Sunday, March 26, 2023

Unitarian Church of Norfolk Relocates and Changes Name

After 46 years at their home in Norfolk on The Hague, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk (UCN) is relocating to 809 S. Military Highway in Virginia Beach and changing their name.  

“We have not only embraced a new location, but a new, more inclusive name that reaffirms our commitment to open our doors to those looking for liberal and loving fellowship,” said Anne Odell, the newly elected president of Coastal Virginia Unitarian Universalists (CVUU), their new moniker. 

Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a creed-free faith where individuals may search for their own spirituality, or as Odell explains it, one faith, many beliefs; their common goal – “to work together for a more peaceful, fair and free world.” CVUU members are a diverse group – some consider themselves Jewish, Buddhists, Pagans, atheists and Christians.

The home of the Unitarian Church of Norfolk for 46 years in The Hague. (Photo courtesy: Coastal Virginia Unitarian Universalists)

Sunday, July 1st was the last service for the UU congregation in their current facility, which has been their home since 1972. Long a fixture of the stately neighborhood on the inlet and nestled just across from the Chrysler Museum at 739 Yarmouth, UCN’s congregants found this last week in their familiar surroundings bittersweet. They held a special service which included a ritual of “Remembrance, Farewell and Thank You” for deceased UCN members, friends and UU ministers from 1972 through July 1, 2018.  July 8 will be the first service at the new building in Virginia Beach.   

“This place is filled with so many memories and milestones for our members. Many of them fell in love here, were married here, dedicated their children here, so this change is a hard one,” said Odell. “But the new space affords us so many opportunities and we are so excited to start our next chapter.” 

The decision to move had been in the making for many years. With more than 200 members and growing, the new space gives the church what they needed most – more room. The congregation’s abundant new home nearly doubles the size of their current one – going from 11,000 square feet to more than 20,000.  CVUU occupies 9 acres, 4 of which are wetlands. The new site sits along a finger of the Eastern branch of the Elizabeth River. It offers more parking and outdoor space for many congregational activities that couldn’t be held at 739 Yarmouth.   

“Parking was always a problem for us, but being able to have outdoor spaces to use, especially for our children, is a huge plus,” said Odell.  

The congregation purchased the office building in April of 2017 and spent the last 15 months completely renovating the space, including the partial removal of the second floor to accommodate the new sanctuary.  The total cost of the new building from cornerstone to completion will be $3.8 million. 

The congregation has stayed true to their goal to make the space green. Early on they started a “Green Initiative,” which raised $143,000 to make the new building environmentally sound. Features like high-performance windows and LED lighting are just a few of the projects paid for by contributions from environmentally conscious congregation members. “Our commitment to environmental issues—both in our building and in the world outside CVUU will continue,” said Odell.  

The church is striving to become a “River Star Home” – a pledge program of the Elizabeth River Project for everyone who lives in the Elizabeth River area. Members who take the pledge agree to help the non-profit restore the Elizabeth River to the highest practical level of environmental quality by making good on 7 promises, including not feeding geese and “only rain in the storm drain.”  CVUU also plans to join the Pearl Faith Community, a similar pledge-program of the Lynnhaven River Now non-profit, whose goal is to help people of faith recognize and fulfill their responsibility for the stewardship and protection of waterways in Hampton Roads. 

“Being good stewards of the environment is just one of many goals for CVUU, which has a rich history as an agent for social change in our community,’’ said Odell.  “We plan to continue our involvement in programs for the homeless and advocacy with our Virginia legislators. We will continue to stand up for inclusion of people of all races and sexual orientations.” 

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