(This is a work in progress.)
Every so often, I mention my church in passing, and I know that unless I add a lot of explanation, nobody will understand why it is so influential in my life, and how it is so different from what most people understand a church to be. So this is a page to try to add that context.
I looked up the address and the time of services, and dropped in the next Sunday. I found no objectionable dogma, and after the service, people gathered in the courtyard for coffee and conversation. I was amazed at the welcoming atmosphere and how everyone seemed to be thoughtful people engaging deeply with the issues of the day. So I came back.
I think it was on my second visit that the service included a responsive reading titled "Cherish your doubts" . This was the exact opposite of what I had previously understood as religion. I realized I was home - I had found "my people".
Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.
Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.
Let no one fear the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief.
The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing:
For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.
Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands.
But those who fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on rock.
They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.
Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:
It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.
The name is long and carries history.
The Unitarians are people that reject the Christian doctrine of the holy Trinity. This idea that there is only one God, and Jesus was a fully human prophet, has been around since the early Christian church, and was spearheaded by a bishop name Arius, who was killed as a heretic for preaching it. After being thoroughly purged from the Orthodox and Catholic churches, it surfaced in Transylvania (Hungary) in the 1500s.
The Universalists simply did not believe in Hell. If God is just, loving and all-powerful, how could he condemn his creation to eternal suffering for transgressions that in the doctrine of most denominations include just having been born in a place where the Gospel had never been preached?
Both streams ended up in America, where they finally merged in the later part of the 20th century.
Every UU congregation contains a mix of
The proportions vary a bit, so each congregation will have a different flavor. The oldest Unitarian congregation meets a King's Chapel in Boston, and conducts its services according to a slightly edited version of the (Anglican) Common Book of Prayer. They even serve communion occasionally. But a few blocks away, the Arlington Street church is a mostly Humanist congregation like the majority of UU congregations in the Western US.
The format of our service is similar to a protestant community church. Spoken words alternate with music / singing.
Children are the heart of our community. Every Sunday, we begin with the children in the service for the first part; then after a "message for all ages" (usually a reading of a short award-winning children's book) they go off to Sunday school ("religious exploration") while the adults sing "This little light of mine".
After a guided meditation and a song, we have a sermon/homily, we pass the collection plate, then sing a closing song and listen to a postlude - often a great song from a Broadway musical.
And then it is coffee hour on the patio outside the church. An hour of catching up with our community.
So what do we believe? We believe in The Seven Principles of UU:
In short: We are a liberal religion.
(End of page)