By Kalen Fristad
It was in January 2006 when I received a phone call from a person who identified himself as Eric Stetson. He said he had found my website (www.destinedforsalvation.org) and was familiar with my book (DESTINED FOR SALVATION: God’s Promise to Save Everyone). He had become aware that my wife, Darlene, and I had been traveling the country full time for two and a half years and that, in those travels, I had been promoting the teaching of universal salvation in churches of various denominations. He said he was also a strong believer in universalism. We had a great conversation.
About a year later, Eric called again. He said he wanted to form an organization whose purpose would be to promote the teaching of universal salvation around the world and to support those who believe in that liberating message. He asked if I would help him form that new organization. I immediately agreed to do so.
I quickly learned that Eric is a prolific and talented writer. He had already written a great deal of his thoughts regarding the proposed new organization. We discussed everything at great length, which generated many more written documents by him, and I offered feedback.
Early on, Eric and I had to come up with a name for the organization. After much pondering and lengthy discussions, we arrived at the name, Christian Universalist Association.
Then, we had to decide on matters such as providing for training and ordination of ministers (which we decided to include in the CUA programs because many people requested of Eric that we do so), the size of the Board of Directors and who we would invite to serve on the original board, how often we would hold nation-wide conferences and how they would be organized, the development and content of a website, and so on.
Eric developed the website for the CUA, and he wrote virtually everything for its original content.
We held the organizing meeting for the CUA on May 16-17, 2007 at the historic Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington DC. It was attended by Board members Eric Stetson, Rick Spencer, Rev. Lillie Mae Henley, G.A. Roach and myself, and others participated by telephone. The thirteen-member Board of Directors was approved. Eric Stetson was chosen as Executive Director and I was elected as Chairperson of the Board.
A very significant highlight for me took place on the last day of our organizing meeting. We had been laboriously going through material that Eric had written, and had made numerous important decisions. We were concluding our gathering in Rev. Henley’s office. That gave us access to the phone so that other Board members could join us for taking a vote to officially organize the Christian Universalist Association and to elect its leaders. It had been a cloudy day, but I will always remember that right after that unanimous affirmative vote was taken, the clouds parted and the bright sunshine streamed through the office window. We interpreted that as a sign that the CUA would have a bright future in bringing the good news of universal salvation to the world.
From the beginning, Eric and I worked closely together as a team in leading the CUA. And we always had a great Board of Directors who did a very good job. While Rich Koster wasn’t involved with the CUA at the beginning, he came on the scene quite early and has done a great job in leading in several ways up to the present.
Over the years, we often held our Board meetings by conference phone calls. We, however, realized the great value of meeting in person whenever we could. That helped enormously in getting acquainted and in team-building. We held one of our in-person board meetings at St. Simons Island, Georgia. On two or three occasions, we took a break to go to the beach along the Atlantic Ocean.
On one of those times, Mary Keller, who was on the Board at that time, said she was going to go for a walk along the beach. I said, “I’ll go along.” She readily agreed that would be fine. Now, it’s always a good thing to go for a walk on the beach with a friend, but on that occasion, I had an ulterior motive. After walking and chatting for some time, I told her that after serving as Board Chairperson for what I recall was about four years, I had been giving some thought to who might be able to succeed me as Chairperson within a couple of years. I told her I had noticed her leadership ability and that I wondered if she would be willing to serve with me in leadership of the CUA as Vice-Chairperson for perhaps a couple of years, with the expectation that she would eventually succeed me as Chairperson. She thought about that for a moment and then jokingly replied, “I’ll do it on one condition, that you have an EKG, so I can be confident that you aren’t likely to die any time soon.” I replied, “Sounds great!” Actually, I never did have that EKG, but I am happy to report that I didn’t die.
Mary Keller was a great Vice-Chairperson. She did much more than merely be available to serve in case I wasn’t able to. She and I worked closely together as a team, and she was always a great asset. After I had the honor of serving for six years as the original Chairperson of the CUA Board, Mary replaced me. She did an admirable job as Chairperson for the next four years, after which Rev. Dr. Lance Haverkamp succeeded her, and he continued to provide strong leadership. He now serves as Executive Minister of the CUA. Rev. James Egbert currently serves as Chairperson of the CUA Board of Directors.
It has been a high honor for me to have had the privilege of helping to organize the CUA, to serve for six years as Chairperson of the Board and to continue to serve on the Board for several years beyond that. I not only have had the privilege of serving, but I gained life-long cherished friends in the process, for which I am most grateful.