Member Testimonials

Testimonials included in the service on March 26

More than fifty years ago, I walked in that door back there and have been coming here ever since. People nodded greetings and said hello, and no one seemed to care that I was wearing blue jeans. So I said, “This is an O.K. place for me. It looks a little like family.”

First thing that came to mind when writing this was all of the social programs and services where our church is alert to things that need attention. Maybe some of you remember the first AMOS meetings. I went to a neighborhood coffee at Harriet and Dan Aten’s house. The AMOS project that first year was a skateboard park – and this year, it finally came to be! Elaine Imlau had a project with refugee women on Euclid, and last fall, she spearheaded an anti-racist project in Louisiana. We write letters to legislators and walk in Pride Parades. Our Sunday morning collection basket supports programs like El Exito, a scholarship program for Latinx students, and Let’s Talk, a conflict management program in Des Moines elementary schools which Ellen Taylor makes happen.

In these years here, I have had the opportunity to help in R.E. classes, first grade through adult. Then there was a landscaping committee with Pat Headley and Chuck Mertes with the challenge of the slope beyond the south door, which has now been beautifully taken care of. I was also on a committee with Jim Fox for social activities— there were some concerns that neither of us had signed up as official members.

For years, every two months, my hospitality group showed up with goodies. Birch could be depended on for cookies, and Jim Bush never forgot the cheese. Unity Circle always has a great potluck and diverse speakers once a month. Maryanne Sobreich almost won a jar of honey once. I’m always impressed when half of the audience for Progressive Voices Concerts is non-UUs.

I wouldn’t go to a church where I couldn’t be part of the music. We have wonderful music, thanks to Bruce and Karen and others before them. I am a lucky person to be involved thanks to those who bring me a stool to lean on.

I find this church to be like a family. A place of support where we can learn to know and care about each other. Small Group Ministry, originally for six months, yet some of us have been meeting for more than 25 years. Soul Matters, a safe place where we can think about our beliefs and values. And constant opportunities for learning about topics of interest to us and our church. And backup support, like your aunt, sister, cousin, neighbor, or brother, who will give a listen or a hug or a ride or check-in phone call. Or an invitation to a party. I remember some fine socials at Jane and Terry Swanson’s and appreciated being included. And last week, Bill Paxson went online and somehow found a projector I needed. (Thanks, Theresa.) At the beginning of Covid, Jude even hustled some toilet paper for me.

All of these things happen only when we are here, connecting, and are visibly present in this church. Like any family, we have reunions as such every Sunday morning. And do you notice how many cars are here sometimes Wednesday evenings? And the building is available for non-church events like Tai Chi, book groups, and celebrations. I smile when the guy for AA meetings comes in a little early and listens to bell practice.

All kinds of church people lead, clean up, build, and work on committees. But, like any family, this requires a center, a place, a church building and management. And money to “feed” the activities and to be healthy so we can reach out.

Once, a long time ago, I was invited to be part of the pledge campaign team— those who gave generously. I was puzzled because my contribution was what I thought I could do but was not impressive. I learned the majority of pledges were $100 or less! My, my, my… That won’t work today, not by a long shot. We, us, this family, need this church to be cared for and loved.

When asked to say a few words, I was not aware that this was for pledging. But as these words materialize, I realized how important it is to me— and bet, to you, that this church is here, working, and visible. To keep this happening, to keep the doors open and people coming in, put a few more zeroes on your pledge.

– Mary Hays


I am Crystal Loving, a pledged and contributing member of this church. I am a co-parent to two beautiful kids I work hard to keep connected to this church. I easily stay connected to this church, I readily walk through the doors, grab my name badge, say hello to a few others who are a few minutes late, and I take a seat in this church. I’ve experienced a few in the pulpit over the years, from our last two called ministers and our last two interim ministers, and as well all know, what’s going on in this church has been different during those times. But have they?

It’s still been us in this church, those of you that have been pledging members for many years, those of you who raised your family here or were raised here, and maybe some of you are newer members, finding a home for yourselves in this church. And so many in between, including those of us that often still sit in awe of this church. I find myself in the latter, mesmerized by those committed to this churches physical health, its spirtual health, its community health, your health, my health. This church has and is my refuge from the heavy weight of the outside world as just sitting in service in this church, knowing the love that surrounds me, even if the words of need don’t leave my mouth, I find it in this church. This church gives me a space to contribute my time and talent, I am currently on the Board of this church, and a leader in AMOS, serving this church for public change we all yearn for. I appreciate all you do for this church, it gives me the space to grow into myself, learn deeper love of the humans around me, love of myself, and honestly, this church is a second home.

So, many of you don’t need convincing on what this church means to you, to the people sitting around you, to those zooming in. You each have your story of this church in your life, past, present, and as we all grow into the future of this church together. Some of you may still be figuring it out, this church grows in me every day. But today is a big day, today we launch the stewardship campaign for this next church year. We are growing out of the impacts of COVID, finding ourselves in the last year of interim ministry and readying ourselves for another two years of an interim. But, this church is more than who is in the pulpit. Honestly, we’ve probably learned more about ourselves in the last few years than ever. But a few things stay constant, and that’s the need to plan for the future of this church.

Today you’ll get your pledge cards, I ask that you really think about what this church means to you, what it’s future means to you, and how you give to this church. I thank you for what you can give, you are supporting my health in so many ways. The Board has spent a lot of time looking at budget for next year, working with Stewardship Team (thank you) on a target. It’s been with so much thought that we want to re-ignite community in this church. And that doesn’t happen without sustaining the church.

So, take your pledge card and give it some serious thought. Give generously. And, that card is important. I didn’t learn the importance of the pledge card return until my time on the board, I mean, how can we plan if we don’t know what we can expect? I thought I could just keep giving and that was enough! Thank you for being in this church, for being this church, for welcoming me to this church, and for financially supporting this church.

– Crystal Loving


Good morning, my friends! Over time I’ve talked to many people in this church who feel uncertain about what they are doing with their lives and how to make them more meaningful. They travel to exciting places, read great books, enjoy wonderful music, and eat well—yet they find something missing. I have been in their shoes. I know what it’s like to be uncertain about where I belong and how I see my life’s purpose. For me, that missing piece, that purpose, showed up right here in this church.

I can assure you that you don’t have to sign up to take on a kitchen remodeling project to find purpose here. For me, my purpose comes from responding to the church’s needs, finding what and how I can contribute, and showing up when needed.

For me, participation in small ways came first. I found endless ways to be engaged—big and small. But it was going the extra mile that gave me the feeling that I was truly committed. By going the extra mile I mean—showing up for church even though the minister is not here, because you want to support the speaker and those that produce the service; seeing the acorns out front and sweeping them up before the church service so no one will fall. It could mean submitting a REACH grant application for a project you really want to see accomplished or taking out the trash because it needs it. You could apply for the Board because you have certain skills that will be useful or you just care about the church. Going the extra mile means a higher level of commitment. That’s what called me to live out my values and gives me purpose. The reward is feeling like a true member of this community and that I’m doing something important with my life.

Another way I am involved is by making a significant pledge. We could not operate the church if people pledged but didn’t give service. Likewise, if everyone volunteered but didn’t commit their financial resources, we couldn’t stay in business. It takes both your commitment and your money to make a vibrant congregation.

I guarantee that if you look at what you can give and not focus just on what you’ll receive, in the end you’ll get way more than what you were looking for—maybe a purpose and a place to call home. I did and magically, my purpose showed up. Please join me—I’ll leave the light on.

– Ann Mowery


My name is Mike Merritt and I am Chair of your Stewardship team. I have just returned from a vacation trip and was looking forward to the joy of being in a familiar place. I enjoy traveling, but I also enjoy coming home.

I have a blue terrycloth robe that my wife bought for me over 30 years ago. It keeps me warm on winter days and it is one of my small comforts in life. When we moved here 3 years ago, I started hanging the robe by the shower on a hook installed by the builder. I did not have any say in where the hook was installed. I did not realize until I put the robe on for the first time in our new house, the robe was hanging over a hot air vent. There are few things nicer than a warm robe on a cold morning.

The robe represents my Unitarian Universalist community. It has been with me for about the same time as my involvement in our religion. I look as the hot air vent as representing this community Sally and I have found here. Just like I know that the hot air will not be there if I do not pay my utilities, I also know no religious community can survive on good will alone. It is through our unity and support of each other that our community survives and thrives. That includes the financial stewardship we are talking about today.

This is the time of year where the church community calls on all the members to make a pledge. You can see from the handouts we have provided that financially our church community needs your continuing support. We have a budget that continues all the programs that this community feels are important. To fund that budget, we need all to pledge and to pledge generously. We need to keep this community thriving and warm through your pledges. With our country, city and church community coming out of the COVID epidemic, now is the time to recommit and support our community. How our church community comes through this time will depend on how we show up to support one another.

The goal of the stewardship campaign is 100% participation. Currently we only have about 52% of the members pledging. We also need to understand that we are trying to return the community to the place financially we were before the COVID challenges. We have lost members but with our combined contributions, we can fund the budget. On average to fund the budget we need members to increase their pledges by 23%. Please think about how you can support this beloved community, and support First Unitarian Church of Des Moines generously with your pledge.

– Michael Merritt 

Testimonials included in the service on March 12

In 1989 we began attending First Unitarian Church. Our son, Todd, was off to his freshman year in college and our daughter, Paige, was eight years old. After attending for several Sundays, we discussed if we should continue our attendance. Paige enthusiastically said, “Yes, because there they let you think.” So, we have continued being a part of First Unitarian. Members of the congregation have become our neighbors both literally and figuratively. We are appreciative that members “walk their talk” demonstrating that they are not just receiving the Sunday message and going on with their lives.

Whether it is AMOS, the Pride Parade, Family Promise, the book works at Planned Parenthood, Pastoral Care, reproductive rights protest at the Capitol, Compassion and Choices or dozens of activities and affinity groups, the members of First Unitarian will show up. We are proud to support the church financially to keep the idea of our liberal religious heritage alive.

As we see the challenges in the world around us, that work has never been more important. Thank you for being our church family and “walking the talk” with us.

Steve and Karen Herwig

Testimonials included in the service on March 5

Sarah: We are up here today because Sally asked us to and we felt obligated.   We feel obligated because we love this church. It is a unique space in our world where everyone has the opportunity to grow spiritually in their own way and that is important to us. We didn’t expect to find a church where both of us would feel spiritually at home, since we come from very different religious backgrounds.  I was raised Catholic, and Natalie was raised Atheist.  When it comes to stewardship, we were also brought up with different, but perhaps complimentary attitudes.

In the Catholic church I grew up in, religion was about ritual.  For my family we even had an unofficial ritual for tithing.  Every week before we left for Mass, Mom would write a check to give to Dad who would then put it in the pre-printed tithe envelope, fold it in half, and put it in the front pocket of his shirt.  When I was little, if I was lucky, Dad would let me put the envelope in the basket as the ushers came by.  It wasn’t as flashy as the part with the standing and kneeling and singing and ringing bells, but it was never skipped and I felt proud when I got to participate.


Natalie: Growing up atheist, we didn’t have tithing… but we did have a ritual around paying taxes.  Back in the days before e-filing when you had to mail in paper tax forms postmarked before midnight on April 15th, the post office stayed open late on tax night and every year my parents hosted a “Tax Night” party at the post office.  Our whole community gathered and there was music and dancing and general revelry.  At 11:50 everyone gathered outside the doors to form a gauntlet, and the band played “the William Tell Overture” while we all cheered on the (often surprised and confused) late filers rushing in with their returns.  It was awesome!  And it instilled in me a sense of celebration around fulfilling one’s civic duty.  Not gonna lie, it’s difficult to recapture that joy e-filing from my couch.

Contributing financially to this church we love is much easier to get excited about because there is so much here to celebrate. So this year we invite you to join us as we participate in the stewardship ritual of pledging with a spirit of celebration.

Testimonials included in the service handout from February 26, 2023


Adrian: Good morning, I’m Adrian Stamper and this is my daughter Isabelle. My wife and I and our five children have been members here at First Unitarian since 2013.

Isabelle: Hello, I’m Isabelle Stamper and I’m standing up here today for my Mom. She’s skipping church this morning . . . on a medical mission trip with other nurses and doctors from central Iowa. She’s been volunteering for free clinics of Iowa since moving back to Des Moines after college. This week she’s in Honduras working in a maternity ward in the capital while also travelling to rural area clinics. It sounds like real serious work, but I think she enjoys the warm weather, the food, perhaps a break from her children, and of course babies . . . if you hadn’t noticed.

My parents volunteer their time in many ways. My dad has coached all five kids in sports and NO, it’s not fun to have your dad as a coach. First Unitarian is where my parent focus much of their time. Among many things, my mom instructs OWL and my dad works with Stewardship, thus the reason I was volunteered to “participate” in today’s testimonial. Next, he’s going to ask me how much I’ll be pledging . . .

Adrian: We joined First Unitarian focused on an inclusive environment where we could teach our kids about community, spirituality, and ethical principles. To us, Unitarianism is uniquely respectful of the diversity of religious thought in our world. This is one of the positive messages we strive to communicate to our children. First Unitarian is a welcoming environment for many who are rejected by other churches and communities and that is also very important to us as parents. This church matters to us because we feel in community with the church’s mission and the efforts required to accomplish it. It takes a village to raise healthy children, we embrace that approach, and we choose First Unitarian as our spiritual village.

For me, religion has always carried a message of how we as individuals can strive to be more compassionate human beings in this world. First Unitarian reminds me weekly of the blessings in my life and the challenges that our world faces as both a small and a large community.

My wife and I make a generous financial pledge to this community because First Unitarian aligns with our priorities and our beliefs. We’ve increased our pledge many times over the last ten years, and we are thankful that we can continue to do so.


The people and programs at First Unitarian Church have enhanced my life and that of my family in many ways over 20 years of membership. The fellowship and friendships with fellow liberal religious thinkers is something of value many of us probably share.

However, I want to highlight something more personal. When I came here, I was attracted by the idea of a church where you didn’t have to conform to a specific doctrine or rituals. I did not care for such requirements found elsewhere.

The enhanced value of the learning and discernment opportunities this church and its’ people provided me has fostered turning the “what I don’t believe” into clarity around who I am and what I DO believe. I find great satisfaction and comfort in that.

Today I can confidently say I am a proud Unitarian Universalist religious humanist—and know what that does and doesn’t mean. Without this church and its’ people my journey of spiritual self-discovery might not have yet occurred. I support UCDSM with both time and treasure out of gratitude and a desire to ensure this church is here for those seekers who follow us here on their own journeys in the years to come.

Greg Nichols


First Unitarian Church has enriched my life which is why I cherish our members and staff. When I first moved to Iowa in October 2011, I was whole heartedly welcomed by this community. I found the small groups I was part of to be both enriching and a gateway to developing friendships and an enduring community. I have been a member of many committees and a participant in several classes. Without exception, I found, that all the participants I was involved with had one overall objective- to ensure that the life of this church is enduring, that this is a place of caring and welcome for all. This last year has been one of upheaval for all- members and staff. I’m encouraged by the resilience of so many of our members and our staff to move forward and work through this fraught time in a positive and caring manner.

Margaret Schultz


I’ve been a member of our church for almost 25 years. When I first came in the doors in 1997, I was a searching secular single mom, with no history of church life beyond a few years of high school connection to my Christian friends and adult friendship to two eventual seminarians.

For 25 years, I have found a home here. It is a home like all homes, filled with laughter and tears, with hope and disappointment, with endings and beginnings. I know in my heart that it is a home to my growing and searching mind, and to the growing and searching people who surround me on Sunday.

That sense of home continues to call me to pledge generously to our church, to believe that my share helps to create a home for others. It is for my current Coming of Age class: for Dom, Laila, Gustav, Jaida and Henry. It is for new members who’ve become friends, and for long-time members and friends who continue to inspire me to lead with a joyful heart. It’s for those who will walk through the door in 2023-24, and beyond. This church was my sanctuary in 1997. It is still my sanctuary today, and I give so it will be that sanctuary to the people of Central Iowa for many years to come.

Sally Boeckholt