What is the Unitarian Universalist Church?
Often, members of the Unitarian-Universalist church (or UU church) have found a home there, coming from many diverse religions and churches where they were brought up. It is a great choice for those who perhaps do not wish to abandon their roots, yet are in some way dissatisfied with the church of their upbringing. Many others who join a UU church are people who have never been much involved in religion, or who are skeptics, agnostics, humanists, or even atheists! What is unique about UU's is that they have chosen their faith, rather than been indoctrinated into it. The rich diversity in the UU church is one of its most appealing features, but there is much more to this vibrant and growing church to appeal to the parishioner.
History of Unitarianism and Universalism
The Unitarian-Universalist church was founded in May of 1961, when the Unitarian church and the Universalist church merged into one. Both of these Protestant sects had prospered and grown in Europe, the United States, Britain and other countries around the world since their inception in the early centuries of Christianity, when the concepts of Unitarianism and Universalism were embraced by some followers of Christ. The term "unitarian" indicates the "oneness" of God. In other words, this belief did not adhere to the concept of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost), but rather that Jesus was simply sent by God to accomplish a divine mission. Universalism refers to the belief that all people will be accepted into heaven, and none condemned to hell. These two beliefs were struck down when the Trinity was pronounced as ultimate truth, and those who held unitarian or universalist beliefs were persecuted for centuries as heretics.
Who Was a Unitarian-Universalist?
Finally, during the Reformation in the 16th Century, Unitarianism gained legitimacy in the Eastern European country of Romania, when King Sigismund embraced this belief, and advocated for freedom of religious practice. His famous quotation that still inspires UUs today is, "We need not think alike to love alike". This much more moderate and inclusive theology spread slowly across Europe in the centuries that followed, and Unitarian churches still flourish there today.
In the United States, Unitarianism only began to take hold in the middle of the 18th century, when Protestant religious zealots were advocating for a return to the strict doctrines of the Puritan age. Others disagreed with this restrictive dogma, and became Unitarians. Universalism, on the other hand, had its roots in the United States during the late 1700's, when John Murray founded the first Universalist church in Gloucester, MA. Universalist preachers encouraged their followers to view every person as worthy of heaven, and denounce the concept of a punishing God in favor of a benevolent and loving God.
Unitarians and Universalists were some of the most active groups in the advancement of social justice causes over the ensuing years. They were among the first abolitionists, fought for prison and mental institution reform, played a major role in the founding of the Red Cross, and started the first schools for the blind. Their focus on seeking just treatment for opressed people continues today in the UU tradition, and they are very active in causes such as gay rights, advocating for the homeless and fighting for racial justice.
What is the UU Church All About?
Unitarian Universalists Today
Today, the Unitarian-Universalist church is a place where everyone can feel at home. It is no longer considered to be a Christian sect, although most parishes continue to honor their Christian roots as an important part of their heritage. However, you certainly do not have to be Christian to be a UU member! You can be Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, Humanist, Agnostic, Atheist, or any other philiosophical or religious foundation that you choose to identify with, as long as it is in the spirit of doing good and not harm to self and others.
The UU church is a place where all faiths come together and find what is common among them, celebrating their diversity and reinforcing such common precepts as love, acceptance, peace and justice. UU churches emphasize the commonality of the search for truth that all people are engaged in together. You would think that a group of people with such divergent backgrounds would have a hard time coming up with a Sunday service, but you would be surprised to discover how much they are able to focus on what they all have in common, while still honoring the many faiths and philosophies of their members.
I am one of the relatively few UU members who was brought up in this church. My father was a UU minister, so I was the "preachers kid" and attended Sunday school and church every week, without fail, throughout my childhood. I have always found the UU church to be full of friendly people, who are fascinated with the different paths to the divine (whatever that represents for you) that their fellow members have chosen, in the context of being UU members.
In Sunday school, we received a comprehensive education about dozens of different religions and world philosophies and beliefs. We were taught the values that we all hold in common, and were encouraged to take action to put those values to use in our community. The sermons in a UU church tend to be on topics to which all members can relate, with themes like self-discovery, the lessons taught by historical and religious figures, an exploration of a trend or phenomenon of modern living, or topics on social justice issues and what can be done to help those in need.
The UU church is LGBT friendly, ordains gay and lesbian ministers, and performs gay weddings. We are always eager to increase the diversity of our congregations with regard to age, race, sex, economic and social status, as well as religious views and beliefs. We believe that we can best learn from one another, and best help others by combining our forces, which are based in love and compassion.
The symbol of the UU church is the flaming chalice, which signifies the light of truth and love that burns eternally and within each of us. The lighting of the chalice at the beginning of each service is an important part of our worship. The flame and chalice is also the official symbol and logo of the Unitarian-Universalist Association of Churches.
As a summation, I will add the affirmation that is said in most UU churches near the beginning of a typical church service, and the doxology which is sung at my church by the congregation. These two rituals demonstrate the open and inclusive yet deeply spiritual nature of the UU church. I would encourage anyone of any faith to attend a UU service and experience this unique, loving and welcoming church.
© Katharine L. Sparrow
Books to Check Out
This is the "handbook" for newcomers to the UU faith.
Love is the doctrine of this church
The quest for Truth is its sacrament
And service is its prayer
To the end that all souls
Shall grow into harmony
With the divine
For the beauty of the earth
For the splendor of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Source of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise
- UUA: Frequently Asked Questions About Unitarian Universalism
Quickly find answers to the most commonly-asked questions about Unitarian Universalism.
- Unitarian-Universalist Best Practices
What you might find at the typical UU service
- Our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Sources - UUA
Reading suggestions to help newcomers to learn more about our Unitarian Universalist faith.
- How I Became a Unitarian Universalist
The journey of one man to becoming a UU.