“We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves.”
February 3, 2019, 930 AM
The website states that UU is a non-creedal, non-dogma church that has its roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions. It also offered a link to a video called “Unitarian Universalism in 30 seconds” (see above.) Seems they accept everyone; atheists, humanists, agnostics, buddhists, naturalists, etc. I wonder how they’d feel if I drop the bomb that I’m a satanist? The website has all the information about worship, learning and service opportunities. Pictures show a multi-cultural and multi-generational congregation. This looks like fun.
The greeters opened the door for me said good morning. I walked up a small set of stairs, where the pastor stood, greeting everyone. He told me where I could find more information about UU and where the bathrooms were located (I always have to go when I arrive.)
The octagonal sanctuary with wood beams suspending the high ceiling and lots of windows, feels like a large living room. The chairs are arranged in a circle around a small lectern. No obvious pulpit, crosses, flags or symbols. I chose a seat on the outermost circle and settled in to read the bulletin. The order of service is one, double-sided page inside the main bulletin, which is eight pages total, and two more inserts. Everything I need to know is there–including all the purposes and principles of the UU church. A small note asks us to refrain from applause during the service, which separates worship from performance (IMHO.)
The sanctuary filled with lots of children and their parents. Several appear to be same-sex couples. (Only going by observation, I didn’t actually ask them.) The pastor started the service by highlighting the announcements in the bulletin. He mentioned their tradition of holding hands for the benediction. He reminded everyone to check if that’s okay before taking a hand, some people might be sick or uncomfortable with holding hands. I wonder if he said that for my benefit.
Several people sway and tap their feet as we stood to sing the upbeat opening song. After a centering time, the pastor explained that the basket of stones at the center table represents joys and concerns. The bowl of water next to it represents the congregation. He invited everyone to come forth and place a stone in the glass bowl as a way of offering their joy or concern to the care of the whole. That opened the floodgates. Almost half the congregations stood up and made their way to the center table. Oh no, I thought. We’re gonna be here for an hour just hearing all these prayer requests. But praise Jesus! (Oops) They simply took a stone from the basket and plopped it in the water. It took about five minutes for about forty people (lots of children) to do the task.
The pastoral prayer that followed mentioned all those stones collectively. I couldn’t help noticing the ironic, but significant difference from last week’s prayer time. A woman told a non-biblical story prior to dismissing the children to religious school. Then, a lay person spoke for about five minutes, focusing on the month’s theme of TRUST. The pastor’s sermon challenged the congregation to ponder trusting the Universal Mystery. He stated that perhaps “God” cannot be fully known or adequately described, but the “goodness of the universe,” can be trusted. It was one of the most thought provoking sermons I have heard.
Without any mention of the bible, scripture, historical creeds or anything close to a traditional church service, this service managed to stir a deeper, more meaningful dialogue between God and myself. This is first church I’ve attended that offers two service times, both well attended. I can understand the appeal.
We closed with the hand-holding benediction and the pastor invited everyone to stay for a soup lunch. I’m glad to see that this church is obviously serving the needs of many. However, no one spoke to or greeted me other than the Pastor. There wasn’t a sign-in sheet or any way to signal my presence. It didn’t feel to me like they were striving to welcome the stranger. Therefore, this church FAILED the WELCOME TEST.