Sunday, January 21, 2018, 166th Annual Painesfest

Every January since 1852 the Free Congregation of Sauk County has celebrated the birthday of American patriot Thomas Paine and his contributions to the founding of the United States of America and to the worldwide campaign for individual human rights and freedoms. It is the longest-running annual Paine event in the world. Paine was a major influence behind the Declaration of Independence and an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and even an early form of Social Security -- all of which took a century, or more, to come to pass.

Author of Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason, Paine made his greatest contribution to the Revolution with a series of pamphlets titled “The American Crisis”, the first of which was published in 1776 and begins with the famous words, “These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” 

On Sunday morning, January 21st, the Free Congregation will host its 166th Painesfest. The program will begin at 10:05 a.m. at Park Hall, 307 Polk Street, in Sauk City. For this special occasion, the program will feature three guest speakers, all of whom are young working women in their twenties or thirties. Each will present a twelve-to-fifteen minute address on an “American Crisis” of the present time: what it is and what we might do to mitigate or overcome it. The presenters are Ali Muldrow, Director of Youth Programming and Inclusion at GSAFE, where she has authored the curriculum for and taught “Foundations of Leadership”, a course based in the experiences of LGBQ+ youth of color and for which she recruits high school students from the Madison public school district who are advanced learners in the areas of leadership; Abby Swetz, former Associate Speaker of the Free Congregation and currently a graduate student in UW’s Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs; and Zoë Whaley, Survivor Services Coordinator for University Health Services at UW-Madison, where she provides confidential advocacy and counseling to students who have experienced sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, dating/domestic violence, and/or stalking. Their topics will include “Trans Youth”, “#MeToo ?”, and “The Disintegration of the American Imagination”.

Trevor Stephenson, Artistic Director of Madison Bach Musicians, will make a rare appearance at a modern piano, playing two pieces by Debussey.

The entire Painesfest celebration is free and open to the public. Guests are encouraged to join the speakers and congregation for the community potluck to follow; please bring a dish or dessert to pass.     


Park Hall
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Welcome to the Free Congregation of Sauk County

We are a religious community made up of people from diverse backgrounds and different faith traditions who have chosen to embrace some common principles, among them the freedom to engage in our own personal search for truth and meaning.

We require of no one a profession of theological belief or disbelief; rather, we seek to continually examine and clarify our basic principles and world views.

We view religion as a question to be explored rather than as an answer to be received or revealed.

We believe that ethical behavior and action is the only reasonable course for humans to pursue; consistent with that belief, we are united in our conviction that only by helping others and seeking to improve the world can we realize our full humanity.

Our open approach to religion follows from our unique weaving of two liberal religious traditions. This weaving is always in process; we are an evolving religious community, and our emphasis and interests change over the years.

We are a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. We belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), a liberal religious organization dedicated to a non-dogmatic approach to religion. Our congregation affirms the seven principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person
  • Justice, equality and compassion in human relations
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
  • A free and responsible search for meaning
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Picture courtesy of Reece Donihi.

Our commitment to Unitarian Universalism is reflected in our Second and Fourth Sunday programs. On these Sundays, we follow a UU order of service.

We are a Free Thought congregation with origins in the German Freie Gemeinden (‘free congregations’ or ‘free societies’). When liberal reform efforts, both political and religious, failed in Germany after 1848, German liberals immigrated to the United States where they founded numerous free thought societies and congregations, most of them in the northeast and upper mid-west. One such German liberal, Eduard Schroeter, helped to found this congregation in 1852 and became its first Speaker (leader and teacher). Ours is the last remaining Free Congregation in North America.

Our commitment to the Freie Gemeinde tradition is reflected in our First Sunday (Spiritual Reflection Hour) and Third Sunday (Free Thought Forum) programs.

Free Congregation of Sauk County
PO Box 664  -  307 Polk Street  -  Sauk City, WI 53583
Phone: (608) 643-3131      Email: