Starr King School for the Ministry, was selected. The fact that he was the first openly homosexual minister in the Unitarian Universalist church raised eyebrows, but turned out to present no problem.


IMG_80071985: Reverend Mark threw himself into his work for the church. He was greatly beloved, and the congregation basked in the warmth of his personality. His sermons were thoughtful, informative, and always connected to events of personal relevance. Under his leadership, the church began to examine and celebrate its religious roots for the first time, and to embrace the rituals of many religions. The church joined the sanctuary movement, expressing willingness to provide sanctuary for people escaping violence in Central America.

1986: The church joined with about 30 other churches and nonprofit organizations to found FESCO, the Family Emergency Shelter Coalition that serves homeless families in Southern Alameda County. A major revision of the Bylaws was undertaken. One significant change was reducing the number of Board Members from 15 to 10.

Middle Age

1987: The church was doing well financially, reporting a budget of $48,658. Volunteers improved the grounds, planting new gardens, built closets and shelves in the library, remodeled the kitchen, and painted Ornea Cottage. Complete “expense and revenue” double entry books were used for the first time, with a “computerized set.” But although membership had recovered, there was no growth, and little turnover in leadership. Reverend Mark began the five year process of working on the new hymnal. He also said he thought the church was stagnating, and initiated a period of self-study and long-range planning.

1989: To celebrate the church’s 35th anniversary, Neil Chetnik published An Ordinary Miracle, a history of the church. It listed 131 members and 41 young people. Service Auctions were introduced as major fundraisers. Members offer their services, which have included babysitting, transportation to and from the airport, gourmet meals, dance lessons, painting rooms, vacation packages, and many other things, and other members bid for a service. All proceeds go to the church.

1991: The Annual Report mentioned pledges of $57,000. The Long Range Planning Committee reported on the feasibility of building a new sanctuary building. These plans were later set aside as financially unrealistic. The church obtained its first copier.

1993: Starr King church helped birth the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Church in Fremont.

1995: A resolution was adopted changing the name of the church to Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church.

1998: Reverend Mark’s reputation had grown within the denomination, and invitations to preach at other congregations across the United States and in Europe were common. Unfortunately, neither the church membership nor his salary had grown commensurately. Moreover, the AIDS epidemic had cost Reverend Mark many friends, and he lost to old age many members of the congregation who had hired him and whom he had come to love. After 18 years, he felt he needed a change, so he sought and found a new church home.

David McFarlandAfter an emotional sendoff, the church began a year with an interim minister, David McFarland, who took on the unlovable but necessary task of “shaking things up.” He encouraged the congregation members to mourn the loss of their much loved minister, changed the seating in the sanctuary, and introduced a children’s story time into the Sunday service. The search for a new settled minister proceeded. Funds from the proceeds of the Memorial and Endowment fund paid to replace the grassy (but often muddy) parking area with a paved parking lot, an entrance gate and new entry sign.


Rev. Katie Kandarian-Morris1999: The congregation selected Reverend Katie Kandarian, a married life-long Unitarian with two children, to be the new settled minister. Reverend Katie was attractive to the church partly because of her sense of humor and her love of music.  She was a talented performer and socially conscious leader. Her Sunday services were airily thematic, punctuated with humor. She conducted weddings, memorial services, and other ceremonies with dignity. More self-protective than Reverend Mark had been, she kept her personal life outside the church. She was ambitious for the church, and added a second Sunday service.

2000: Reverend Katie quickly strengthened the church’s relationship with South Hayward Parish and FESCO, and moved the church to become more involved with social issues such as the “No Room for Racism” program in Hayward. She and an Intern, Jeff Lambkin, were instrumental in organizing the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day march.

2001: Many new social activities began to fill the calendar: picnics, parties, caroling, improvisational theater, hikes. Forty-five children were enrolled in seven levels of Religious Education. A Growth Management Task Force began work on a strategic plan to grow the church to mid-size. Major grounds enhancement began.

2002: The church approved a Mission Statement, obtained an audio system, and developed email capabilities, internet access, and created a website. Cottages and the tool shed were added.

2003: Volunteers made major improvements on the grounds, removing weeds and bamboo from the hillside, planting flowers and herbs, and constructing a patio. A benefactor purchased new chairs for the sanctuary. Other volunteers insulated one wall of the sanctuary and introduced Mystery Dinners to raise funds. The congregation went through the effort necessary to become a Welcoming Congregation, that is officially welcoming to all people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Church members began to assist at the annual Gay Prom held at the Hayward City Hall.  Forty children enrolled in Religious Education courses, in five different classes. The Membership Committee initiated a process for removing inactive members from the Membership Roster, and membership declined from 168 to 156. Pledge commitments were $104,000.

Getting Down to Business

2004: The church celebrated its 50th anniversary. Glen Jacob and Bob Meyerson wrote and published The Miracle Continues, a history of the church from 1989 until 2004. Jeff Lambkin’s ordination occurred. The church members committed to moving toward paying all church employees a salary recommended under the guidelines of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

2006: The Buildings Committee reported that Unitarian House, the old office building, was in dire need of repairs. Among the problems was an inadequate foundation.

2007: An ad hoc group looked into replacing Unitarian House, but it became apparent that doing so would cost more than the available funds. A committee formed to consider alternatives and look into obtaining outside financing. They recommended building an addition to the existing sanctuary to include a new office.

2008: The church’s policies and procedures had multiplied over the years without much order, so volunteers consolidated them into a single manual. The church committed to becoming a certified Green Sanctuary, and moved toward increasing the church’s green practices. Volunteers replaced water-intensive plants and installed drip lines and a compost bin. Pledge commitments were $126,000. Delivery of the church newsletter, The Flaming Chalice, mostly migrated from snail mail to e-mail. Podcasts of Sunday sermons were initiated. After much discussion, the congregation agreed on plans for the building addition, to include a new office complex, Fellowship Hall, restrooms, expanded kitchen, and entryway.

2009: The congregation voted to eliminate the second Sunday service. The Religious Education Committee changed “Religious Education” to “Religious Exploration.” The Membership Roster included 122 individuals. The Treasurer outsourced Payroll services. The Board of Trustees attempted to update the work agreements of all paid staff.  The Building Committee obtained permits for the church addition, and arranged financing of about $234,000 from a combination of proceeds from the Memorial and Endowment Fund and personal loans to the church, to be repaid from future interest from the Endowment Fund. They selected a contractor, and major construction was completed in November. Reverend Katie re-married, adding “Morris” to her name.

2010: Reverend Katie officiated over the building rededication. Everyone was grateful. Pledge commitments were a little under $127,000. The Membership Roster included 132 individuals. The congregation celebrated Reverend Katie’s first 10 years serving the church.

2011: Through a combination of writing grants, creative financing, personal contributions, and labor, volunteers provided a new sound system and cabinet; energy efficient windows in the sanctuary; insulation, drywall, and paint throughout the sanctuary; and new carpeting. Other volunteers relocated the children’s playground to the patio south of the sanctuary. The new Communications Committee updated the church logo, moved the website to a new platform, brought to the church an online email management service and Facebook, and moved the church Policies and Procedures and official Minutes to online storage from which they are linked to this website. Thanks to several years of work by still other volunteers, the church became a certified Green Sanctuary and registered as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Unitarian House was demolished and many old records and keepsakes discarded, but the arbor supporting the much loved wisteria was saved.

2012: Having forgotten the 1995 resolution, the church again voted to change its name to Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church, and this time took the necessary steps with the Secretary of State to legalize the name change. A Board Manual was created to more fully describe the responsibilities of the members of the Board of Trustees, removing the detailed job descriptions from the Bylaws. Podcasts of services were made available via the church website. An online discussion board, StarrKingSPARK, was made available to church members.

2013: In place of a previous 5 year vision statement, the church adopted a document named “Our Commitment” which was intended to rationalize and focus our various activities, and highlight areas in need of greater emphasis. At the annual meeting, the congregation resolved to focus on leadership development and, once again, on membership growth.

2014: Reverend Katie announced her intention to move on after 15 years of service to the church, and departed at the beginning of summer. The children’s playground equipment was replaced, dedicated, and celebrated. A church database was added to maintain and make available information about church members, friends, and visitors. Pledges totaled about $140,000. In the autumn, the church began a two-year interim process under the warm and gentle leadership of Reverend Joy Atkinson, an experienced Interim Minister.


2015: In addition to performing normal ministerial duties, Reverend Joy helped us explore our present, celebrate our past, and look ahead to our future with confidence and vigor. A Ministerial Search Committee was elected. Several steps were taken to clarify the roles of the many people working for the church, both as employees and as volunteers. A new Personnel Committee created a Personnel Manual, along with job descriptions for all the church employees. We dedicated The Little Free Library. The purpose and responsibilities of every committee and group were put into writing and made available on this website, as were the responsibilities of group leaders and key group members. This online history was created. The congregation adopted a Resolution to Support the “Black Lives Matter” Movement.

Renewed Activism

2016: In response to local incidents of anti-Muslim activity, we joined the newly invigorated Eden Area Interfaith Alliance (EAIC). We moved to a new, UUA-provided web platform. A new Safety Subcommittee within was formed within the Pastoral Care Committee to focus on security, safety, and emergency training. The Doug Sprague Memorial Library was established, and Doug’s name was added to the Little Library to honor his many contributions to the church. The name of the Memorial and Endowment Fund was changed to add the name of Bill Schwab to honor the work he did in establishing and growing the fund.
IMG_7977Most exciting, the Rev. Dr. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa began serving as our minister in September, bringing new energy, ideas, emotion, and goals, along with her mother, Lily. She added some Latin-American elements to our services, and brought a wealth of knowledge from her own life experiences. The many people who attended her impromptu service after Donald Trump became the President-Elect won’t soon forget the release of emotions allowed by that service.

2017: We had a joyous installation ceremony for Reverend Maria Cristina, attended by Mama Lily, Reverend Maria Cristina’s son, along with many friends and members of the clergy and our congregation. It featured Aztec dancers, the Rainbow Chorus of San Jose, and a drum blessing.

2018: Normal church activities continued, but religion was in many ways overshadowed by national events. Members began attending protests in greater numbers, the bravest among us even getting willingly arrested while showing support for poor and oppressed people and our life-sustaining environment. Sadness was mixed with relief when Mama Lily surrendered to homesickness and decided to return to Chile, Ornea Cottage surrendered to mold, and FESCO surrendered its independence to merge with La Familia Counseling Services.