This short narrative history was presented by Kevin Mercer, UUCC’s Treasurer, to the Board of Trustees at their meeting on October 11, 2022. It offers information and context about the relationship between UUCC and the entity known as OBIC.
During Rev. Margaret O’Dell’s three years as the half-time extension minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Howard County (UUSHC), she met Rev. Mary Crouse, the minister of Christ United Methodist Church (CUMC), at a meeting of an ecumenical group in Columbia. They were the only two female ministers in the group, and they began discussing the possibility of their growing congregations sharing a facility.
Interfaith centers were a novel idea in this new town of Columbia. The non-profit Owen Brown Interfaith Center (OBIC) became the fourth interfaith center in Columbia, and it was completed in 1984 on 1.9 acres, with the two congregations Christ United Methodist Church (CUMC) and Unitarian Universalist Society of Howard County (UUSHC) as its owners. The ownership arrangement between the congregations started as approximately 50% – 50%.
I’ve heard that it was planned that CUMC was supposed to take the larger Sanctuary B when the building was first designed, but by the time it was opened UUSHC was growing faster. The smaller space, Sanctuary A, became the CUMC space, and UUSHC worshiped in Sanctuary B.
UUSHC became the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia (UUCC) around 1993/1994.
CUMC was agreeable to the first building expansion in 2003, but opted not to add their own resources to the effort. It should be noted that this was a decision made by their bishop, not CUMC members. After the expansion was completed, the equity ownership was adjusted to approximately 77% (UUCC) to 23% (UUCC).
After the second building expansion entirely funded by UUCC in 2014, the equity changed again and is now about 90-10.
So, UUCC owns 90% of the entity known as OBIC, which in turn owns the building.
OBIC has its own manager and staff, and OBIC is run by a Board of Directors. The OBIC Board’s members are CUMC and UUCC members. The two congregations started out with equal representation on the OBIC Board, but after the first expansion the Board of Directors was restructured with 3 CUMC members and 5 UUCC members serving at a time. The officer positions of President, VP, Secretary, and Treasurer alternate between CUMC and UUCC members every year, with each congregation holding 2 of the posts.
OBIC rents space in the building to other users including other religious congregations, business meetings, weddings, parties and events. In a perfect world, this would pay for much of the cost of running the building, its staff, and maintenance. It never has.
UUCC and CUMC are assessed an amount to cover the difference between the cost to maintain the building and the income from rentals. So, the more OBIC rents, the less we pay.
This amount, known as the OBIC Assessment, is paid monthly to OBIC. It is not calculated based on ownership, but is based on usage. Every UUCC meeting, every space we reserve for others, every event we hold is tracked. In the fall, OBIC sets an annual budget for the coming year (OBIC’s fiscal year follows the calendar year). UUCC and CUMC are assigned their percentages and the amount that will be needed to fill the shortfall for the coming year.
However, at the start of the pandemic, and continuing through 2023, that usage ratio has been lock in at 90%-10% because of sporadic use through 2020/2021 and the uncertainties of the pandemic.
There is another assessment we also get from OBIC. This is the Reserve for Replacement (RFR) fund, and UUCC and CUMC pays a monthly contribution to build and maintain the RFR fund. This assessment, I believe, is based on ownership. It appears to be a 89% to 11% split. The RFR was established so that OBIC would have the funds to replace equipment reaching the end of its useful life. It is a complicated formula based on the life expectancy and replacement cost of each part of the building. OBIC is in the process of engaging an RFR consultant to evaluate this process.
An interesting possibility to consider is the addition of congregations to our ownership structure. The Interfaith Center model anticipates this, and the OBIC bylaws have path for it to occur. This could be a way to lift some of the burden on UUCC, as our assessment would be adjusted lower and the money used to ‘buy in’ could be applied directly to our mortgage. The downside is, of course, that we would have more constraints on our use of the space.