Prairie Unitarian Universalist Society is a freethinking religious community in Madison Wisconsin. We aspire to be both open-hearted and open-minded. We welcome those who enter our doors with any combination of strengths and weaknesses, beliefs and doubts. Our children receive liberal religious education as we model values in our search for truth and meaning.
Prairie is a small, lay-led liberal congregation. The congregation is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association. We members hold differing religious beliefs, but our shared principles affirm the worth and dignity of all persons, the need for justice and compassion, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and a respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are
We are a Welcoming Congregation that opens our Sunday morning services with words similar to the following: “We welcome people of every ethnic and religious background, whatever your color, sexual orientation, or family structure.” For more on the history of our involvement in the Welcoming Congregation program, see our Archives.
Bond of Union
We, the members of Prairie, wish to associate ourselves together in a religious community which affirms that we share a common humanity, that we need one another, and that our futures are inescapably bound together. Together we would expand our intellectual horizons, enrich our sensory experiences, and deepen our emotional sensitivities. We would sharpen our ethical awareness and broaden our sense of social responsibility. We would stand tall in our quest for integrity of life, yet not at others’ expense. As the prairie stretches out until it becomes one with the sky, let us reach out to touch and be one with the natural world, and with one another.
Prairie UU Society Mission Statement
Adopted 9 April 2000
Prairie is a lay-led congregation with a diversity of philosophical and spiritual views. We aspire to be both open-hearted and open-minded. We reach out to those who enter our doors with their combination of
strengths and weaknesses, beliefs, and doubts, and who desire to learn and live by the Unitarian Universalist Principles.
With our small size and
We seek to learn with and from each other in an atmosphere that respects diverse ideas, lifestyles, cultures, and wisdom traditions. Our shared values include respect for all forms of life and stewardship of the environment. Helping our youth to understand and appreciate these values is part of our mission. We seek to promote dignity, worth, and justice for people worldwide by supporting individual and collective social action.
Our Vision of the Prairie Community
Adopted November 9, 2008
We support each other’s personal development and spiritual growth,
Our caring for each other is evident to all who enter our doors,
We act in the world to further social and environmental justice, and
Our society is recognized and respected in the wider community.
A Brief History of Our Congregation
Prairie Unitarian Universalist Society was established in 1967 as an offshoot of the First Unitarian Society (FUS) in an effort to relieve overcrowding in FUS’s religious education program. In 1966 a group of members of FUS had purchased a portion of a prairie area on Madison’s far west side as a potential location for a second Unitarian Universalist congregation, and it is from that piece of land that Prairie Society takes its name. That building site, however, was never used and is now split between Madison’s Raymond Ridge Park and the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Some 30 adults and 78 children began church school and discussion-type Sunday morning meetings on September 17, 1967, in space made available at Holy Name Seminary on High Point Road.
In the spring of the following year, temporary by-laws were drawn up, 41 people became charter members of the Prairie Society, and an executive board was elected.
During 1968-69, Prairie members numbering over 65 adults and 100 children continued to meet at the Seminary. The new group took advantage of the UUA’s (Unitarian Universalist Association) minister-on-loan program for a six week visit in the spring of 1969, hosting the colorful R. Lanier Clance and taking his advice to start a newsletter and to affiliate with the UUA as a Fellowship.
Prairie Society moved from the Seminary to the YWCA on the Square in downtown Madison in August of 1969 and then in the fall of 1970 Prairie arranged for a half-time student minister, Dave Meyer, from Meadville Lombard Seminary in Chicago. He worked with Prairie until the spring of 1972, introducing circle dinners, the symbol tree celebration, musical groups, and a play-readers group, which continue to enrich the congregation. Meanwhile, Prairie moved again, this time from the YWCA to the Portal-Foster Center on West Lawn Avenue in December 1971. In April 1972, facing financial reality and confident of its ability to carry on, Prairie voted for a system of lay ministers. This system engaged Prairie members and others from the wider community to lead Sunday services for the next 33 years.
In September 1978, Prairie Society moved to the Montessori School on Colby Street and remained there until the purchase of our own building at 2010 Whenona Drive in January 1980. That building was remodeled in 1988, and in 2019-2020 is undergoing further remodeling. In 2013 the parish purchased and remodeled the house next door at 2006 Whenona Drive. Since 2015 this house, officially named the Annex, has provided space for an office and meetings.
Our ministers, since we again began to work with professional clergy, have been Jody Whelden (quarter-time August 2005–June 2006), Ralph Tyksinski (quarter- to half-time November 2006–June 2010), Jane Esbensen (half-time August 2010-April 2011), and Sandra Ingham (half- to 60%-time September 2012–March 2019). Currently, 2020, Prairie is searching for a full-time minster.
Prairie’s first fall Prairie retreat took place in 1970 at Upham Woods (near Wisconsin Dells). We continued there until 1999 when we switched to Bethel Horizons (near Dodgeville) for this social and spiritual highlight of the year.
On September 17, 2017, Prairie celebrated its 50th anniversary with gala Saturday night and Sunday morning events. The History Committee completed a two-volume 50-year history over a four-year period, releasing the book on April 27, 2019. It joins the 1982 cookbook of member recipes, A Prairie Kitchen Companion, which was republished in a facsimile edition in 2016.