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Testimonial – Rod Botts

Member at FUSM since 1961

Rod Botts

My wife, Joy, and I went to a Unitarian church for the first time in 1961. We were in our third year of marriage and thought we needed a church, one different from our Episcopalian and Presbyterian upbringings. 

That Sunday, in the Frank Lloyd Wright church in Madison, instead of reading a text from the bible as the source of his sermon, as we expected, the minister, Max Gabler, read a passage from New Yorker magazine, by James Baldwin. That article became Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time. As we left after the service, we looked at each other and agreed this is the kind of church for us. 

In the following years, whenever we moved for a new job, we immediately found and joined the Unitarian Church or Fellowship. We knew there would be the people who shared our values and interests, would respond to our curiosities and questions, and accept our skepticism and doubts. We found our best friends in the Carbondale and Pocatello Unitarian fellowships, and in the historic Racine church.  

When we moved from Racine to Milwaukee in 1988, we decided to try, of the three UU churches, the downtown church first. That Sunday, Drew Kennedy, the minister, spoke about the assumptions and beliefs of Humanism. As we left church, I said to Joy that he had described exactly my beliefs, and Joy noted  , in addition, that the beauty of its architecture matched her ideal of how a church inspires.  

That was it. We never considered the other two churches. Since then, we both have served on the board and various committees and committed gladly to the annual pledge drives. 

Drew retired in 2014, and in 2016 the board called Rev. Jennifer as our Senior Minister. Joy lay in skilled nursing, dying from Parkinsons and related dementia. I never told her about our new minister because she wouldn’t have understood and would have only become confused. Jennifer barely knew me, if at all, and Joy not at all. But late one afternoon, she appeared at the door to Joy’s room, come for a visit. After a few minutes, Rev. Jennifer and I went to a nearby sitting room, where we stayed for an hour as she listened to me talk. 

The day after Joy died, Rev. Dena came to may apartment to start planning for Joy’s memorial service. She stayed for four hours listening to me talk about Joy—whom she knew—and our 58 years of marriage. The next day, Dena came again for another four hours to make the specific plans for the service. I wanted a beautiful memorial for Joy, and many have said it was the most beautiful they had ever been to. 

I’m not particularly religious, nor spiritually inclined. I don’t know what it means to love a church. But my commitment to First Church is iron clad. It’s essential to my life. I hope in some small way I’m essential to its life. And so, I have made what I think is a generous pledge to forge its future. FUSM is also a beneficiary in my will. And I have made my annual pledge for 2023-24. I want First Church to be here to support you when you and all who follow you need the kind of support that only it can give.