Fred Wooden is actually Weldon Frederick Wooden, named for his two grandfathers.
“I converted my parents,” he tells people, because when he was a young child they wanted a church and Sunday School that matched their liberal values. They found Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, MD. A few years later, after moving to Baltimore, they attended First Unitarian Church, where the famed William Ellery Channing delivered his definitive sermon, Unitarian Christianity, in 1819. Fred, being one of the few children of that church to become a minister, was honored to deliver the Bicentennial Lecture marking that occasion on the same day, May 5, 2019.
After taking a degree in Music Composition and Conducting, (and discovering how talented everyone else was), Fred entered Meadville Theological School in Chicag0 where he received a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago Divinity School, (1977), and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Meadville, (1979), receiving the Christie Prize in Preaching that year.
While preparing, he married Wendy Ricker, whom he met in the 4th grade. They have two grown sons, Aaron and Stephen, and one daughter-in-law, Adelyn.
Fred was called to, and ordained by, the First Congregational Parish Unitarian in Petersham, MA, a tiny rural town with a great history. The esteemed Leon Hopper and Waitstill Sharp were both predecessors and present at his ordination in October 1980. During his five years serving there, Fred was active in town and area, serving on the Board of Rowe Camp and Conference Center, the Clara Barton District, and the UU Christian Fellowship. Wendy and Fred also had two children, Enoch, who was stillborn, and Aaron who lives and works in Chicago. Because of that loss, they both became active in supporting other parents suffering infant death.
In 1985, Fred was called to Groton, MA, 40 miles east, and served there until 1990. He remained part of the UU Christian Fellowship Board and began serving on the Hymnbook Commission in 1987. He also remained a trombone in both the Petersham and Groton volunteer bands. During that pastorate, they had their third son, Samuel, who was very premature and died at six months.
In 1990, Fred took up a call in Austin, TX, very unlike Massachusetts obviously. That church was growing and he helped them move to two services to accommodate the growth. They soon had their fourth son, Stephen, who is now married and lives in Grand Rapids. During that time Fred, finished his work on the Hymnbook Commission and was elected to the Commission on Appraisal of the UUA, (1991). He also won the “Skinner Sermon Award” that year, which was published in the UUWorld.
That pastorate lasted only four years, and Fred accepted a call to Brooklyn, NY, in 1994 where they lived and served for almost 11 years. After his service on the CoA, he was asked by the Moderator to help plan GA plenary presentations, which he did for four years, 1997-2000. He was also instrumental in encouraging Anti-Racism work in the church, which continues to this day. Fred was also active in the local clergy association, organizing a massive observance after 9/11 on the Brooklyn Promenade.
Fred accepted a call to serve the non-UU Liberal Fountain Street Church in 2005, from which he retired as Senior Minister in 2020. Under his leadership, they grew their social justice ministries by over 400%, giving over $500,000 to scholarships for Grand Rapids Community College, (GRCC), students, after-school sports, new mother programs, hunger and homelessness relief, and dozens more local, national, and international organizations. He led them to partner with the GRCC Diversity Center to host their famous lectures, as well as the Hauenstein Center, Martin Luther King Day community celebrations, Family Promise, God’s Kitchen, and many more. He served on the West Michigan ACLU Advisory Board, the Interfaith Dialogue Association, Opera Grand Rapids, as a member of the MLive Religion and Ethics Panel, and as host of “Faith & Reason” on WPRR. He is most proud of being a member of the Grand Rapids Urban League Board for 10 years, serving as its Chair from 2009-2013, and in 2018, ran for Congressional office.
He has personally stood up for marital equality, racial justice, worker rights, and immigrant rights.
Though ‘retired’ from Fountain Street Church, he still wishes to serve UU and other communities in his many capacities and from his variety of experiences.