From Rev. Christina Leone-Tracy
Fellowship Members and Friends,
In light of Rev. Leah’s recent news that she will be relocating to Oregon this summer and ending her ministry with us in the fall, many of you have wondered what—or who—comes next. I have exciting news to share!
Ali Peters, our beloved intern minister, has agreed to continue for one year in the role of assistant minister. We are so grateful for Ali’s skill, enthusiasm, and presence that she brings to her ministry and the UUA’s ministerial fellowship committee has given special permission so that we might be able to have Ali continue with us next year. Hooray!
March 15, 2021
Important Messages from the Ministers
A Message from Rev. Leah Ongiri
Dear Fellowship Members and Friends,
I write with a full heart. It is full of love for the Fellowship, and also full with the news that I am resigning my position as associate minister this coming fall. My family has made the difficult yet clear decision that we are moving to Portland, Oregon this summer. I’m excited about this next phase of life. I know it is the right way forward, even as comings and goings are complex.
Our reasons are many. My spouse Amy accepted a position at the University of Portland to create an ethnic studies program, work in which Amy’s personal passion and professional expertise intersect. A judge gave us permission, as a foster family, to bring our four children. Portland is my hometown, which means a wide community including my parents, childhood friends, and chosen family, to welcome us. This will ease parenting challenges and other life situations that have intensified during the pandemic. I can’t wait to go home!
I remember well my pride when, almost exactly ten years ago, the Fellowship’s search committee asked me to share this beautiful ministry with you. That pride has only grown as I got to know you more each moment and year I’ve served. It will be hard to leave a community where I continue to learn so much. The Fellowship and its people have consistently been an incredibly, gorgeously, lovingly supportive force for my entire family. I am grateful for this in ways I cannot possibly express, particularly for your delight and encouragement as I became a parent. Thank you, one and all.
And yet we have not found the Fox Cities to be hospitable. Homophobia and especially racism have worn us down, by many measures increasing rather than lessening during our time here. We are unwilling to remain living in such hostility. I imagine this truth might be hard to absorb. It isn’t easy to type, even though I’ve shared publicly about this before. I have no easy answers. But I do have faith and hope in the Fellowship’s growing commitment to deepen a local culture of justice and welcome.
I am grateful I get to keep serving you for a while yet! As usual, I will take some vacation and study leave this summer. Starting July 1st, I will serve half-time and remotely into the coming fall. This will support my personal situation and help smooth the Fellowship transition. We still have months together, and I hope to connect personally with many of you. We will need to celebrate and grieve this transition. I trust you will talk directly with me and Rev. Christina as you absorb this change. Let’s make sure we hold the health and beauty of the Fellowship at the core of our processing.
If you get our electronic communication, you will have already received this information in an email that included a video version. In this letter, I’ve included a note directly to children and families. If appropriate, please read it with young people in your care who are connected to the Fellowship.
I will deeply miss the Fellowship—its people, mission, programs, identity, history, and spirit. Thank you for sharing this incredible ministry with me. Even as I mourn leaving, I’m confident that the Fellowship will continue to unfold in beautiful, helpful ways. Its finest days are yet ahead—of this I am sure—and I will always cheer you on in my heart.
With love and gratitude,
Rev. Leah Ongiri
A Message from Rev. Christina Leone-Tracy
I know you join me in heartache at the news of Rev. Leah leaving our Fellowship and the Fox Valley. She and her family have been such a joyful and loving presence in our community, and we will miss them dearly. I also just want to state unequivocally how happy I am for the Ongiris that they are able to pursue this next step in their journey, together, and closer to home. Knowing that this move is for all the best reasons for them certainly made this news easier for my heart. I have been so grateful to serve in ministry alongside Rev. Leah. She was so welcoming to me and my family, and supportive of my ministry when I arrived in 2017. I have learned immensely from observing her in staff interactions and in ministry; her pastoral skill, preaching, thoughtfulness, diplomacy, eagle-eye for editing written documents and sense of humor are only a few of her gifts. I am personally sad to lose her on our ministry team but glad to know she will be my colleague in UU ministry for years to come.
Please know that, as Rev. Leah mentioned in her letter, she will be around through the end of our program year at her current full-time schedule (aside from scheduled vacation and study leave) and will continue into the fall in a half-time capacity. The executive team, staff and governing board are in communication and are working hard to fill Leah’s position for the coming year. You will be informed as soon as possible whenever there is confirmed news to share in that area.
We are planning some sort of socially-distanced farewell celebration later this spring or early summer to honor the whole Ongiri family and send them off to Portland with love, gratitude, and joy. More details will be forthcoming about how to participate in that celebration. When it comes time to end our shared ministry with Rev. Leah next autumn, we will share information about a Sunday service and party to celebrate Rev. Leah’s ministry among us and mark this transition to the next phase of her ministry. Our sincere hope is that those festivities will be able to be held in-person and Rev. Leah and possibly her family will return for them so we can all hug them one last time!
Finally, I want to honor that this Fellowship has been blessed with ministries of long tenure, and so we are not greatly experienced at ministerial transitions. Please know that Rev. Leah’s transition after serving ten years is also considered a long ministry for a settled ministry; in fact, Rev. Leah is our second-longest serving minister! We likely will continue to experience transitions in staff and ministers over time.
That’s okay—it’s a good thing to love and be loved, and then say goodbye with health whenever the time comes. We will miss Rev. Leah dearly, and I have no doubt that our ministry at the Fellowship will continue to be strong and vibrant!
Rev. Christina Leone-Tracy
A Message from Rev. Leah for Fellowship Families with Children
Dear Fellowship Families,
I have some news that makes me both sad and happy. This summer my family and I are going to move far away to Portland, Oregon, where I was born and grew up. We are going partly because I want to live there again, partly because my spouse got a good job there, and partly because there are some ways that living in Appleton is hard and scary for a gay Black family.
The part of living here that is about the Fellowship is wonderful. I am going to miss it—and YOU—very much. My kids are also really sad to leave. So many of you have been such kind friends to my kids. Thank you for being a place my family has been safe and had fun. Thank you for opening the Wonder Box, coming to RE, eating cookies in the Fellowship Hall, and waving at us on Zoom.
I’ll keep being one of your ministers virtually for a long time yet, but in the fall I will say goodbye. After that, my family and I will not be at services, RE, or other Fellowship events. When that time gets closer, I want to tell you how much I’ve loved knowing you—sometimes since you were itty bitty babies who laughed when I got to bless you during child dedication ceremonies—and how proud I am to be Unitarian Universalist with you!
But that can come later. For now, please just know that I love being your minister.
See you soon!