River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

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A Brief History of Coffee, Controversy & Conversation
August, 2011

The first emergence of the Coffee, Controversy & Conversation (CC&C) institution was on January 23, 1972, towards the end of Rev. Jim Curtis' ministry. He liked to encourage his congregants to be creative, and start groups if they saw the need.

The late Barbara and Mort Fosberg took up the challenge: they felt the need to feed their intellectual interests and social justice concerns by inviting some of the readily available 'experts' and international figures in the D.C. area to come share their views with the congregation.

CC&C began as a pre-service forum, with coffee and doughnuts offered at 9:15am, before the 10:30am service. This format was followed until the need for two services became obvious in 1994-1995, when CC&C readjusted their time to fit into the dual service schedule. It now starts at 10:25am and aims to end an hour later. There’s a break for those who wish to leave quietly to attend the 11:15am service. The format remains the same: a 20-25 minute presentation, followed by a lively, interactive Q&A (the controversy part). This sometimes extends into the noon hour, if the topic is truly controversial.

When the Social Justice Council was established, it was assumed that each task force would sponsor a speaker from their own area of interest, to continue the social justice focus of the Fosbergs original intent for CC&C.

After its first introduction, CC&C became a popular lecture series. Eldon Winston decided to spearhead a movement to keep it going over the summer months, when the worship service was traditionally canceled for the summer.  Don Chery recalls that when he arrived in Bethesda in 1980, CC&C was the summer service for the congregation, and those early programs are what got him hooked into attending regularly - not only attending, but also into picking up fresh doughnuts from the old 'Montgomery Doughnuts' for the sessions!  When summer worship services were established, CC&C went on a schedule similar to the school year - closed between Memorial and Labor Day.

In 1992-93, Rev. Bill Murry proposed a special “Reflections of a Lifetime” feature be established where some of our older members would review their life history. This has become a very popular and meaningful part of CC&C programming. In 1993, the first “Reflection” was presented by Muriel Davies, our first Director of Religious Education, and widow of A. Powell Davies. Over 100 people crowded into the Fireside Room to hear her recount her story.

There have been other memorable moments in CC&C history when sensitivities were aroused on both sides of the issue, such as in presentations on the Arab/Israeli issue, a “hot topic” for many of our congregants. We like to think that we can offer different viewpoints on important topics, which encourages civil discourse and diversity in our midst.

Nancy Cedar Wilson, Coordinator