Did you know? OBIC & UUCC

Did you know? OBIC & UUCC

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.


  1. Stuart John TenHoor

    Thanks for that overview Kevin. Appreciate the history and the information. The Margaret Odell Society (you even get a pin!) has as its goal the long-term stability of UUCC. Interest generated from this UUCC Endowment even helps pay some of our operating expenses each year (about $28k this year).
    I would ask each member to consider making a donation to our endowment. Many (like myself) have designated UUCC as a beneficiary in their will (I’m worth more to UUCC dead than alive :)–those that know me understand the humor here!
    But seriously, donations help defray our principal and interest costs for the “new” sanctuary built in 2014 so when you make your holidays gifts this year, think about making one to our Endowment fund and get yourself an attractive pin!

  2. Linda Linton

    Thanks, Kevin, for your succinct explanation of the economics of OBIC. As a long-time member I couldn’t have named the various assessments UUCC pays, much less how they are computed. I appreciate your emphasis on the importance of the endowment fund.

  3. Kathy Parker

    This little history of OBIC is fascinating, Kevin, and I greatly appreciate learning about it. As I read, I realized it’s a good thing I am not a treasurer. Aside from that, it’s great to learn about the changes that took place over time — and from Stuart about the Margaret O’Dell Endowment Fund. I think I want to know more about Rev. Margaret O’Dell, for one thing, and more about the Endowment fund as well.

  4. Judy Pittman

    As an original and still active member of CUMC , I’d like to add some minor comments. CUMC’s first clergy, the Rev. Dr. Mary Kraus (not Crouse) and Rev. O’Dell were colleagues and interested in building a facility…. but the impetus came from both congregation’s need for permanent space AND the Columbia Cooperative Ministry (a consortium of all Columbia faith communites and their leadership .) Discussions with the Rouse Co. and their plans for interfaith centers, and the availability of free land for IFC’s. were extremely important in order to move forward. Much was determined by population growth. I believe OBIC is #3 after Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills…# 4 was in Long Reach and ended up just serving one congregation., which was of concern because of the original Rouse plan that several faith communities would share a facility. There was a book written about Columbia’s development of faith communities by now deceased George Martin, a deacon at St. John R/C church. I cannot find my copy, but perhaps Paige has one on her shelves. I believe there was additional IFC history in that volume.

  5. Becky Reese

    Thanks so much for the corrections and additional details! I am interested in the book you mention as well. Another minor correction to the text is that the 23% ownership number should be followed by CUMC. rather than UUCC.
    For UUCC members,
    I want to point out that our endowment fund is not directly related to OBIC. It helps to financially sustain UUCC and contributes to paying some of our congregational expenses from accumulated interest. Designation of legacy gifts to the endowment via estate planning is the way to become a member of the Margaret Odell society – and to get a pin. Contributing to the endowment from required minimum distributions from retirement accounts is another great way to grow the principal in the endowment fund and save on taxes. As the principal grows, so does the interest from which annual distributions to the congregation are made. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

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