Excerpts from UUA Pamphlets




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        Contents (Pamphlet titles excerpted)


The Faith of a UU Buddhist

The Faith of a Unitarian Universalist Christian

The Faith of a UU Humanist

The Faith of a UU Theist

The Flaming Chalice: A Well-known UU Symbol

Our Unitarian Universalist Faith: Frequently Asked Questions

Unitarian Universalism: A Religious Home for Bisexual, Gay,

Lesbian, and Transgender People

Religious Hospitality: A Spiritual Practice for Congregations

Spirituality: Unitarian Universalist Experiences

Church through the Eyes of Our Children: UU Kids Say...

God through the Eyes of Our Children: UU Kids Say...

Unitarian Universalist Views of Church

Unitarian Universalist Views of Evil

UU Views of Jesus

UU Views of Prayer

UU Views of the Bible
Unitarian Universalist Views of the Sacred

UU Views of God

Faith Without a Creed: Asking Questions as a Unitarian Universalist

Welcome to Unitarian Universalism: A Community of Truth, Service,

Holiness and Love

Unitarian Universalism: A Welcoming Place for Bisexual, Gay,

Lesbian, and Transgender People

What is Worship Like in Unitarian Universalist Congregations?









The Faith of a UU Buddhist


 James Ishmael Ford


I've been a Buddhist for more than thirty years. I've also been a Unitarian Universalist for more than fifteen years. Since 1991, I've been a UU minister serving congregations in Wisconsin and Arizona. It is from this perspective that I find myself reflecting on what it might mean to be a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist.

My mother was a fundamentalist Christian. My father was a Robert Ingersoll atheist. Reflecting on this, I see that perhaps I was destined to become a Unitarian Universalist. Or maybe a Buddhist. That blending of a deeply felt sense of spirituality with a fierce devotion to reason could take one to either Unitarian Universalism or Buddhism. As it turned out I found both.

I remember a time not long after I left the Buddhist monastery that had been my home for several years. I needed a new spiritual home where I would not be asked to deny my previous experiences but where I could process those years of intensive monastic training, and from where I could go forward in new directions.

While I felt deep appreciation for the techniques of Zen meditation and the spiritual perspectives I found at the core of Buddhism, I also felt a deep need to reconnect with my Western religious roots. I visited a number of churches, but orthodox Christianity just didn't work for me.

Then one day, while arranging some old musty pamphlets at the used bookstore where I was working, I came across a reprint of William Ellery Channing's Unitarian Christianity, also known as the Baltimore Sermon. I remember so clearly standing at the pamphlet rack reading through it and feeling a tingle of recognition run down my spine. I thought, "This is a kind of Christianity that makes sense."

That Sunday I attended the local UU church. I quickly saw that there had been some movement away from Channing's faith. But I was even more excited by what I did find. During the coffee hour following the service some members introduced themselves to me and we talked. Eventually one of them asked what brought me to their church.

I said that I was a Buddhist although I had a great respect for the Christianity of my childhood and that I was looking for a spiritual home that would allow my continuing quest. When I was asked what I meant by "Buddhism," I briefly outlined my belief that the human condition is marked by disease, dissatisfaction, angst. There is some fundamental sadness to our human condition.

The Buddha examined this apparently universal human experience closely. He came to believe this pervasive unrest occurs as a natural consequence of our human consciousness. Looking at his analysis as a modern Westerner, I would frame what he said in the following way: We seem to have emerged as animals that can divide the world with our minds. Perhaps it starts with the ability to distinguish between not-me and me. Perhaps it is even more fundamental, the on and off of our firing brain synapses. However it come s about, this dualism is the source of human creativity and has made us the dominant species on this planet. But this way of engaging the world also has a peculiar side effect -we fall in love with the world that is created by our own perceptions. We desperately want that world to be complete, permanent, and real.

But as the Buddha observed, our grasping after permanency, for our loved ones and for ourselves, is doomed. The universe and everything in it, including you and me, are in flux. And what each of us perceives as "me" is actually a composite of many consequences. They will fall apart at some point to reshape in new ways. Change is the rule, and nothing is exempt.

The Buddha asserted, and I've come to believe, that as we cling to what is passing as if it is permanent, we find that pervasive angst, the terrible sadness that seems to live within our human hearts. But there is good news-we don't have to suffer this way. The Buddha outlined a "middle way" to insight and peace.

Essentially this middle way has three parts: meditation, morality, and wisdom. Meditation is a spiritual technology, wherein we closely examine without judgment everything, every thought, every emotion, as it rises and as it falls. Morality is a way of harmony in the universe and among our fellow creatures. Wisdom is what emerges out of these practices of presence and harmony.

As I spoke to those UUs so many years ago, one said, “Except for meditation, what you describe sounds like a Unitarian Universalist perspective” and suggested that Unitarian Universalists might be even better at “seeking ways to live in harmony” than Buddhists, especially when they manifest this quest as a concern for social justice.

My new friends went on to suggest that a Buddhist would find similar perspectives in all the currents of contemporary Unitarian Universalism, particularly in religious humanism. But there also seem to be commonalities between the "liberal Buddhism" I described and the liberal Christianity, Judaism, and earth-centered faith embraced by many other UUs. And over the years, I've come to believe they were right.

This blending of Buddhism with Unitarian Universalism began with nineteenth-century Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Unitarian Elizabeth Palmer Peabody translated the first Buddhist text into English. Buddhist reflections about the nature of the world have continued in Unitarian Universalism and have become especially dynamic in recent years.

Western Buddhists of many different schools who are now seeking ways to integrate their experiences of East and West are discovering Unitarian Universalism as a true home.  Increasingly Buddhists have been integrated into this great Western tradition as a rich variation on our liberal religious theme.

Certainly we UU Buddhists have found many treasures. Possibly the most important offering of Unitarian Universalism is religious education for our children. UU religious education programs are perfect for Western Buddhists who want to raise children with some knowledge of our ancestral religions but also with a world religion perspective and, of course, with an openness to Buddhism.

Many Western Buddhists have been looking for ways to bring our perspectives into the world in a more engaged way. My first UU friends were right. Unitarian Universalism has long been committed to justice and social activism in ways that make sense to many Western Buddhists. Here we found both possibilities for enriching our lives and the lives of those we care about.

And, I'm pleased to point out, we Western Buddhists also come bringing gifts. Probably the greatest gift we bring to Unitarian Universalism is meditation. There are a host of practices that might be useful to Unitarian Universalists. Among these are concentration disciplines and the powerful practice of Metta, loving kindness. I believe the most important are the practices of pure attention- Vipassana, Zen, and Dzog-chen. Each is a variation of the original disciplines taught by the Buddha and his immediate followers. Each has to do with simple and plain attention.

Out of this paying attention, bare attention, just noticing, generations of people have found a way through the traps of our dividing consciousness to see that we share a common ground of being. One teacher puts it this way: We are each of us different, stars and people, flies and dirt. But we all belong to the same family. We have a single family name. And that name is the great silence. Sometimes it is called sunyata, emptiness.

This is an emptiness that includes all things. We are unique but we are also all of one family. Here we find an ethic that supports Unitarian Universalist longings for moral choice and social justice.

We Western Buddhists bring a host of perspectives to Unitarian Universalism. Our perspectives might be as scholarly as investigations of ancient texts like the Lotus Sutra or the rigorous logic of the Therevada or as simple as faithful chanting of one of the revered mantras from China or Tibet. We represent the full range of Asian Buddhist possibilities, blending here in the West in new and exciting ways.

As with all faith traditions encompassed in Unitarian Universalism it is impossible to describe Unitarian Universalist Buddhism in terms of any one perspective. It is a rich and varied thing we bring into Unitarian Universalism. And the joy for me is that, even as I am transformed by my life as a Unitarian Universalist, I am beginning to see ways in which Unitarian Universalism is transformed by our Buddhist presence.

No one knows where this meeting of East and West in our Unitarian Universalist congregations will lead. Certainly, only time will tell. But the journey is already wonderful and filled with splendid possibilities.

James Ishmael Ford is a Unitarian Universalist parish minister as well as a teacher in both the Soto and Harada/Yasutani lines of Zen. He is the author of This Very Moment: A Brief Introduction to Buddhism and Zen for Unitarian Universalists.

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The Faith of a Unitarian Universalist Christian

Rev. Stephen Kendrick


Nothing has ever been simple about Jesus. He confounded and confused people in his own time, and so it is no wonder Unitarian Universalists today are still wrestling with him, his message, and the tradition that claims him as a God. Yet I believe that people who are attracted to a place of free faith, spiritual seeking, and non-dogmatic religion have much to gain by grappling with the legacy of this teacher whose power and charisma seem undimmed from two thousand years ago. If anything, we are only beginning to understand the radical nature of his message.

I became a Unitarian Universalist because I would have made a very bad and quarrelsome Christian, but a pretty good religious liberal. This faith seems to claim the religious freedom that Jesus proclaimed and modeled. Jesus has taught me not to worship false idols, but rather the Divine Love that broods over all and lives inside each. This sort of love requires a tradition of openness, tolerance, freedom, and radical compassion. I became a UU precisely because I wanted to understand Jesus properly.

It is difficult to explain the label Unitarian Universalist Christian, yet it expresses the simple truth that Jesus and his life, message, charisma, and death haunt me. I find Jesus of Nazareth a compelling teacher, master poet, troublemaker, and insistent companion on the ‘narrow path,’ which is to say reality. Jesus is a spiritual genius, one of many we may choose to learn from, but still the one who most compels me to become the person I am meant to be.

I do not believe Jesus is the sole revelation of the Divine, and I do not know, but seriously doubt, if he was raised from the dead, or for that matter, ever meant to create something called Christianity. He came into his own troubled time proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is present. If words like Kingdom trouble us today, the better translation of what he said is, “The realm of Abba dwells among us now.” When asked what the realm of God was, he did not spin metaphors about golden gates and heavenly vistas, but simply replied, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” I believe it still is.

Many Unitarian Universalists choose to turn away from our Christian roots because of experiences we are very uneasy with or troubled by. While this reaction is understandable, it strikes me that it is not ultimately healthy for a religious movement or for any of us as individual searchers. Why? Ignoring Jesus’ teaching and influence distorts our own past and heritage, which is deeply steeped in Christian origins. Furthermore, as Unitarian Universalists, we seek to build a religion based not on nay saying or rejection but rather on a positive, life-affirming message. And finally, Jesus is still worth hearing out. I can think of no more misunderstood and misjudged figure. I find him more compelling and inspiring as a human being who suffered and loved and claimed that no one is perfect but God than as the magical entity some of his most devoted followers worship. It is equally ironic that this prophet of liberation and spiritual freedom, who said that the poor shall inherit the earth, is misunderstood by people attracted to the free faith and justice-seeking tradition of Unitarian Universalism.

The world around us is deeply influenced, for good or ill, by the spirit of Jesus. We need to be familiar with this insistent and determined character if we are to live and do our work in this world. We will benefit by wrestling with him, not ignoring or bypassing him. There is no doubt that Jesus is troubling, provocative, even annoying at times, but we Unitarian Universalists are known as troublemakers as well. We should understand this kind of personality!

My own story shows how truly complicated and subtle this whole question is. I became a Unitarian Universalist as a Southern convert to a classic humanistic church that was originally a lay-led fellowship, as was the first congregation I served as minister. I understand and appreciate the value members of our congregations place on reason and rationality. Yet when I served a year as a minister to ten struggling English Unitarian chapels, I was touched by the power of their ease with Christian words and concepts. Later, I served for over a decade a church with Universalist roots, and there I learned to appreciate that congregation’s spiritual yearning and ability to connect to the best of our Christian past.

I now serve in a church where Ralph Waldo Emerson was once minister. I can’t think of anyone who articulated the spiritual life above and beyond classic orthodoxy more expressively than Emerson did, but I also heed and well remember Emerson’s evaluation: “Jesus belonged to the race of prophets. He saw with open eyes the mystery of the soul.”

We talk a lot about diversity, and my experiences both as a minister and as a layperson have served to remind me of our truest diversity, the wide spectrum of belief and religious language still present among us. I have learned so much from each layer of my experience as a Unitarian Universalist, and I hope that we can preserve and protect all these influences and traditions among us.

Am I a classic Christian? Of course not. But Unitarian Universalists can and should have an expansive view of the nature of Jesus and his teachings. Labels are notoriously misleading and unforgiving things, but I’ll take the consequences of being labeled in proclaiming that UU Christianity should still be part of who we are as a religious movement.

The reality is that no matter what religious source or tradition is most precious to us, it should not overwhelm the great freedom and invitation that Unitarian Universalism offers us. I do not want Unitarian Universalism to “become more Christian.” My hope is that our faith, which we love, becomes as healthy, strong, and vibrant as it can be, and that we remain open and sensitive to the role that Jesus’ message has played and can play in our becoming who we would be as Unitarian Universalists.

When Jesus was asked how best to follow him, he did not offer guidelines for creedal acceptance or ask for signatures on the dotted line. Rather, he asked, did you feed the hungry? Visit the widows? Go see the prisoners? If you did , you served him in the highest sense. These are still good questions, and how we answer tells us more about our relationship to Jesus today than any coffee-hour discussion or theological quarrel.

Mystery writer and journalist G. K. Chesterton was once asked what he thought about Christianity. He answered, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Truth is, I may not be a Unitarian Universalist Christian.

But if I work at it, someday I might be. The kinds of questions Jesus asked take a lifetime to answer.

About the Author:
Rev. Stephen Kendrick is senior minister at First and Second Church in Boston, Massachusetts.

For Further Reading

Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

Buehrens, John A. Understanding the Bible. An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.

Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus. A Revolutionary Biography . San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994.

Patterson, Stephen J. The God of Jesus. The Historical Jesus & the Search for Meaning. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 1998.

Spong, James. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

A New Christianity for a New World. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Wikstrom, Erik Walker. Teacher, Guide, Companion. Rediscovering Jesus in a Secular World. Boston: Skinner House, 2003.

Wright, Conrad, ed. Three Prophets of Liberal Religion. Channing, Emerson, Parker. Boston: Skinner House, 1996.

Purchase paper copies of this UUA Pamphlet Commission Publication from the UUA Bookstore for distribution or display

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The Faith of a UU Humanist

Sarah Oelberg



I was first introduced to Humanism in kindergarten. Our Sunday school class had just sung "Jesus Loves Me" when our kindly Unitarian minister came in and told us how lovely our singing was. Then he asked what the song meant to us and he told us that it was a song about love-not the same kind of love that our parents give us, but a wonderful kind of love for everyone that a man named Jesus, now dead, tried to teach when he was alive. He told us that the Bible is a book that tells stories about some of the ways Jesus showed his love for people, and that there are also many other books that teach us about love. He said we do not belong to Jesus-maybe to our parents, but our bodies and our ideas can not be owned by anyone except ourselves. And he said that we should never think of ourselves as weak. For if we try, we can do and be almost anything we want. We do not need to have someone like Jesus look after us; we can take responsibility for our own lives and accomplish marvelous things.

This is such a sensible and simple philosophy that I remember it still, and I have followed it since. In that brief conversation with a group of children, the minister managed to cover the basic tenets of Humanism:

Showing love to all humans is a worthy goal.

Immortality is found in the examples we set and the work we do.

We gain insight from many sources and all cultures, and there are many religious books and teachings that can instruct us about how to live.

We have the power within ourselves to realize the best we are capable of as human beings.

We are responsible for what we do and become; our lives are in our own hands.

However, I did not learn everything I needed to know about Humanism while in kindergarten. Through my years of religious education in various Unitarian churches, I felt the affirming love of a religion that had a deep concern for the worth and dignity of all people-including me. I learned to affirm and celebrate life in this world and to work for the betterment of the world and its people. I was nurtured by the feeling that I had the potential and the freedom to experience all kinds of things, to enjoy life and liberty, and to explore many different ideas. I was encouraged to use my mind, to question even the seemingly obvious, and to trust in my own experiences and perceptions.

As I became more involved in the world, I came to value many expressions of the human spirit and the power of human imagination. I appreciate art, music, poetry, drama, and literature. I came to realize that creativity is best nurtured in a climate of freedom where innovation is esteemed. I am glad to have a religion that encourages me to explore and express my aesthetic and sensual side, and to open my heart and mind to the fullness of life in all its aspects.

During the years of my formal education, I particularly valued that Humanism honors reason and encourages integrity. I liked that it invited me to think for myself, to explore, challenge, and doubt; to approach the important questions of life with an openness to new ideas and different perspectives; and then to test these ideas against reality, filter new knowledge through my own active mind, and believe according to the evidence. Humanism provided me with the "tools" I would use to pursue the "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." It invited me to ask about each idea, "Is it reasonable and responsible to believe this? Does it make sense in terms of what is known about the world and the universe?" This is not to suggest that we do not also learn and gain insights from intuition, hunches, flashes of inspiration, even emotion or unexplainable experiences-we do. But when making important decisions that will affect ourselves and others, it behooves us to test our perceptions against reality.

This testing led me to realize that we are all connected to the world, the cosmos, and everything therein. I discovered that Humanism teaches that our well-being and our very existence depend upon the web of life in ways we are only beginning to understand, that our place in nature has to be in harmony with it. Humanism leads me to find a sense of wider relatedness with all the world and its peoples, and it calls me to work for a sound environment and a humane civilization. Because everything is interconnected, I cannot be concerned with my own life and the future of humanity without also being concerned about the future of the planet.

My Humanist religion also prods me to consider the moral principles by which I should live. Humanist ethics, based on love and compassion for humankind and for nature, place the responsibility on humanity for shaping the destiny and future direction of the world. I am called to find my better self and to try to become the best person I can be. Humanism also makes me aware of the existence of moral dilemmas and the need to be very careful and intentional in my moral decision-making, for every decision and action has a consequence now and for the future. I am compelled by my own analysis of the world situation to become involved in service for the greater good of humanity, recognizing that things are changing so quickly that an open-ended approach to solving social problems is needed.

As I grow older, I appreciate more and more the need for a spiritual life. I find my spirituality mostly in using my intelligence and creativity to try to build an enduring peace and beauty in my life. My Humanist belief helps me to see that to be honest with myself, to face life openly, and to be loyal to high ideals is to be spiritual. There is a unique spark of divinity in each of us by virtue of our human endowment; we need only try to find it. My search for that spark within me gives me constant challenge and consoling calm.

Finally, I have come to respect the important role Humanist principles have played in history. From classical Greece through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of science, there has been a grandeur in Humanism that has animated some of the most influential people and generated some of the most enduring ideals. I have been particularly inspired by the very Humanist sentiments of the women ministers in Iowa at the end of the last century, and I am proud to play a small part in continuing their legacy.

These are some of the things I have learned since kindergarten, and some of the reasons I am proud and happy to be a Unitarian Universalist Humanist. It is a religious perspective for those who are in love with life, and one that I embrace joyously.

The Rev. Sarah Oelberg is minister of the Nora Church Unitarian Universalist in Hanska, Minnesota and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Mankato.

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The Faith of a UU Theist:

There Must Be a God Somewhere

Rosemary Bray McNatt


Early in my ministerial internship, I was responsible one Sunday for leading the congregation in a period of prayer and meditation. After the service ended, one of the long-time members pulled me aside. "When you were praying this morning, you were addressing your prayers to someone, weren't you?" she asked. "Yes, I was," I said. The woman looked slightly incredulous. "You don't think there's really someone there, do you?"


"Yes," I answered, "I really do."


Becoming a Unitarian Universalist more than a decade ago was the path that led me back to God. Brought up in an African American Roman Catholic home, I measured my childhood days by the feast of the saints and the holy days of obligation. By the time I was ten, I found my youthful devotion challenged by the rigidity of the church and deeply damaged by its rejection of women's gifts, even when those gifts were as small as my desire to serve Mass as my younger brother did several times each week. My spirit crushed, I tossed aside both the church and all thoughts of God before I reached my teens.


Not that God wasn't due for some serious criticism from me by that time. It was the 1 960s after all, and questioning authority was more than a slogan to millions of us. The unfairness of life, the poverty and racism I knew from personal experience, the violence that was present all around me—including in my own home—had me asking tough questions about the God my mother clung to with such fervor. I informed her by the time I reached my teens that whatever God she thought she knew had done her precious little good and that I was fed up with all this religious mythology.


My mother, bless her, was more than used to her oldest girl; she had great experience with my periodic pronouncements of cynicism and rage. With her usual aplomb, she simply looked at me and said, "Just keep on living, baby. You'll find out."


I did keep on living, stepping out into the world of college and work, a thousand miles from my mother's watchful gaze. I resolutely stayed away from churches—and yet I found myself always in search of something. In my late twenties, I married my college sweetheart, an African American Unitarian Universalist by birthright. He and his parents had introduced me to this religious movement a decade earlier, while he and I were both in college.


Before meeting them, I had no clue what a UU was. As I walked down the aisle of the First Unitarian Church of Chicago on my wedding day, I didn't know a whole lot more — only that this faith mattered to the man I loved and to his parents. How could I know that my gesture of goodwill toward my new in-laws would lead me to a new faith —indeed, a new life?


I started attending the Community Church of New York to live out the fantasy of being a dutiful young wife. It was a fantasy fueled by my own love of tradition and heritage. I loved going to the church my husband grew up in and meeting the members who remembered him as a little boy in Sunday School. I basked in the affirmation of my husband's parents and the church's long-time members.


After a time, I began to pay attention, not just to coffee hour, but to the hour before that, when the community gathered amid the banners representing the great religions of the world. I sat beneath those banners and heard from the pulpit and the pews the deepest longings of my heart. I learned about the similarities among the great religions of the world, about their common hopes and aspirations for humanity. I heard about the beloved community—the gathered people hungry to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God. I heard about people who had risked all they had—even their own lives—in order to speak out loud the longings of their hearts, longings so much like mine.


And I heard about all these things in the context of freedom, the freedom to think for myself about God and about the world, the freedom to decide how I might live so that one day "righteousness and peace would kiss one another," even if I would not live to see that day.


No one required me to make promises I could not keep. There was no list of beliefs that determined whether I was in or out of favor. And most importantly, there were no gatekeepers who decided on my worthiness or unworthiness. Everyone in the sanctuary, including me, was part of a glorious creation. Just by being alive, I was good, I was worthwhile, I was sacred. It was a revelation. For a long time, it was enough—this freedom to think for myself, to embrace the spirit of skepticism and the rejection of doctrine. I reveled in the community of like-minded people, all of us fleeing the excess and rigidity of our childhood beliefs, the blind and unquestioning faith of our fathers and mothers.


But as my mother told me earlier, I kept on living. I kept on living in a world filled with tears and tragic events that had no easy explanations. I kept on facing great joy and deep disappointment. I kept on being confronted by hopeless situations that unexpectedly came to amazing conclusions. And thanks to the freedom I found as a Unitarian Universalist, I continued to ask what it was that I was experiencing.


The answer came slowly. Bit by bit, I learned to acknowledge grace, came to believe the irrational idea that, amid everything, there was a knowing, loving presence that abides in all things, even in me. I knew that I could not explain what was gradually becoming clear to me. I only knew the truth of the mystic Julian of Norwich's proclamation that "all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well."


At the same time I was comforted by this notion, I remained suspicious of it. How could all be well when I myself had spent a childhood in which all was definitely not well? How could it all be well as long as people cried out for justice and bread? How could it be well when millions lived out their lives without one moment of ease or pleasure while others knew nothing else? I had no answers to the questions—only the continuing sense that there is so much more to our lives here than the horrors we inflict on one another and the blessings we bestow too rarely.


And then, one day, God spoke. On retreat at a women's conference in Wisconsin, I joined with other participants in a sacred spiral dance led by a noted member of the women's spirituality movement. Asked as part of the dance to speak to the divine and listen for an answer, I joined in, impatient, skeptical, and freezing cold. As I made a perfunctory list of my concerns, I could suddenly feel a Presence in me. It was a Presence that made itself felt in every cell of my body, and it was followed by a Voice, neither male nor female, and utterly unlike anything I had ever felt. The Voice made itself heard in my body, and it told me clearly, lovingly, "Don't worry, my child, don't worry." When I spoke to the Voice about the hopes and dreams of my life, the secret desires I carried with me everywhere, it promised me "all these things and more." And then the Voice and Presence left me, and left me changed forever.


Most of the great Western theologians agree at least on this: God is beyond naming or full understanding, yet we human beings, created in God's image, nonetheless are called to make the attempt. It is the free faith of Unitarian Universalism that makes my attempts worthwhile. Because of this faith, I can be confident that my search for the Divine is structured, not by static institutions or individuals, but by the God who continues to call me and whom I continue to question. Because of this powerful freedom to believe—and to doubt—I live in trust, believing all manner of things will be well.


Rosemary Bray McNatt, an editor and author, is a candidate for the Unitarian Universalist ministry and intern minister at the Unitarian Church of Montclair, New Jersey. She serves as the vice chair of the Board of Trustees of Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California.

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The Flaming Chalice:

A Well-known UU Symbol

by Dan Hotchkiss


At the opening of Unitarian Universalist worship services, many congregations light a flame inside a chalice. This flaming chalice has become a well-known symbol of our denomination. It unites our members in worship and symbolizes the spirit of our work.

The flaming chalice combines two archetypes-a drinking vessel and a flame-and as a religious symbol has different meanings to different beholders.

Chalices, cups, and flagons can be found worldwide on ancient manuscripts and altars. The chalice used by Jesus at his lasst Passover seder became the Holy Grail sought by the knights of Wales and England. Jan Hus, Czech priest and forerunner of the Reformation, was burned at the stake for proposing, among other things, that the communion chalice be shared with the laity. More recently, feminist writer Riane Eisler has used the chalice as a symbol of the "partnership way" of being in community. Sharing, generosity, sustenance, and love are some of the meanings symbolized by a chalice.

As a sacrificial fire, flame has been a central symbol for the world's oldest scriptures, the Vedic hymns of India. Today, lights shine on Christmas and Hanukkah, eternal flames stand watch at monuments and tombs, and candles flicker in cathedrals, temples, mosques, and meeting houses. A flame can symbolize witness, sacrifice, testing, courage, and illumination.

The chalice and the flame were brought together as a Unitarian symbol by an Austrian artist, Hans Deutsch, in 1941. Living in Paris during the 1930s, Deutsch drew critical cartoons of Adolf Hitler. When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, he abandoned all he had and fled to the South of France, then to Spain, and finally, with an altered passport, into Portugal.

There, he met the Reverend Charles Joy, executive director of the Unitarian Service Committee (USC). The Service Committee was new, founded in Boston to assist Eastern Europeans, among them Unitarians as well as Jews, who needed to escape Nazi persecution. From his Lisbon headquarters, Joy oversaw a secret network of couriers and agents.

Deutsch was most impressed and soon was working for the USC. He later wrote to Joy:

There is something that urges me to tell you. . . how much I admire your utter self denial [and] readiness to serve, to sacrifice all, your time, your health, your well being, to help, help, help. 


I am not what you may actually call a believer. But if your kind of life is the profession of your faith - as it is, I feel sure - then religion, ceasing to be magic and mysticism, becomes confession to practical philosophy and-what is more-to active, really useful social work. And this religion - with or without a heading - is one to which even a 'godless' fellow like myself can say wholeheartedly, Yes!

The USC was an unknown organization in 1941. This was a special handicap in the cloak-and-dagger world, where establishing trust quickly across barriers of language, nationality, and faith could mean life instead of death. Disguises, signs and countersigns, and midnight runs across guarded borders were the means of freedom in those days. Joy asked Deutsch to create a symbol for their papers "to make them look official, to give dignity and importance to them, and at the same time to symbolize the spirit of our work. . . . When a document may keep a man out of jail, give him standing with governments and police, it is important that it look important."

Thus, Hans Deutsch made his lasting contribution to the USC and, as it turned out, to Unitarian Universalism. With pencil and ink he drew a chalice with a flame. It was, Joy wrote his board in Boston, a chalice with a flame, the kind of chalice which the Greeks and Romans put on their altars. The holy oil burning in it is a symbol of helpfulness and sacrifice. . . . This was in the mind of the artist. The fact, however, that it remotely suggests a cross was not in his mind, but to me this also has its merit. We do not limit our work to Christians. Indeed, at the present moment, our work is nine-tenths for the Jews, yet we do stem from the Christian tradition, and the cross does symbolize Christianity and its central theme of sacrificial love.

The flaming chalice design was made into a seal for papers and a badge for agents moving refugees to freedom. In time it became a symbol of Unitarian Universalism all around the world.

The story of Hans Deutsch reminds us that the symbol of a flaming chalice stood in the beginning for a life of service. When Deutsch designed the flaming chalice, he had never seen a Unitarian or Universalist chuurch or heard a sermon. What he had seen was faith in action-people who were willing to risk all for others in a time of urgent need.

Today, the flaming chalice is the official symbol of the UU Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Officially or unofficially, it functions as a logo for hundreds of congregations. Perhaps most importantly, it has become a focal point for worship. No one meaning or interpretation is official. The flaming chalice, like our faith, stands open to receive new truths that pass the tests of reason, justice, and compassion.

The Reverend Dan Hotchkiss is a Unitarian Universalist minister who writes and consults on congregational leadership, fundraising, and conflict management.

Purchase paper copies of this UUA Pamphlet Commission Publication from the UUA Bookstore for distribution or display.

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Our Unitarian Universalist Faith:
Frequently Asked Questions


by Alice Blair Wesley


At a Unitarian Universalist worship service or meeting, you are likely to find members whose positions on faith may be derived from a variety of religious beliefs: Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, naturist, atheist, or agnostic. Members might tell you that they are religious humanists, liberal Christians, or world religionists.

All these people, and others who label their beliefs still differently, are faithful Unitarian Universalists committed to the practtice of free religion. We worship, sing, play, study, teach, and work for social justice together as congregations-all the while remaining strong in our individual convictions.

If Unitarian Universalists hold such varied convictions, what does it mean to be a Unitarian Universalist?

Who are Unitarian Universalists?

We are a religious people who have woven strands of a rich past into a tapestry of the present.

In the first centuries of the Christian era, Christians held a variety of beliefs concerning the nature of Jesus. In 325 CE, however, the Council of Nicea promulgated the doctrine of the Trinity-God as Father, Son, annd Holy Ghost-and denounced all those who believed differently as heretics.

In the sixteenth century, Christian humanists in Central Europe-in Poland and Transylvania-studied the Bible closelly. They could not find the orthodox dogma of the Trinity in the texts. Therefore, they affirmed-as did Jesus, according to the Gospels-the unity, or oneness, of God. Hence they acquired the name Unitarian.

These sixteenth-century Unitarians preached and organized churches according to their own rational convictions in the face of overwhelming orthodox opposition and persecution. They also advocated religious freedom for others. In Transylvania, now part of Romania, Unitarians persuaded the Diet (legislature) to pass the Edict of Toleration. In 1568 the law declared that, since "faith is the gift of God," people would not be forced to adhere to a faith they did not choose.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, radical reformers in Europe and America also studied the Bible closely. They found only a few references to hell, which they believed orthodox Christians had grossly misinterpreted. They found, both in the Bible and in their own hearts, an uncondittionally loving God. They believed that God would not deem any human being unworthy of divine love, and that salvation was for all. Because of this emphasis on universal salvation, they called themselves Universalists.

In the eighteenth century, a dogmatic Calvinist insistence on predestination and human depravity seemed to liberal Christians irrational, perverse, and contrary to both biblical tradition and immediate experience. Liberal Christians believe that human beings are free to heed an inner summons of conscience and character. To deny human freedom is to make God a tyrant and to undermine God-given human dignity.

In continuity with our sixteenth-century Unitarian forebears, today we Unitarian Universalists are determined to follow our own reasoned convictions, no matter what others may say, and we embrace tolerance as a central principle, inside and outside our own churches.

Also during the seventeenth century, reformers in several European countries, especially in England, could not find a biblical basis for the authority and power of ecclesiastical bishops. They affirmed, therefore, the authority and power of the Holy Spirit to guide the local members. These reformers on the radical left wing of the Reformation, seeking to "purify" the church of its "corruptions," reclaimed what they believed to be ancient church practice and named it congregational polity.

These same seventeenth-century radicals did away with creeds, that is, with precisely phrased statements of belief to which members had to subscribe. Members joining their churches signed a simple and broadly phrased covenant, or agreement, such as this one: "We pledge to walk together in tthe ways of the Lord as it pleaseth Him to make them known to us, now and in days to come."

Some of these reformers, the Pilgrims and the Puritans, crossed the Atlantic and braved the North American wilderness to establish covenanted congregations whose direction belonged to the local members. Some of these original congregational churches developed increasingly liberal theological beliefs after 1750, and in the early nineteenth century, many of them added the word Unitarian to their names. Th us, some of the oldest churches in the United States, including the First Parish of Plymouth, Massachusetts, became Unitarian. In the late eighteenth century, other radicals who believed in religious liberty and universal salvation organized separate Universalist congregations.

In continuity with our independent forebears, today Unitarian Universalist congregations are covenanted, not creedal. Congregational polity is a basic doctrine. In the spirit of freedom, we cherish honest dialogue and persuasion, not coercion. We embrace democratic method as a central principle. Our local members unite to engage in and to support ministries of their own choosing.

The seventeenth-century scientific revolution began a great shift in Western thinking. In the eighteenth century, the Enlighteenment brought an increased willingness to look critically and analytically at all human institutions, without presupposing the sanctity or privilege of any.

Many religious groups fiercely resisted these scientific analytical ideas. Some still do. In the churches of our forebears, new scientific and social ideas-from Newtonian physics, to evolution, to psychology, to relativity-found ready acceptance. Indeed, some of the greatest scientists and social theorists of the age were either privately or publicly Unitarian or Universalist: Joseph Priestley, Charles Darwin, Maria Mitchell, and Benjamin Rush, for example.

In the nineteenth century, increased travel and translation of Eastern religious texts brought greater awareness of differennt religions. Again, many of our forebears were uncommonly open to new ideas from Eastern cultures. Ralph Waldo Emerson was deeply influenced by Hinduism, and James Freeman Clarke was among the first in the world to urge and teach the study of comparative religion.

In continuity with our forebears, today Unitarian Universalists expect new scientific disclosures to cohere, not conflict, with our religious faith. We embrace the challenge and the joy of intercultural religious fellowship.

How did the movement come to have such a long name?

In North America, Unitarianism and Universalism developed separately. Universalist congregations began to be established in the 1770s. Other congregations, many established earlier, began to take tthe Unitarian name in the 1 820s. Over the decades the two groups converged in their liberal emphasis and style, and in 1961 they merged to become the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Where can one find Unitarian Universalist congregations now?

More than one thousand congregations in the United States and Canada belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of Congregations, with headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts.

The oldest Unitarian congregations are in Romania. There are large Unitarian congregations in the Khasi Hills of India. Others are found in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, France, Great Britain, Australia, Nigeria, South Africa, the Philippines, and Japan. (Some of these are Unitarian and some are Universalist.)

North American Unitarian Universalists maintain ties with other Unitarian Universalists throughout the world, mostly through our membership in the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), organizzed in 1900. Members of the IARF include other liberal Christian groups as well as Humanist, Hindu Reform, Shinto, and Buddhist groups.

What do UUs believe about God?

Some Unitarian Universalists are non-theists and do not find language about God useful. The faith of other Unitarian Universalists in God may be profound, though among these, too, talk of God may be restrained. Why?

The word God is much abused. Far too often, the word seems to refer to a kind of granddaddy in the sky or a super magician. To avoid confusion, many Unitarian Universalists are more apt to speak of "reverence for life" (in the words of Albert Schweitzer, a Unitarian), the spirit of love or truth, the holy, or the gracious. Many also prefer such language because it is inclusive; it is used with integrity by theist and non-theist members.

Whatever our theological persuasion, Unitarian Universalists generally agree that the fruits of religious belief matter more than beliefs about religion-even about God. So we usually speak more of the fruits: gratitude for blessings, worthy aspirations, the renewal of hope, and service on behalf of justice.

What about Jesus?

Classically, Unitarian Universalist Christians have understood Jesus as a savior because he was a God-filled human being, not a supernatural being. He was, and still is for many UUs, an exemplar, one who has shown the way of redemptive love, in whose spirit anyone may live generously and abundantly. Among us, Jesus' very human life and teaching have been understood as products of, and in line with, the great Jewish tradition of prophets and teachers. He neither broke with that tradition nor superceded it.

Many of us honor Jesus, and many of us honor other master teachers of past or present generations, like Moses or the Buddha. As a result, mixed-tradition families may find common ground in the UU fellowship without compromising other loyalties.

And about the Bible?

In most of our congregations, our children learn Bible stories as a part of their church school curricula. It is not unusual to find adult study groups in the churches, or in workshops at summer camps and confereences, focusing on the Bible. Allusions to biblical symbols and events are frequent in our sermons. In most of our congregations, the Bible is read as any other sacred text might be-from time to time, but not routinely.

We have especially cherished the prophetic books of the Bible. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and other prophets dared to speak critical words of love to the powerful, calling for justice for the oppressed. Many Unitarian and Universalist social reformers have been inspired by the Biblical prophets. We hallow the names of Unitarian and Universalist prophets: Joseph Tuckerman, Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton, Theodore Parker, Susan B. Anthony, and many others.

We do not, however, hold the Bible-or any other account of human experience-to be either an infallible guide or the exclusive source of truth. Much biblical material is mythical or legendary. Not that it shhould be discarded for that reason! Rather, it should be treasured for what it is. We believe that we should read the Bible as we read other books (or the newspaper)-with imagination and a critical eye.

We also respect the sacred literature of other religions. Contemporary works of science, art, and social commentary are valued as well. We hold, in the words of an old liberal formulation, that "revelation is not sealed." Unitarian Universalists aspire to truth as wide as the world-we look to find truth anywhere, universally.

How do UUs understand salvation?

The English word salvation derives from the Latin salus, meaning health. Unitarian Universalists are as concerned with salvation, in the sense of spiritual health or wholeness, as any other religious people.

However, in many Western churches, salvation has come to be associated with a specific set of beliefs or a spiritual transformation of a very limited type.

Among Unitarian Universalists, instead of salvation you will hear of our yearning for, and our experience of, personal growth, increased wisdom, strength of character, and gifts of insight, understanding, inner and outer peace, courage, patience, and compassion. The ways in which these things come to, change, and heal us, are many indeed. We seek and celebrate them in our worship.

What ceremonies are observed, what holidays celebrated?

Our ceremonies-of marriage and starting a new family, naming or dedicating our children, and memorializing our dead-are phrased in simple, contemporary language. We observe these rites in community, not because they are required by some rule or dogma, but because in them we may voice our affection, hopes, and dedication.

Though practices vary in our congregations and change over time, UUs celebrate many of the great religious holidays with enthusiasm. Whether we gather to celebrate Christmas, Passover, or the Hindu holiday Divali, we do so in a universal context, recognizing and honoring religious observances and festivals as innate and needful in all human cultures.

Are Unitarian Universalists Christian?
Yes and no.

Yes, some Unitarian Universalists are Christian. Personal encounter with the spirit of Jesus as the christ richly informs their religious lives.

No, Unitarian Universalists are not Christian, if by Christian you mean those who think that acceptance of any creedal belieff whatsoever is necessary for salvation. Unitarian Universalist Christians are considered heretics by those orthodox Christians who claim none but Christians are "saved." (Fortunately, not all the orthodox make that claim.)

Yes, Unitarian Universalists are Christian in the sense that both Unitarian and Universalist history are part of Christian history. Our core principles and practices were first articulated and established by liberal Christians.

Some Unitarian Universalists are not Christian. For though they may acknowledge the Christian history of our faith, Christian stories and symbols are no longer primary for them. They draw their personal faith from many sources: nature, intuition, other cultures, science, civil liberation movements, and so on.

How is religious education conducted?

The program of religious education is determined, as are all other programs, by members of the local congregation. A wide range of courses is available through our Association. These are adapted by members as they choose. Courses appropriate for children may be offered in subjects as varied as inteerpersonal relations, ethical questions, the Bible, world religions, nature and ecology, heroes and heroines of social reform, Unitarian Universalist history, and holy days around the world. The same is true of adult religious education.

In most of our congregations, regular children's worship-often held during a portion of the adult service-is part of the proogram. We seek to teach our children to be responsible for their own thinking and to nurture their own impulses of reverence, morality, respect for others, and self-respect.

Do Unitarian Universalists practice what they preach?

Religious liberals put less emphasis on formal beliefs and more on practical living. Our interest is in deeds, not creeds. Wee appreciate the biblical text, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only."

Our members have been active leaders in the struggles for racial equality, civil liberty, international peace, and equal rights for all people. We work as individuals, in congregational social action, and inn other groupings, including such denominational efforts as the UUA's Faith in Action Department and the UU-UN Office. We also work with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, which brings critically needed social change to many parts of the world.

How can I become part of a Unitarian Universalist congregation?

Many of our societies offer introductory sessions, study groups, videotapes, and increasingly, a World Wide Web homepaage to acquaint those interested in membership with our history, Principles, and programs. Individual appointments with ministers and members are encouraged. Many pamphlets are available through the UUA Bookstore. Usually, these are readily accessible in a church's foyer, and even small fellowships may have a good library of Unitarian Universalist writings. The UUA website, at
www.uua.org, is another good source of information about Unitarian Universalism.

All of these, along with your presence with us at worship and in our many other activities, provide the means for learning more about who Unitarian Universalists are, and whether you want to become one of us.

The last act of joining the congregation is simple, but significant: You write your name on a membership card or in the membership book or parish register.

We have no creedal requirements. With your signature you affirm your pledge to enter and to remain in a continuing and tolerant dialogue concerning the ways of truth and love, a dialogue within which free persuasion may occur; to share in our fellowship and in our corporate decision making; and to support with your gifts of energy and money our common work for the common good.

About the Author

Alice Blair Wesley is a Unitarian Universalist minister who has served congregations in College Station, Texas; Silver Spring, Maryland; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Hagerstown, Maryland; and Harford County, Maryland.

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Unitarian Universalism: A Religious Home for Bisexual,

Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender People

Barbara L. Pescan


"I have been extraordinarily lucky. In living my life as an openly lesbian woman, I have gained far more-infinitely more-than I have lost. One factor tips the balance: I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist. I was raised with Sunday School lessons that taught the beauty of difference, in a faith that nurtures self-respect, dignity, and courage. Most of all, I knew and continue to be affirmed in the truth that no matter what I lost or will lose in coming out, I won't lose my church. I know I am loved not in spite of who or what I am, but because of who and what I am. And that has made all the difference." Reverend Kim K. Crawford Harvie, Senior Minister Arlington Street Church, Boston, MA

What do we stand for?

The Unitarian Universalist approach to spirituality is basically different from that of religions based on a creed or received revelation. In our search for religious truth, we weigh the religious voices and visions of every place and time on a balance with our own voice and vision. We search the gatheered wisdom of humankind-reason and intuition, the arts and science-and we search our own experience. We enter the combined religious traditions of the Unitarians and the Universalists, offering the life-truths of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people. If you are looking for a place where minds are free and the issues of our lives and times are examined openly, then you may belong in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Because we are not accountable to some received version of the truth, or to a central authority, we are always testing the value of our own thoughts. We find as much challenge in the questions as we find comfort in the answers. And we are open to changing our minds and hearts as we discover new knowledge. Ours is a tradition of strong, prophetic voices calling for a larger vision of life. Compared to other denominations, we have by far the highest percentage of openly gay and lesbian clergy. Unitarian Universalists have long called for the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in religious community and in society at large. Each year the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association votes on a number of resolutions intended to affect the manner in which its staff, member organizations, congregations, and individual Unitarian Universalists address the social issues of the day. These resolutions often place the Association at the leading edge of social change. This is particularly evident in the body of resolutions passed pertaining to the rights of lesbian and gay persons.

Since 1970, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has enacted a total of fourteen resolutions in support of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons and their lives.

Beginning with resolutions calling for educational efforts and non-discriminatory hiring practices within the UUA (1970), the Association has struggled to become more congruent with its own Principles and Purposes.

The resolutions passed between 1977 and 1996 charge us to address congruity with our own Principles, issues of legal equity (including advocacy for those with HIV/AIDS, in 1986), and affirm services of union (1984). In 1996 the UUA made history by being the first mainline denomination in the US to adopt a position supporting legally recognized marriage between members of the same sex.

One resolution (1989) funded the development of a program by which a church or fellowship could become a "Welcoming Congregation"-one that is proactive about affirming the presence of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons. In 1996, in order to be fully inclusive, the UUA recognized the need to revise the Welcoming Congregation program to address the concerns of transgender people. The UUA has also implemented "Beyond Categorical Thinking," an equal opportunity program designed in part to settle bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender ministers in our congregations and to address bias, especially in the process of searching for a minister. Where has this brought us?

This twenty-year history of affirmation and advocacy is just the beginning. The women and men who brought these resolutionns to a vote have often acted with the support of their local congregations and sometimes in painful awareness of the opposition to these views. Moving these resolutions from words to deeds depends upon the presence and loving vigilance of all who work for justice.

We are proud of this record as a manifestation of the efforts of so many Unitarian Universalists over the years. As we continue our efforts on behalf of all those who are still denied the full rights of their humanity for reasons of sexual and affectional orientation and gender identity-and ffor reasons of race, sex, age, economic status, or physical disability-this record of resolve is an inspiration. But is Unitarian Universalism completely free of homophobia? Of course not. Still, whenever Unitarian Universalists are called upon to take a position on bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender issues, our growing body of resolutions guides us. More and more people in our congregations are speaking out. More and more of us are willing to take a stand in the face of willful or ignorant homophobia. And we're willing to make public, as part of our religious practice, what we believe-that the human family is one, and that the love that binds us is greater than the fears that divide us.

"When I attended a gay men's conference at a Unitarian Universalist camp, I discovered a covenantal community that has embraced my essential nature and its expression as good and whole. In my congregation I am valued and have been welcomed, as a religious education teacher and youth group advisor, to model living 'outside the box' for fifteen years. I have found a spiritual home that seeks to create a safe, nurturing space for all." — Brian A. Geenbaur

Cambridge, MA

Where does this lead us?

We are not finished. Remember when you realized that homosexuality wasn't the problem-homophobia was? The leap of consciousness we take when we understand that must be followed by other leaps of consciousness. Gulfs of misunderstanding and grief separate the races and genders. Frustrations isolate people with disabilities. And indifference marginalizes the young and the old. Those of us who have been baptized in the fire of our own homophobia, and who have found our way back to self-love despite all "the forces ranged against us and within us" (Adrienne Rich), have a responsibility to be a bridge to those still seeking, still angry, still frightened, still excluded.

Unitarian Universalist spirituality comes full circle when you understand that whenever you enter the doors of a Unitarian Universalist congregation, you may not lock them after you. It is a radical understanding of our principles and of the strength of the human spirit that we expect ourselves never to tire, never to cease working for justice, equity, and compassion in human relations-even when we have found our home inside the doors, especially when we have found our home inside. It is incumbent upon us to push the boundaries of the word "we" to see who it has come to include. We belong here. We belong here not only to receive the comfort of being accepted, but also to speak out for those yet awaiting welcome.

"Each time I tell my story in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, I am met with openness, respect, and caring. Even though many Unitarian Universalists are just learning what it means to be transgender, their response goes well beyond tolerance. Unitarian Universalists consistently yearn to understand, to appreciate, and to welcome my whole story. It is in their company that I have learned that being transgender is a gift." —Sean Dennison

Berkeley, CA

Rev. Barbara J. Pescan is a graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry. She serves as co-minister of the Unitarian Church of Evanston, IL.

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Religious Hospitality: A Spiritual
Practice for Congregations

Peter Morales

Think of a time when you have felt truly welcomed. Maybe it was coming home after a long time away. Maybe someone took you in when you were far from home. Relive those feelings for a moment. Feel that warmth again; see those smiles and feel those arms embracing you. What a gift it is to be welcomed.

Hospitality, true hospitality, is emotionally powerful. It touches something very deep in us—our profound human longing to feel accepted, to belong, to be loved, to feel safe, to be valued and respected.

Hospitality is not something to be proclaimed; it must be lived. Hospitality is both a spiritual discipline and an expression of spiritual health. If I feel angry, hurt, unloved, or alienated I cannot offer a warm welccome. Conversely, if I am at peace, filled with joy at being alive, aware of those around me with compassion in my heart, then hospitality flows naturally and inevitably from the depths of my being.

What is true of an individual is also true of a community. A congregation in which people do not genuinely love each other is not likely to exude warmth. A congregation that is self-absorbed and disconnected from its community cannot offer religious hospitality. Hospitality is love in action.

The world's great religious traditions have long affirmed the link between religion and hospitality. Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures admonish us to welcome the stranger as a guest. Hebrew scriptures, recalling the oppression the children of Israel suffered as foreigners, teach us to love the stranger, the outsider. The Book of Leviticus instructs the people, "You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."

The teachings of Jesus extend this tradition. Jesus and his followers went beyond welcoming the foreigner to the more radical practice of welcoming the marginalized: children, women, tax collectors, the poor, lepers, prostitutes, even enemies. In Jesus' vision of the Kingdom of God, there are no foreigners. We are all God's children and we are all loved.

The Buddhist tradition arrives at a similar place by a different road. In some ways the Buddhist perspective is the most radical. Buddhism teaches that the very distinction between one group and another, between insider and outsider, between citizen and alien is a dangerous illusion.

The renowned Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that in Buddhism there is no such thing as an individual. His point is that we are so profoundly connected by history, culture, biology, and our interdependence that the very notion of a separate individual is false. A deep awareness, a spirituall and cognitive enlightenment, reveals that we are part of a greater unity.

In the Buddhist tradition, our connections are real; our separations are an illusion. When we believe in the illusion of separation, not only do we deceive ourselves but we follow a path that will bring us great suffering. If you and I are ultimately connected, you cannot be other. You cannot be an alien, a foreigner. If I do not know you I do not yet know a part of my self. When you and I are separated, neither of us is whole.

Hospitality, true hospitality, is not an obligation. It is not a duty. True hospitality is a spiritual practice, a religious practice. Like meditation or prayer, hospitality connects us with a deep truth and compassion that transcend our selves. Our sense of isolation and individualism is an illusion that cuts us off from what is real, true, loving, and sacred in life.

There are a thousand ways to practice hospitality. First, we can begin by being open and loving with those we already know, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and extending ourselves to others. But we can not and must not stop there. If we stop there we draw a circle that keeps others out, a circle that disconnects us. We must go much further.

A true religious hospitality reaches out to those we do not yet know. This can be as simple as greeting those seated near you on Sunday morning and working up the courage to talk to a stranger during coffee hour. It means warmly welcoming those who come looking for a religious home. As Unitarian Universalists, we respect each person's search for truth and meaning. And as stewards of hospitality, we can stand ready to look at each other face-to-face, to see the divine in each person.

But we must also take the spiritual practice of hospitality beyond the safety of our own religious communit ies. Our practice must extend to opening our hearts to strangers throughout our lives.

The real challenge for us, the spiritual heavy lifting, comes when we encounter people who appear to be different from ourselves. People we perceive as different test our spiritual development—and help us develop spiritually. We need to practice openness to people who make us uncomfortable: people who come from a different ethnic group; people a lot older or younger; people who are gay, straight, or conservative; people who believe crazy things or are mentally ill. When we welcome what is uncomfortable, we grow.

The best reason to reach out isn't to help another person; it is to make ourselves whole. Reaching out frees us from the prison of the self. Reaching out with love frees us from individualism and narcissism.

With love comes understanding, and with understanding comes love. Ultimately, love and understanding are one. The enlightenment the Buddha spoke of and the God that is love in the Christian tradition are one. WWhen we make true connection we touch what is holy. Hospitality is the start of the journey; it is the enactment of our Unitarian Universalist faith.

The hunger for true religious community, for connection and commitment, is pervasive in our time. Our future depends on whether we can connect with people at the level of their deepest longings and highest aspirations. We are called to feed the spiritually hungry and to offer a home to the religiously homeless. And in the process, we are enriched in spirit.

Someone, a long-lost relative of the human family, is coming into our lives. It happens every single day. At church it happenns every single Sunday. May you and I be there, with anticipation in our hearts, warm smiles on our faces, our eyes ready to truly meet the eyes of another, and our arms extended, saying, "Welcome, welcome."

For Further Reading

Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs, by Kate Tweedie Erslev (Boston: UUA, 2004).

Growing a Beloved Community: Twelve Hallmarks of a Healthy Congregation, by Tom Owen-Towle (Boston: UUA, 2004).

Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way ofLove, by Lonni Collins and Daniel Homan (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2002).

The Safe Congregation Handbook: Nurturing Healthy Boundaries in Our Faith Communities, edited by Pat Hoertdoerfer and Fredric Muir (Boston: UUA, 2004).

Welcoming Children with Special Needs, by Sally Patton (Boston: UUA, 2004).

Reverend Peter S. Morales is senior minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado. He is a former member of the UUA Board of Trustees andformer UUA Director ofDistrict Services.

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Unitarian Universalist Experiences


The note of spirituality that Unitarian Universalists have heard over this past decade has become a distinct melody. It has entered our congregational life as new rituals and liturgies, and it has entered our personal lives as practices and experiences.

We have heard its sound before. We heard it in the voice of William Ellery Channing: “I call that mind free which discovers everywhere the radiant signatures of the infinite spirit, and in them finds help to its own spiritual enlargement.” We heard it in the Transcendentalists. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Within us is the soul of the whole; the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal One.” Margaret Fuller stated, “I accept the universe.” We heard it in the words of Humanists like Clinton Lee Scott: “The continuing mission of human beings is to learn how to live decently together. The universe responds!”

Today we hear it in our own voices as we seek what is holy. We find it in the quiet of our hearts, in the voices of fellowship, in the work of justice, and in the wonder of nature. The sound calls us to discipline and practice and manifests itself through inward spirit and outward action.

This pamphlet brings together five voices. Each of the five could have belonged to any one of us. The sound of spirituality is growing more distinct. With open hands and minds, we respond, individually and institutionally, to meet the challenge and feel the comfort of this new sound.

Rosemarie C. Smurzynski, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Area Church, Sherborn, Massachusetts

The Greater Connections

Spirituality for me is about connections, with people, with animals, with nature, with energies deeper than the human eye can perceive. My spiritual awakenings occur as I touch and am touched by other parts of our miraculous web of existence.

I am walking down the hall at church on a Sunday morning, busy with a thousand details. I decide to pause and look in at the children in the nursery. Kelly, who is only twenty months old, looks up and, smiling, calls my name. In that brief instant she offers to me the gift of the Spirit of Life.

I am tired from a hard and hassled day at the office. I open the front door feeling empty, and my German shepherd greets me. With her brown eyes filled with love and her tail wagging, she offers unconditional love—another “greater” connection.

The times of struggling and despair—these, too, offer connections. They force me to return to the core of my vision and being, and then they offer me the unbidden courage to begin swimming toward the future once more. The crisis, which occurs with such pain and fear that it takes all the discipline I have to move through it, eventually offers — in some unexpected way — an opportunity for deeper growth. These words attributed to Fra Giovanni offer inspiration: “Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty... beneath its covering. . . that you find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it, that is all!”

My spirituality is nurtured as I allow myself to feel and experience the connections of life — seen and unseen — and to probe more openly and deeply into the energies of ultimate meaning that they offer.

Makanah Elizabeth Morriss, Co-minister, Unitarian Universalist Church Cheyenne, Wyoming

Practice, Practice, Practice

I have been practicing meditation for almost thirty years, using different techniques drawn from Eastern religions at different times in my life. Others have also found that a daily or weekly spiritual discipline has become an essential dimension of their approach to spiritual growth. Now, in mid-lifee, I have settled into a meaningful daily meditation practice and biannual attendance at week -long meditation retreats as cornerstones of my spirituality. My meditation practice takes a Zen Buddhist form. However, most approaches to meditation have the same basic understanding of the goal: “being in the moment.”

As a lifelong UU, I will always be grateful for the theologically diverse congregations I have belonged to, and for the blend of reason, justice seeking, and celebration we bring to religious life. Meditative practice has reinforced for me the deep thread of mystical appreciation for life’s oneness and wonder that runs through our UU history. I meet many other Unitarian Universalists who have felt the need for a regular discipline of the spirit. Sometimes that need is fulfilled by opportunities made available within our movement. At other times our members seek teachers and resources that are outside of our community. The blessing that is Unitarian Universalism not only allows, but encourages this search and invites us to bring back home what we learn.

Wayne Arnason, Co-minister, West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church,
Cleveland, Ohio

The Interdependent Web

We should not try to separate the life of the spirit from the life of action in the world. Jesus expresses this belief clearly when he reminds his followers of the two great commandments. The first, he says, is “Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength,” and the second is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The contemplative Thomas Merton said, “Go into the desert not to escape other men [and women] but in order to find them in God.”

I often see such attempts to build an either/or world. There is either social service or social action, either spirituality or social concern. And yet these supposedly contrasting approaches to life really need one another. Effective social change is rooted in the shared experience with those who feel social oppression. Effective social action is rooted and empowered by true spirituality.

In similar fashion, true spirituality incorporates the cries of the suffering and the search for understanding, in order to usher God’s reign into the world of human struggle.

As Unitarian Universalists we must constantly struggle against our tendencies toward individualism and separation. Contemplation, prayer, meditation, and discipline can enhance the spiritual life but can also lead to an elitist position by removing us from the human struggle. Or spiritual life can bring us into touch with the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part, and which is torn by social and ecological wounds.

Elizabeth Ellis,
Minister, Executive Director, Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry, Boston, Massachusetts

Beyond the Immediate

“Spirituality” is a kind of lens through which to enlarge and give clarity and meaning to the chaos of moment-by-moment experience, to make sense of the jumble of the past, and to conceive a future worthy of blood and breath. I think of religion as the particular creed I believe in and through which I relate to God and existence—in my case, Christianity.

I think of spirituality as including all religions, a name or label for the whole thrust and impulse of humanity to see beyond its immediate concerns and to act beyond ego, to take part in the painful and glorious process of creation.

At different times I’ve experienced whatever I think spirituality is in prayer, work, writing, and making love—just as I have experienced all those activities without it too. I have “seen” it exemplified on Boy Scout camping trips, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the loving care of a dental hygienist with an especially antsy patient (me).

“Spirituality” is not misty and ethereal, but funny, tough, and inventive.

Dan Wakefield, Author, member of King’s Chapel, Boston, Massachusetts

Catching Our Breath

When I was in high school, I ran track for a season or two to meet my athletic obligation. Whereas the coach and all the stars of the team would wax poetic about the thrill of the run, what I liked best about running was that, once you were finished, you had to take at least ten minutes to catch your breath. During those ten minutes life seemed most worth living, I was most swept up in gratitude. Spirituality is not unlike catching your breath and being immensely grateful for it. Indeed, in Hebrew the word spirit originally meant breath or wind.

I want that which I love to live forever, and so I am forever tempted to be a runner from life’s uncertainties, to bury my head in the distractions of the everyday. But occasionally I stop running and catch my breath. Or perhaps it is my breath that catches me. Occasionally the splendor of the world—some one, some thing—intrudes itself into my life in such a way that I cannot help but notice. Occasionally the glory of the stars explodes before me so that I cannot turn away.

Whatever discloses that abundance, whatever reminds us of the best we can be, whatever summons us to transform the world into ever wider channels of justice and of love—this is spirituality. The best way to experience it, I suspect, is to pause and ponder silence, for in silence we can feel our breath return, and occasionally, if we are very, very quiet, the wind itself may speak.

William F. Schulz,
Executive Director, Amnesty International, USA

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Church through the Eyes of Our Children:


UU Kids Say...

Edited by Beth Graham

Whether called a church, a fellowship, a congregation, or a society, our Unitarian Universalist faith communities have always valued children. This is what our children have to say about their religious homes.

UU kids say church is . . .

. . . about what we believe.

Church is religion.

Church is believing.

Church is a place where people come to worship, to listen to sermons and services, to learn about God. Sometimes there is a choir there.

At church we try to make religious teachings work for us today.

At church we tell stories and talk about all kinds of people’s ideas of how the world came to be. We talk about what other churches might do.

. . . rituals and customs.

Church is a place to worship and socialize.

Church is a place to make music. Church is where we ring the bell. Church is where we light the chalice.

Church is where we pray—and sing—and talk.

Church is lighting candles of hope.

At church we share our joys and concerns, and collect food and money.

. . . about people.

Church is where you make friends.

Church is where we think about giving.

Church is people, snacks, family, happiness.

Church is where we learn to cooperate with different people.

Church is a place to help.

Church is a place where no one is a stranger.

Church is togetherness!

At church we share our ideas, treasure other people and ourselves, and help others.

. . . feeling peaceful and good.

Church is a place of love.

Church is a place to be quiet and think. Church is a place to be welcome.

Church is a place where you can feel secure.

Church is a place where you can get away from your troubles. Church makes me feel special.

Church is a treat.

. . . about thinking and learning.

Church is a place of gathering where we talk about the problems in the world. Church is a place to have fun and learn about others.

Church is a place where you can learn about other religions.

Church is a place where you can think.

Church is a place where you can share your ideas.

Church is a place where you can ask questions.

Church is a place where you can get answers.

Church is a place to be safe and to learn.

Church is fun and mind bending.

Church is a place where we go to learn about the UU ways. We can’t sleep in on Sunday mornings, but I think it is worthwhile.

. . . fun.

Church is a place to do things.

Church is more interesting than staying at home.

Church is field trips.

Church is art.

Church is something to explore.

Church is not boring.

Church is cool.

Just because my church doesn’t have any play equipment doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

And . . .

Church is a place in nature, under a tree, with lots of animals and wildlife.

Church is rejoicing. Church is beautiful.

Church is a place to feed the birds.

Church is something to look forward to.

Our church is not just a building. We are a group of people who join together because we share beliefs.

Everyone in church is part of your family. The kids are your cousins and the adults are your aunts and uncles.

Thoughts for Parents

The topic was Easter in the children’s chapel service in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.  After hearing the story, the children were full of questions. “Was Jesus a god or something?”  Why did they kill him?”  “Didn’t it hurt?”  And the ultimate query, “What happens when you die, anyway?”


Whether responding to the sight of a dead bird, a tragedy in the news, or a beautiful sunset, children are seekers of meaning, attuned to the spiritual dimensions of life.

As Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar writes in The Gift of Faith, “Whether we wish it so or not, our children are religious, spiritual beings. . . . We cannot choose whether they will be religious, but we can choose how and to what extent we will support, guide, and celebrate this dimension of their nature.”

Parents are children’s primary religious educators and spiritual guides, but parents do not always feel equipped to fulfill this role alone. It is said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The congregation can be the parents’ partner in this important endeavor.

What Parents Say About Church

My children have a religious identity and a faith that grows with them. Their best friends are here.

They know that adults other than their parents really care about them. They see people of all ages work together to make the world a better place. It’s an antidote to the commercialism around us.

It’s a caring community that respects my child’s individuality.

It reinforces our values , and grounds us as a family.

It is always there for us, in good times and bad.

Judith A. Frediani, Director, Lifespan Faith Development, Unitarian Universalist Association

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God through the Eyes of Our Children:


UU Kids Say...


Edited by Beth Graham


UU Kids say God is . . .

God is anything you want God to be.

It’s probably a portable God you can shape to fit your beliefs. An individual God. No two alike.

For me, God is a five-year-old little girl. For my cat, God is a cat.

. . . everywhere.
God is the earth and all spirits, everything, everywhere. God is in us and around us.

God is not a person but a controlling force in all of us. God is all different colors.

God is all beings and all life and all creation. God is all those things that make up me. God is in everyone.

God is in your heart.

God is anything that is mysterious and has remarkable power.

God could be the spark that keeps everything everything.


. . . like other things.

God is like the wind because God is all around. God is like magic because God has all power. God is like a car driver because God is in control. God is like your heart because God keeps you alive. God is like friendship because God is loving.

God is like a chair because God makes you feel comfortable and safe and great.

God is like a protector.

God is like a fire.

God is the biggest camera ever made.

God is an old man with a white beard who is tall and nice.

God is a big woman who loves us all. God is a young woman.

God is breath.

God is a good feeling.

God is the curiosity inside you.

God is about feelings.

God is peace.

God is the whispering of the wind, the brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins, gold and silver, a cross, a star, a chalice, and the people.

. . . about nature.

God is a rainbow.

God is a cloud and stays in the sky.

God is in the sea or up in the air.

God is the sun coming through the clouds.

. . . a spirit.

God is a very special person who lives in the clouds and all the dead people are his helpers.

God is a spirit, not a person or an animal.

God is a spirit who looks a lot like Jesus, but not exactly.

God is someone who sort of takes your spirit after you die.

God is the Spirit of Life.

There is a god but he is invisible.

He is a she and a he.

God is a good spirit to me.

He never lies, he has intelligence, and most of all he loves me.

. . . a mystery.

God never shows himself. Only gives symbols, images.

God might give something bad to save something good.

God can grant love but not a million dollars.

. . . nonexistent.

I do not believe in God. I can think what I want. I don't believe in the devil either. There are many ways to believe and every way is okay. . . even those who don't believe. What is God?

Some people think that God is a feeling you carry deep in your heart,

Some people think God's all around us, the world of which we're a part.

Some people think that God is the flowers, the earth, the air, and the trees,

Some people think that God's what's unknown and to wonder is just a big tease. Some people think that God is the stars twinkling so bright in the night.

Some people think that God is the knowledge of doing what's wrong and what's right. Some people think that God's an old man living way up in the sky,

Some people think that God is the answer whenever we ask ourselves "why?" Some people think that God is a puzzle, the pieces never quite fit.

Some people think that God's what you hear when you make yourself quietly sit.

We all have ideas about what is God,
Thoughts that we think on our own.
But here in this church, in this place together,

We never need question alone.

—Beth Graham, Editor

Thoughts for Parents

One of the seven principles that Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote is "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning." We believe this is as important for our children as it is for the adults. Since children absorb their religious understandings in terms that are unique to their stage of development, we as adults must be sensitive to their evolving sense of the holy. We have much to learn from our children, for their spiritual language and images seem to flow so smoothly between the concrete and the ethereal.

"Enjoy your child's personal philosophy as it unfolds," says child-study professor George Scarlett of Tufts University. "Listen to the child's thoughts about God. Try to understand and show respect for their ideas, even while sharing your own. The point is to keep a dialogue about spiritual matters going."

Harold Howe, former U.S. commissioner of education and a Unitarian Universalist, jotted these words to his minister at church one day: "Here's a definition of a Unitarian Universalist: a person who can ask children, 'What is God?' and listen seriously to their replies. P.S.: I once went to Sunday school for about 7 years, but no one asked me 'What is God?' Instead, they told me."

Unitarian Universalists find value in listening to what our children are saying about God.

The children's words and illustrations were contributed by grade school students in religious education classes from the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, MN; the First Unitarian Church in Memphis, TN; the Unitarian Universalist churches in Sarasota, FL and in Olinda, Ontario; and the First Parish churches in Concord and Milton, MA. Cover illustration by Adam Robison.

Currently minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington, NY, Beth Graham has been involved in Unitarian Universalist congregations her whole life. Raised in the Unitarian Church in Arlington, VA, Beth's first settled ministry was with First Parish in Concord, MA. She lives in New York with her husband, the Reverend William Schulz.

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Unitarian Universalist Views of Church

Edited by Lawrence X. Peers


Each of us brings to our understanding of church our own images, hopes, and needs. Our views of church combine experience and aspiration. What the word church means to us may reflect what a particular church community has given to us as well as what we hope our church will become.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are an association of congregations, each called a church, fellowship, or society. In the past, a fellowship or society was usually a congregation without a minister, though that is no longer necessarily the case. Whatever the congregation, church means more than worship, education, activities, and meeting places. There are deeper meanings of church that can only be understood in terms of vision and experience. In these pages, ministers and laypersons share their particular visions and experiences of church. Together they build a multifaceted view of church that gives a broader sense of who we are and whom we hope to become as Unitarian Universalist congregations and as a religious movement.

Perhaps this pamphlet will evoke personal responses to questions such as: What does your church mean to you now? What would you like your church to mean to you and to those your congregation aims to serve? In articulating our responses, we may find new purpose for our individual commitments, and new direction for our lives together.

Rev. Lawrence X. Peers, Editor, Education and Research Director, Unitarian Universalist Association

The Church as Home

My church is my community, the place where I belong. Of course, I'm a member of all sorts of other groups, both formal and informal, but the church is my mental, spiritual, and social home.

When I first came to my church, almost thirty years ago, I felt I had come home. I found something I had been seeking all my life. I even "signed the book" the first day, in the complete certainty that this church was where I belonged.

All my life I have been a social activist, so it was not the church that introduced activism into my life. But finding a spiritual home where others were already working together to make the world better was a blessing. Looking back, I realize that, although the social message of the church and the emphasis on reason and education are important for me and my children, my reasons for continuing to be active in the church are different than my reasons for joining. I was younger when I joined the church and more optimistic about life and living. The ensuing years in the peace movement drained much of that optimism from me. I had to reach deeper into my soul and discover my spiritual roots-find conviction, resolution, and commitment that could not be shaken by external events.

My church has helped me in that exploration. My present faith has not come easily, but it has been steadily nourished by a warm, caring community and a minister who, each week, lights a chalice of inspiration and love.

Sheilah D. Thompson, North Shore Unitarian Church, West Vancouver, BC

The Church as Meeting House

I envision the Unitarian Universalist church as a sanctuary in the broadest sense, a place to experience healing from the "dis-ease," the lack of ease, that characterizes modern life. The church and its living tradition provide a creative alternative to the powers and principalities, a holy ground where people can disarm and be truly human. I think that the first step in creating such a space is to listen actively to one another and to God.

I conceive of the church as a meeting house, a place where we encounter one another and the stranger. In such a community the members take spiritual, emotional, and social risks as they reach out to one another and to society at large. The Universalist idea that all persons are ultimately reconciled to God suggests to me the radical connection and equality of all humans. In keeping with that divine equality, we are called to be co - creators, with God, of greater equality in this world. When we worship together, we sense the new life of God's reign of love and justice, and we live in the ultimate hope of reconciliation and wholeness.

Rev. Terry Burke, First Church Unitarian Universalist, Jamaica Plain, MA

The Church as Justice Seeker

The wise council of the radical democratic and radical prophetic traditions lies at the center of the Unitarian Universalist faith. Our Unitarian Universalist social ethicist James Luther Adams once wrote, "Every personal problem is a social problem, and every social problem is a personal problem. Personal and social transformation cannot be separated; they are integral parts of the whole. I believe every personal and social problem is also a global problem."

Many people experience existential trauma. Our personal issues are family system issues; community and societal issues; local, national, and global issues. Our congregants' lives interface with health, education, welfare, criminal justice, and economic systems, both within the church and certainly beyond its walls. We are, after all, part of all that we have encountered, part of the interdependent web of existence.

May we, as Unitarian Universalists, respond to the troubles of the world, strangers, neighbors, and ourselves in the spirit and tradition of people like Harriett Tubman and Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Malcolm X and Martin King, Jane Addams and Susan B. Anthony, James Reeb and Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Tillie Blackbear and Russell Means, Rabbi Einhorn, Caesar Chavez, Grace Boggs, and Ronald Takaki. They and countless other women and men sacrificed and cared enough to transmit values that underpin the struggle for dignity, decency, equity, sustainability, freedom, and justice for all.

Oh, the wisdom, joy, and grace we shall receive.

Rev. Dr. Michelle Bentley, Third Unitarian Church, Chicago, IL

The Church as Nurturer

I realize, now, that Sunday school wasn't just a place to get free glitter and construction paper to make Christmas cards for Grandma and Grandpa. While I was there-I won't deny it-the most important things to me seemed to be the Easter egg hunt and making cookies at the church fair. But when life began to throw some fast curve balls, I realized the true nature of what it means to belong to a Unitarian Universalist church.

As a child, I was aware of the unconditional nurture surrounding me, the endless exchange of support and the deliberate gestures made by the congregation to see that we all felt like important individuals, real people. Never, not once, have I felt out of place here, no matter how different I thought I was from peers and adults. There have always been genuine, smiling faces here.

I know what it means to be loved, cared for, and accepted, no matter who I am. It is this beautiful, warm feeling of love and understanding that has remained with me ever since my first years in the Sunday school nursery. I treasure it.

Mary Taylor, Unitarian Universalist Church, Reading, MA


A church is people. It is not a body of belief, a set of principles, or an impressive structure of stone, wood, and glass. A church has roots in the past no matter how recently the congregation was organized. A church represents a long procession of people willing to work with others toward shared goals, worship with others of similar belief, and hold in honor the wise and courageous people who have gone before them.

The people who constitute a church come with their needs as well as their gifts. To the extent that they can share their concerns and vulnerabilities and become sensitive to those of others, they will be part of a beloved community.

A church consists of people who are not too sure they are right, who are willing to be somewhat uncomfortable in order to correct what they see as wrong. It is made up of people who order their priorities and choose their way with a generous spirit (and often considerable rhetoric).

In a church there are those who are practical about institutional needs as well as the needs of the human family. There are people who understand our interdependent web of existence, those who can share the poetry they find in the stars, and those who can circulate a petition to save the wetlands.

There are those who can speak out against nuclear madness and those who can remember that the roof needs mending. Churches need people who can help feed the hungry of the world and people who can help feed the hunger deep within the souls of those gathered.

A church is composed of people who continue in the long procession knowing that others will follow-others for whom they must make a better world, to whom they owe a heritage of carefully examined discoveries and challenging possibilities. A church is made up of people eager to be part of that procession yet fiercely aware of their individual identities within it and alert to the fragility of the relationship.

A church is a granite base and a silken web, a crystal ball and a cup of fire.

Rev. Janet H. Bowering, Retired Minister, Haverhill, MA


In our congregation, what members value most is our promotion of liberal religious thought in our community. We affirm tolerance and pluralism at a time when so many are narrowing their boundaries.

Our members treasure the personal support, friendship, and caring they find in our congregation. Many say our church is the only place to find like-minded people with whom to exchange ideas. Our members highly value the Unitarian Universalist approach to helping children and adults develop their own personal philosophy and values.

Many find in our congregation an island of calm, a place for peace and aesthetic pleasure. We meld our talents and our inspiration to create such a haven for one another.


My congregation is all of these to me. Just knowing it's there gives me confidence that the world can be generous and loving.

Carl von Baeyer, Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon, Sask.

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Unitarian Universalist Views of Evil

Paul Rasor, Editor

Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals have always emphasized the positive aspects of the divine and human nature. As a result, critics sometimes charge that liberals don’t truly understand the reality of evil. Yet liberals are not naïve about evil; they just have a different framework for understanding it.

For religious liberals, evil is not a supernatural force locked in a cosmic struggle against the forces of good. Liberals also do not worry much about the traditional “theodicy” problem—how evil can exist if God is both all-loving and all-powerful. For liberals, evil is neither a demonic spirit nor a philosophical dilemma, but a reality to respond to and confront.

As these essays show, Unitarian Universalists are fully aware of the profound evil we face today, including unnecessary human suffering, rampant environmental degradation, and destructive systemic structures such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence. Yet none of these are inevitable. Religious liberals live with hope grounded in the belief that the world can be nudged toward the good. Our choices matter: We can either enable (or ignore) the evil around us, or we can help overcome it.

Paul Rasor, editor

Victoria Safford

Sometimes I use a very subjective, almost subconscious barometer when reading the news of the day and deciding whether some action bears the weight of the word evil. It’s not the magnitude of an event, nor the cold-heartedness of those involved, nor even the historical impact. It’s the degree of heartbreak that I feel: beyond sorrow or horror, a sense that something has been blasted apart, a shattering of hope, the collapse of what I thought or wished were true about the world and human nature. There are some truths, some news, that break the heart—not permanently, but utterly, for a while, as the realization forms perhaps for the thousandth time: this, too, is part of our humanity.

Evil is the capacity, within us and among us, to break sacred bonds with our own souls, with one another, and with the holy. Further, it is the willingness to excuse or justify this damage, to deny it, or to call it virtue. The soil in which it flourishes is a rich compost of ignorance, arrogance, fear, and delusion—mostly self-delusion—all mingled with the sparkling dust of our original, human being.

Victoria Safford serves as the minister of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church.

Patrick O’Neill

Radical fundamentalism casts human existence as an epic, ongoing, still-undecided battle between the forces of good and evil, of the divine versus the demonic. This is the most primitive human myth of all, and the most powerful. Wherever humanity has walked, wherever it has gathered to hear fables at firesides or offer ritual around altars, good versus evil is the story at its most elemental and descriptive.

We UUs do not have the “easy” solution of a theology that blames all evil on the workings of some devil. But many of us have witnessed unspeakable human acts that can only be described as evil: in Auschwitz, Cambodia, Dresden, Rwanda, and in the barbarity of biological germ warfare. Some formalists would argue that the very existence of evil in the world would seem to negate our humanist valuing of dignity and worth in every person, expressed in the first Principle of Unitarian Universalism. But it seems to me that just the opposite is true. Our cherishing that Principle leads us to live by a view of human nature that is antithetical to radical fundamentalism.

The witness and mission of liberal religion have always been to seek the liberation of the human spirit—in the words of the hymn, from “the bonds of narrow thought and lifeless creed.” We stand willing to testify for a religious approach grounded in human possibility rather than pathology. Our starting place is the exaltation of the human spirit, rather than its denigration.

People are almost equally capable of both good and evil, but most of the time—say, three times out of five—people choose the good. The seesaw tilts just a few degrees toward the good in this tentative world, but those few degrees are the difference between peace and Armageddon. The job of the church is to put the few stubborn ounces of our weight on the side of goodness, and press down for all we’re worth.

Patrick O’Neill serves as the minister of First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York.

Elizabeth Lerner


We tend to forget that our universe does not operate on the merit system. We live and work and commit ourselves to aspirations as though living honorably is rewarded. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.

The ancient Greeks viewed order and chaos as part of a series of opposites that balanced the world. Though their system is riddled with misunderstandings and prejudice by our modern standards, their alignment of chaos with evil, in opposition to order and good, reflects my own experience of terrible times and suffering. While some chaos is necessary to keep any system from stagnation, too much chaos keeps any system from the ability to nurture, protect, or cherish. Chaos often ends up aligned with destruction and death. We see this in everything from cancer to natural disasters to willful destruction and infliction of suffering. In the ever -shifting balance between good and evil, evil is the counterbalance to goodness. It attacks or debases goodness and meaning. Although it is tangible, evil is not the devil; it is not a being with intent to destroy us or buy our souls or undermine the kingdom of God.

Elizabeth Lerner serves as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Maryland.

James Ishmael Ford

The world as-it-is is just as it is. Bears, cockroaches, mountains, oceans, and tornadoes are not good; they’re not evil. We human beings very much belong to this world that just is. In a very deep way this “is” is our true home. Here there is no fault. It is the realm of profound unity. At the same time, there is something else about us that is both beautiful and dangerous. We can divide the cosmos into parts; we can make choices. And we understand the consequences of what we choose. As we make our choices within this world, with each of our actions that follows those choices, we open the gates of good and evil. So, of course, there is evil. Knowing and accepting this is very important. But, there is also something beyond. When we discover that profound unity which is true and the realm of discrimination which is true are actually not two—in that fraction of a second we open something incredible, healing, and compelling.

James Ishmael Ford serves as the minister of the First Unitarian Society in Newton, Massachusetts. He is also a Zen teacher for the Boundless Way Zen network and the Pacific Zen Institute.



Judith Meyer


What is evil? An aspect of human nature. Apply enough pressure to any of us and something ugly will surface. Evil isn’t some malevolent power floating around in the universe, waiting to penetrate some unsuspecting soul. We do it all by ourselves.

To acknowledge evil is to see something we don’t want to see. We all cultivate an idealized view of ourselves. Self-knowledge takes hard work. Overcoming evil begins with being honest.

Reckoning with evil is more than an internal struggle. Evil surfaces in the cycles of violence we perpetrate as a society, often out of a misguided sense of necessity. It is a studied ignorance that keeps us not only from examining ourselves but also from looking critically at the institutions we create.

The power to overcome evil has as much to do with overcoming our numbness and helplessness about what is wrong in our world as it does with mastering our impulses. Whether humanity will ever be free of the cycle of violence, we cannot say. It doesn’t look good. But the change begins only when we are willing to learn the truth, and dedicate that fearful knowledge to the struggle.

Judith Meyer serves as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, California.

Abhi Janamanchi

I see evil as the willful separation from, and lack of concern for, the “common good.”

Evil occurs when the capacity for empathy exists and is ignored; when better alternatives for being in right relationship are ignored; when we fail to act on the imperative to correct the discrepancy between what is and what ought to be; and when we resist our powerful impulses to be, and do, good.

Human beings are part of the natural world. Within humanity, an ethical sense arises from out of the natural world, and with it, the capacity for both good and evil. We are products of our evolutionary heritage and our cultural history.

We might transform evil if we recognize our own complicity in the processes which engender and sustain it. We will overcome evil when we refuse to play the game or to be silent, when we make a determined effort to understand evil as a possibility that awaits transformation. Then we might inhabit a safer, more peaceful, and more just world.

Abhi Janamanchi serves as the minister of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Florida.

The editor, Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor, is the director of the Center for the Study ofReligious Freedom and professor of interdisciplinary studies at Virginia Wesleyan College.

For Further Reading

Some of these resources are available from the UUA Bookstore: 1-800-215-9076; www.uua.org/bookstore.

Brock, Rita Nakashima, and Rebecca Ann Parker. Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.

Jones, Ken. The New Social Face of Buddhism: A Call to Action. Somerville, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 2003.

Parker, Rebecca Ann. Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now. Edited by Robert Hardies. Boston: Skinner House, 2006.

Pinn, Anthony B. Why, Lord? Suffering and Evil in Black Theology. New York: Continuum, 1999.

Rasor, Paul. Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century. Boston: Skinner House, 2005.

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UU Views of Jesus

Bruce Southworth

Rev. Bruce Southworth

Following Jesus' death, something happened to the small group of women and men who had chosen to join him. A contagion of love—some transforming, creative event bound them together into a fellowship.


They told stories to heal their griefs and celebrate their newly found joy and sense of liberation in a world that oppressed and despised so many of them. One Roman Catholic New Testament scholar calls the stories “creative fictions” yet affirms their continuing power.

I find spiritual wisdom in Jesus' affirmation, even to the nobodies of the world, the marginalized and oppressed, “You are the light of the world.” Everyone, each one of us, is precious.

The broad tent of Unitarian Universalism is evident in this pamphlet. It reflects the widest possible view of the plurality that is welcome in our movement.

Read, learn, meditate, and may these offerings help you to grow your soul and act more boldly.

Rev. Bruce Southworth, Editor, The Community Church of New York, New York, NY

Rev. Dr. Kristen Jewett Harper

The man called Jesus of Nazareth was the inheritor of the Hebrew prophetic tradition of bearing witness to justice, the primacy of ethical living in community, and the possibility of reformation for all. His life was an example of the supremacy of human agency, as well as the model of struggle for healing and recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of the poor and oppressed.

Universalists and Unitarians embraced this powerful example, insisting on God's universal grace, the innate goodness of humanity, and the freedom and ability of men and women to discern and live in right relationship with one another and the divine.

Today, while not our sole example for moral living, Jesus' message remains strong in our efforts to create a beloved community here on earth, impelling us to witness to the injustices of this time. Throughout the multiple transformations of our faith, Unitarian Universalism has remained fir m in the belief that people dedicated to compassionate human relations can uplift the oppressed in our society, that we have in our own hands the power to reform our world, and that communal exploration and accountability lead to principled living.

Rev. Dr. Kristen Jewett Harper, Unitarian Universalist Society of Daytona Beach Area, Ormond Beach, FL

Rev. Thomas D. Wintle

While much energy has gone into finding “the historical Jesus,” I find myself drawn in a different direction. I am not so interested in knowing who Jesus was, but I am very
interested in knowing who Christ is. The distinction may surprise some, but it is helpful. Searching for Jesus as he really was is a quest limited by historical distance and by the presuppositions of the searchers, as Schweitzer, among others, has pointed out.

Christ, as the incarnation of God's love in human flesh, is not just a figure of the past; he is a present reality. This living Christ is found in the Church, the community of those who speak his words, eat at his table, and become his hands, feet, and voice in a needy and often crucified world. Even those who are uncertain about God can recognize the presence of a Christ-like spirit in the people of a redemptive community. There are also those who, in recognizing his presence in our midst, know there is a gestalt of grace by which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts we contribute.

Actually, who Jesus was in history is an important question. It tells us that the story of Christ is not a myth but is rather grounded in real life. The more important affirmation is that because of the resurrection, Jesus is not confined to any time or place; he is free to be with us as the Living Christ everywhere, to the end of the ages.

Rev. Thomas D. Wintle, First Parish Church in Weston, Weston, MA

Dr. Leonore Tiefer

It has been a circuitous journey to Unitarian Universalism for this New York Jew, but for
the past eighteen years I have found at The Community Church of New York a congenial religious community of support and inspiration. Reciting our affirmation on Sundays, I am comfortable stating that we recognize “in all prophets a harmony [and] in all scriptures a unity.” But when someone asks me point blank how I feel about Jesus, dark clouds fill my vision. I hear a dialogue in my imagination:

Q. Who can disagree with a message that has offered such consolation and inspired such sacrifice and commitment?

A. Who can support a message that has been used for such oppression?

The bottom line is that I cannot and will not separate the message or the person of Jesus from the history of oppressive acts undertaken in the name of Christianity. The institutionalization of Jesus' message has caused untold harm and prevented untold good, and it would be wrong, after two millennia, to forget.

One cannot recapture Jesus of Nazareth in any direct way; the road is too cluttered. In the words of Melville's inscrutable scrivener, Bartleby, “I would prefer not to."

Dr. Leonore Tiefer, The Community Church of New York, New York, NY


Rev. Davidson Loehr

For most Christians, Jesus remains a mythic figure, a touchstone for spiritual focus or feeling. But the best of today's scholarship —which I identify with the work of the Jesus Seminar—reveals a man who is believable but problematic:


·        His personal lifestyle fits with that of itinerant cynic sages from about 400 BCE to 600 CE: He had no job, no home, and no family, and he begged for his food. He wanted people to reject the world's values and realize what he called “the kingdom/sovereignty of God.


·        He was best known as what we would today call a faith healer.


·        His “Golden Rule”—turn the other cheek, repay injustice with forgiveness —was youthful idealism, not seasoned wisdom (ask anyone who works with battered women). Most today find it easier to defend Confucius' earlier advice: Reward goodness with kindness, but repay evil with justice.


·        His ideal world (the “kingdom/sovereignty of God”) was potentially here, within and among us. This would be a world in which we treat one another as brothers and sisters, children of God—period. End of sermon. End of religion.

The mythic Jesus remains appealing partly because the real one is, in spite of his flaws,
both disturbing and challenging.

Rev. Davidson Loehr, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin Austin, TX

Guy C. Quinlan

The Roman authorities who executed Rabbi Yeshua bar-Yusef were not mistaken in regarding him as a dangerous subversive. Despite his radical commitment to nonviolence, Jesus represented an ongoing threat to the security of every established order. I believe he still does.

Jesus carried forward the Jewish prophetic tradition that finds the essence of religion in doing justice. For him, as for Amos and Isaiah, religious observance without social justice was a blasphemous mockery. Jesus repeatedly antagonized the powerful by reminding them that every society will be judged according to its treatment of the poor and defenseless.

Of course, no society then or since has lived up to the Hebrew prophets' ideal of justice. There are always compromises. But, if you once let Jesus' voice into your consciousness, you will never again be at ease with compromises.


Injustice results less often from malice than from willed inattention. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite did no active harm to the wounded man on the highway. They just passed by on the opposite side of the road, distancing themselves from the uncomfortable sight. Relentlessly, Jesus keeps bringing the oppressed back into our field of vision.

Guy C. Quinlan, The Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, NY

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UU Views of Prayer

Edited by Catherine Bowers


Catherine Bowers, a former member of the UUA
Pamphlet Commission, served as
associate minister for
the First Unitarian Church of Belmont, Massachusetts.

In this pamphlet, eight Unitarian Universalists respond to the questions "How do you pray?" "Why do you pray?" and "What role does prayer play in your life?" These questions, of course, assume an affirmative response to the previous question, "Do you pray?" Some Unitarian Universalists would simply respond, "No."

The responses in this pamphlet reflect the wide variety of approaches to prayer among Unitarian Universalists. We have within our congregations a rich diversity of opinion and belief about prayer and many other religious matters. We invite you to join with us and bring your own perspective to our ongoing dialogue.

—Catherine Bowers, editor

Roger Cowan

In a desperate moment, I cried out for help, and I was answered. Some years later I am still a humanist —I believe that religion is about this world, about bringing justice and mercy and the power of love into life here and now. Yet I am a humanist who prays, who begins each morning with devotional readings and a time of silence and prayer. Why do I do this?

I need a quiet time.

I need to express my gratitude.

I need humility.

I pray because—alone—I am not enough and also I am too much. I express gratitude for the gift of aliveness.

I assert my oneness with you and all humankind and all creation.

When I pray, I acknowledge that God is not me.

Roger Cowan is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Palm Beach County, Florida.

Lynn Ungar


During the moment of silence in our Sunday service I close my eyes and sing, silently, inside my head, "Guide my feet while I run this race for I don't want to run this race in vain." As I sing in silence, I imagine myself and the congregation enfolded in arms of love.

At a hospital bedside I hold the hand of a dying woman. The words form in my mind—or perhaps in my heart—"Goddess, be with her, give her strength and courage and comfort for this journey."


The full autumn moon rises, huge and orange and glowing, and I feel my spirit lifting along with it. "Thank you," I say. "Thank you." In the moment of beauty it doesn't matter whom I am thanking or even whether I am heard. It is enough to be grateful and to be a witness to wonder.

Lynn Ungar is minister of the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of the UUA Meditation Manual, Blessing the Bread (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1996).

Daniel Budd

The best advice on prayer I have yet found was given long ago by Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said that prayer was nothing to flaunt about or show off. It is a personal matter, an intimate aspect of our living, and not the public proof of our righteousness. Prayer begins in the heart, that secret place within us all.

Other living traditions have taught me that prayer is an honest expression of how we are in the very depths and doubts of our souls. Prayer is the admission that we are fragile, fallible, and finite. Prayer is giving up, a way of creating a place within ourselves for this Mystery to dwell. Prayer is a covenant we make to be of service. Prayer is a way of living with the very questions that perplex us.

Prayer is an opening of the human heart. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said, "Pray like this," simply, from the heart.

Daniel Budd is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, New York. Lucy Virginia Hitchcock


Lucy Virginia Hitchcock


One morning many years ago, in those trance-like moments between sleeping and waking, a dream image came to me which has affected my subsequent life. A mist was streaming down into my body from above. It flowed through my limbs, but when it reached my hands, it was stopped by the blunt ends of my fingers. I woke up and held my hands before my face. I knew that, if I did not move my hands and feet and voice, the holy spirit would be trapped in my body and unable to do my share of its work in the world.

Prayer for me is taking time to be present for that gracious spirit and aware of the gifts that come to and through me simply because I am alive. One word for this time of presence is gratitude. Another word is meditation, in which, by observing my breathi ng, I become ever more aware of creation in process. In addition, prayer is theological reflection and social strategy, alone and in groups. This leads to a return of gifts bestowed, as in the wonderful Universalist affirmation which I love to recite in ou r communal worship, "Love is our doctrine, the quest for truth is our sacrament and service is our prayer. . . . "

Service, especially the prophetic, artistic, dogged work of systematic change for economic justice, is my prayerful response to all I have been given. When I act for justice, when I act with compassion, the spirit in me is no longer trapped at my fingertips. It can move and shake and shape and sing.

Lucy Virginia Hitchcock is extension minister for the Puget Sound Unitarian Universalist Council based in Seattle, Washington.

James Ishmael Ford

I've found through ordinary attention I can know enough to find authentic peace and joy.

We can know ourselves and our place in the play of the cosmos through sustained attention to what is going on. I've found the beauty and mystery and grace of our existence are revealed in prayerful attention. Through attention we can come to know the connections.

In my thirty years delving into the Zen practices of bare attention, this has been my experience. At the moments within our complete nakedness to what is we find our foolishness and glory are all revealed. Here our hearts and minds open. And, here, we come to an experience that is worthy of those wonderful words "meaning" and "purpose." Within this prayer, within this attention, we can find our connections as a deep intimacy. And out of this knowledge we find a moral perspective, a call to justice, and a peace that passes all understanding.

James Ishmael Ford is minister of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Chandler, Arizona. He is also author of This Very Moment: A Brief Introduction to Buddhism and Zen for Unitarian Universalists (Skinner House Books: Boston, 1996).

Nick Page

I composed a piece of music called "Healing Prayer," to be sung by combined choirs and congregations. I wrote it because a dear friend had been diagnosed with leukemia. He asked that his friends neither visit him nor call him, but rather that we simply pray for him. And people prayed—even many who had never before given prayer a thought. My friend is now well on his way to recovery. I am far too scientific to say that our prayer healed him, but I know that those of us who prayed found a deeper connection to him, to each other, and to the world we live in—and I know that my friend also found that connection between self and all things. I also know that this connection was more than mere thoughts—it was tangible—as tangible as the medical treatment he also received.

Growing up in the Unitarian Universalist faith has been a wonderful evolution for me. The words from Psalm 42 have become very meaningful: "As the deer longs for the stream, so my soul longs for Thee, O God." My longing is for the elation of compassionate connectedness—that incredible feeling of being a part of all actions—God or Creation as a verb—a self-organized interdependent event. I composed the "Healing Prayer," not because I believe in a higher power, but because I believe in a living universe with energies both powerful and subtle—all mysterious. At the end of "Healing Prayer," members of the congregation may offer the names of those in need of healing. It is a powerful moment—an emotional moment—a spiritual moment. We touch that which we long for—the living spirit of Creation.

Nick Page is a Unitarian Universalist composer, songleader, and conductor of music at schools and universities around North America. He is the author of two books, Sing and Shine On! and Music as a Way of Knowing.

Dan Harper

I don't pray. As a Unitarian Universalist child, I learned how to pray. But when I got old enough to take charge of my own spiritual life, I gradually stopped. Every once in a while I try prayer again, just to be sure. The last time was a couple of years ago. My mother spent a long, frightening month in the hospital, so I tried praying once again but it didn't help. I have found my spiritual disciplines—walks in nature, deep conversations, reading ancient and modern scripture, love—or they have found me. Prayer doesn't happen to be one of them.

Dan Harper is director of religious education at First Parish in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Anita Farber-Robertson

When I was in my thirties, still early in my ministry, I was stricken with a mysterious illness. My world turned upside down. I was hospitalized while the doctors ran tests, and my body did its own thing, separate from what I wanted of it. I was frightened, too frightened to pray. For the first time in my life, I understood intercessory prayer. I needed the connection, and I was not strong enough or grounded enough to establish it for myself. I needed someone to keep the lines open and clear, to maintain them and make sure they were secure in the turbulence that was ahead. I couldn't do that. It was all I could do to get through one day at a time, not knowing what was happening to me, a prisoner of a body that was becoming my enemy, rather than my connection to the sacred.

I asked my friend to pray for me. He did. I was astonished at its power. I felt the tears, the release, the comfort, and the assurance that the world and all that was sacred would wait for me, would hold a place for me, when I could not do the work of holding it for myself.

In that moment I could feel that the spirit of the universe held me, as it held every living creature. My friend's prayer had touched that spirit as surely as it had mine, and it had done so in my behalf.

I pray for people now. Every day. It is one of the most important parts of my prayer life. When all the rest of it falls away out of busyness or distraction, I can still, each morning, lift up those I love and those in pain, through prayer. And fortunately, there are those I know who pray for me.

Anita Farber-Robertson has served as minister of Unitarian Universalist congregations in Swampscott and Canton, Massachusetts.

For Further Reading

Some of these resources are available from the UUA Bookstore (1-800-215-9076, http://www.uua.org/bookstore/) or from your local bookstore or library.

Blessing the Bread: Meditations by Lynn Ungar. Skinner House Books: 1996
Evening Tide by Elizabeth Tarbox. Skinner House Books: 1998

Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life edited by Scott Alexander. Skinner House Books: 1999

In the Holy Quiet of This Hour: A Meditation Manual by Richard S. Gilbert. Skinner House Books: 1995

Life Prayers from Around the World: 365 Prayers, Blessings and Affirmations to Celebrate the Human Journey edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. HarperSanFrancisco: 1996

Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman. Beacon Press: 1999

Morning Watch: Meditations by Barbara Pescan. Skinner House Books: 1999
The Power of Prayer edited by Dale Salwak. New World Library: 1998

Rejoice Together: Prayers for Family, Individual and Small Group Worship edited by Helen Pickett. Skinner House Books: 1995

Taking Pictures of God: Meditations by Bruce Marshall. Skinner House Books: 1996
A Temporary State of Grace by David S. Blanchard. Skinner House Books: 1997

This Very Moment: Introduction to Zen Buddhism for Unitarian Universalists by James Ishmael Ford. Skinner House Books: 1996


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UU Views of the Bible

Tom Goldsmith

UU Views of the Bible offers a glimpse into six spiritual journeys. One originates with an impassioned fundamentalist embrace of the Bible while others begin with the Bible as suspect. All of the journeys are refreshingly thoughtful, a bit provocative, and even humorous. The pamphlet offers no critical analysis of the Bible, interpretation of the historical Jesus, or promotion of the Darwinian theory of evolution over and against creation theory. Instead, it gives the reader a very frank approach to a text that is often misquoted, misinterpreted, and mistreated.

The six UU contributors describe their particular relationships to the Bible, and address more generally the relevancy of scripture to religious liberals. All contributors agree that the Bible is riddled with historical errors but nonetheless can serve as an important repository of human truth. Does the Bible have any significance in their lives at all? Each voice in this pamphlet renders a unique and stirring account of the Bible's continued vitality for religious liberals in the twenty-first century.

Rev. Tom Goldsmith, Editor, First Unitarian Church,
Salt Lake City, UT

Rev. David McFarland

The Bible is like Santa Claus and sex. Children hear about it on the playground or on the street, whether or not their parents discuss it with them. And as an adult, if you don't enjoy it and wish to abstain, you can successfully avoid it only by taking extreme measures such as total social deprivation or profound isolation.

The Bible is holy scripture because it is the living document and foundation of many important faiths, including Unitarian Universalism. To abandon the Bible would mean alienation from one of the world's most important influences on religious thought-liberal and otherwise. Our UU Principles and Purposes are saturated with biblical concepts and ideals. Our concept of respect for the web of existence, for instance, emanates from a stream of thought that flows through the Psalms and the Prophets from that same God of Genesis who declared the goodness of creation.

No universalistic faith can relinquish the Bible and claim to be either religious or liberal. Unitarian Universalism has been influenced and will continue to be influenced by the Bible. UU congregations that seek a vital, relevant, liberal religious voice will read, study, interpret, and invoke the Bible with honesty and integrity, with a soft heart and a hard head. This is our heritage. This is our calling.

Rev. David McFarland,
Cache Valley Congregation Unitarian Universalists, Logan, UT

Mark Christian

"Revelation is not sealed," we have long proclaimed. This is a keystone and
distinguishing feature of the free church. However much truth we discover in the world we remain open to new truth, "from wherever it may come." For the Transcendentalists of the nineteenth century this meant experiencing nature directly. For the Free Religionists of that same century it meant exploring world religions. For Humanists in the twentieth century, it means turning to science. For me as a third generation Unitarian Universalist, ironically, it has meant rediscovering the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

When I entered seminary, I worried about my ignorance of the Bible. "Growing up as a UU," I explained to my seminary's president, "I didn't learn much about the Bible. I know I'll have to work overtime to overcome this deficit." He reassured me: "Don't worry. You're already aware that you know very little about what's in the Bible. That lesson is painful for many seminarians." He was right.

As I explored the Bible free of traditional interpretations, I found compelling insights to add to my sources of revelation. The complexity of Jesus' parables caused me to reorient my world-view. The archetypal truths in the Genesis stories, the human anguish in Job, and the existential angst of Ecclesiastes all unfolded before me in a way I found forceful and inspiring.

Interpretations of the Bible can be outmoded, sexist, racist, and excessively violent. The Bible can also be a source of hope-filled compassion, honest introspection, motivation toward justice, and comforting inspiration. If indeed "revelation is not sealed," then we must remain open to the possibility of new and higher truths that may come to us from diverse sources. . . including the Bible.

Mark Christian, UU Church of Las Cruces, Las Cruces, NM

Jack Conyers

While I was growing up as a genuinely committed Southern Baptist in Rock Hill, South
Carolina, and St. Simons Island, Georgia, the Bible was an integral part of my life. Daily Bible readings sponsored by the Baptist Young People's Union were part of my life. I was even champion of the First Baptist Church of Rock Hill in the Bible Sword Drill (a competition answering biblical questions quickly by identifying chapter and verse). At the age of eleven, I won the district competition.

By my thirteenth year I approached my minister in an effort to discuss the idea of making science compatible with religion. He just gave me a big hug and said, "Why Jack, you don't think you come from no tadpole, do you, boy?"

In 1961, at age thirty, I joined the Unitarian Church. At sixty-nine, I now find myself almost never referring to the Bible for guidance or inspiration. But I do enjoy the fact that I readily understand the significance of a pillar of salt, Naomi's daughter-in-law, Rachel's late pregnancy, and Martha and her siblings without having to do much research. And if necessary, I can find the chapter and verse relatively easily.

I also have some understanding of the fundamentalist acceptance of biblical teachings. While I enjoy the UU tendency to challenge damned near everything, I appreciate the comfort of having answers rather than questions, certainty rather than doubt, and firm guideposts rather than openness to different beliefs. Unwilling to give up my liberal faith, I can still empathize with those who choose a different path, using the Bible as their guide.

Jack Conyers, Unitarians and Universalists of Coastal Georgia, St. Simon's Island, GA

Rev. Amanda Aikman Everett

My love for the Bible comes from the same place in me as my love for David Copperfield, Romeo and Juliet, and Leaves of Grass, from the part that loves a stirring story, unforgettable characters, and rich, earthy imagery.

Having studiously avoided the Bible for most of my life, I was stunned-and instantly converted-when, in an adult religious education class, I first encountered the story of Saul, David, and Jonathan as told in First and Second Samuel. Moody, mercurial Saul seemed to me fascinatingly complex and, in his angst, almost modern. The chronicle is full of adventure, violence, and treachery. In addition, it presents the story of a passionate, doomed friendship: When David receives the news of Jonathan's death, he mourns extravagantly. His grief seems to be not just for his beloved friend, but for all whom war destroys: "How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished."

I draw strength from lyrical passages like Psalm 104 ("I will sing praise to my God while I have being"), and the eighth chapter of Proverbs ("For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it"). The sexual imagery in the Song of Songs delights me not least by the very fact that it is found in the Bible at all.

These lyrical passages say to me that our bodies, indeed the bodies of all beings, are holy and can be conduits of the divine. Does this idea contradict all the images of slaughter in the Book of Samuel? Of course it does. One of the pleasures of reading the Bible is discovering its rich variety. It mirrors the dazzling diversity of the human experience and also transcends it, showing visions of what might yet be, if we are noble enough.

Rev. Amanda Aikman Everett, WA

Laura Spencer

I grew up without a formal religious education. My exposure to the Bible was limited. As
an adult I am interested in learning more. While the Bible contains many valuable lessons, I read it with caution and sensitivity. It helps to have some sense of the time in which it was written and the many alterations and translations it has undergone in reaching its present form.

The Bible offers me an excellent learning opportunity. It offers me a chance to think about what is right and how to live my life. In it I find parallels to our UU Principles. Stories like that of the Good Samaritan are illustrations of our Unitarian Universalist Principles of the inherent worth and dignity of all people and our Principle that we must be compassionate in our relations with others. The Bible provides a high-water mark for living out my Unitarian Universalist values. It offers much to reflect on, inspiring me to have faith that things happen for a reason and trust in the process. It reminds me to seek the divine spark within myself and everyone else , to see the magnitude of how my actions affect the world around me, and to work to make the world better.

I choose to make the lessons of the Bible my own. I will not let the judgments and beliefs of others spoil the messages that are available to me if I read and learn with an open mind. I claim the Bible as one more chapter, among several religious texts, in the Unitarian Universalist guide to living.

Laura Spencer, First Unitarian Universalist Church, Ann Arbor, MI

Rev. Donna Morrison-Reed

When Humanism blew the lid off Toronto Unitarianism in the 1950s, I was there. My
parents joined the newly formed Unitarian Congregation of South Peel when I was three years old. I loved Sunday School: building Styrofoam models of the pyramids, playing the triangle during worship service, visiting other churches and synagogues and discussing their beliefs. My Unitarian Sunday school did not include in its curriculum a firm foundation in the Bible.

In theological school I took the requisite Old and New Testament courses but never felt secure among my Baptist and Methodist classmates. The Jesus Seminar leaves me cold. Who wrote which parts of the Bible and when are issues that have never felt central to my struggle. The Bible has never entered into my bones.

On the other hand, neither did I grow up with any negative reaction to the Bible. This has left me free to draw on it when and where I wish. Last Easter our text was from Mark 16. I served Communion that day with bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. What a visceral symbol of the human capacity for rebirth and transformation. Last February I

wove an intergenerational service around the story of Adam and Eve. What a haunting tale about the hazards and rich rewards of freedom.

I have told stories and read poetry from the Bible throughout the twenty-one years of my Unitarian Universalist ministry. Yet the Bible remains for me but one rich source among many human records that speak to us of the joys and challenges of being alive.

Rev. Donna Morrison-Reed, First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, Toronto, ONT


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Unitarian Universalist Views of the Sacred

Paul Rasor, Editor


Sacredness is a quality we attribute to a dimension of our lives we perceive as worthy of the highest respect and reverence. The sacred draws us out of ourselves. It is a vehicle through which we may experience ourselves in deeper relation with the divine. To hold something sacred is to name it as holy.

These essays illustrate the diversity of Unitarian Universalist perspectives on the sacred. They also reflect the liberal religious tendency to avoid sharp distinctions between traditional categories such as sacred and secular or transcendent and immanent. Unitarian Universalists may speak of the sacred as manifest in the earth, or nature, or even all of creation. Or they may speak of it as a human impulse toward the transcendent. Whether perceived as an inner orientation or an outward response, the sacred is a dimension of human experience that opens us to the deeper connectedness that is always present.

Paul Rasor, editor

Abhi Janamanchi

The sacred is present and available to us wherever we look or are willing to find it.

The sacred and the secular are two aspects of the same reality. God speaks to all of us all the time in that still, small voice. But because that is not the timbre we are expecting, we habitually ignore it. Our self-imposed blindness mars our experience of it.

The sacred is connection—to one’s self, one’s faith, world, universe, cosmos, and God. We experience this sense of connectedness by leading a life of awareness and extending loving attention to the most minute particulars of our lives and our relationships. Our wholehearted attention to every gesture, every thought, every action sanctifies them.

By being attentive, we not only experience the sacred but are inspired to participate in the healing of our communities, our world, and our planet. We become especially aware of ourselves and of the truth that we are a part of something greater than ourselves, whatever that something greater is called.

If we remain open and expectant—watching out of the corners of our eyes, keeping our ears cocked, putting away all preconceived ideas—our lives will emanate the sacred.

Abhi Janamanchi serves as the minister of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Florida.

Judith Meyer

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Self-Reliance.”

With that sentence, Emerson lays the ground work for the way Unitarian Universalists think about the sacred today. Trust in our individual perceptions is foundational to our faith.

At the same time, Unitarian Universalists realize that attitudes about the sacred are not entirely private; there is always a social aspect to them. It is not enough to care only about what I hold to be sacred. To enter the realm of the sacred, even within “the integrity of your own mind,” is to experience a sensibility that humankind has protected and cultivated for thousands of years.

We all possess the instinct to set aside something as sacred, to cherish it, and to protect it with our whole selves. We must make room in our world for others to do the same, even when we do not agree. The sacred is something we share, a bond that is varied in its expression but fundamental to our humanity.

Judith Meyer serves as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, California.

James Ishmael Ford

The world as-it-is is just as it is. We live and breathe, act and rest, all in one world. Everything is intimately wrapped up with everything else in a profound unity. At this moment before moments there is no word, no thought. It just is. Then, at least for us in the human realm, there is a moment of distinction and discrimination, of high and low, of good and evil. As important as this moment is, there is one more step on our path of wisdom. Meister Eckhart writes, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” Our senses perceive the parts of the world. If this particular knowing is simultaneously informed by a great sense of unity, it opens the possibility of divine knowing, of the sacred. This particular knowing, and acting from this knowing, is our great calling.

James Ishmael Ford serves as the minister of the First Unitarian Society in Newton, Massachusetts. He is also a Zen teacher for the Boundless Way Zen network and the Pacific Zen Institute.

Elizabeth Lerner

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” —John Keats


Beauty, when it is not contrived, indeed seems a quality of truth; and real truths, even harsh ones, have the beauty of their realness. Beauty and truth are sacred because of the meaning and ultimacy that they point to. Rituals are the same—while important, they are not sacred in themselves. The occasions they celebrate are sacred: religious commitments, lifelong covenants, and the impulse of the human soul toward the transcendent divine.

Long before Keats, Plato said that the good and the beautiful were inherently related, almost interchangeable. What is true and beautiful and good? Music. The fragile interrelationship of every living thing. Tying our hearts to one another, though we know death will part us. Poetry. The impulse toward self-sacrifice and the greater good. Commitment to justice. The Unitarian Universalist understanding that revelation is continuous and beyond mere human abilities to define or create. And so much in nature—from dainty miracles of life to such bastions of awe as the illimitable sea.

Elizabeth Lerner serves as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Maryland.

Patrick O’Neill

There is something innate to human nature, something basic to our civilized sensibility that recognizes certain distinctions of worth in reality. And the name we have traditionally given to the highest of these is “the holy” or “the sacred.”

I am suggesting that there is a part of human experience that evokes an attitude of reverence, awe, and ultimate respect, a category of transcendence.

My own concept of the sacred these days is less concerned with divine mysteries and Latin definitions than with a simple recognition of the relatedness of all life and our place within the web of existence. For me, the sacred is that which binds us to all other living things and to the Earth which is our home.

Even if no divinity exists, for me the relationship of all living things, each to the other and to the world which sustains us, is sacred. Whatever violates that relation violates the sacred. Whatever nourishes that relation increases it. Whatever calls us to an appreciation of that relationship, calls us to holiness, invites us to the sacred.

Finally, this may be the truth of the matter: The things that are holy and sacred in this life are neither stored away on mountain tops nor locked away in arcane secrets of the saints. I doubt that any church has a monopoly on them either. What holiness there is in this world resides in the ordinary bonds between us and in whatever bonds we manage to create between ourselves and the divine.

We act as agents of the sacred by our choice to view this world in a religious way. We are co-creators and preservers of God’s beauty in the world, in our art, in our science, in our service to high ideals, and not least in our devotion to the good and the just.

Patrick O’Neill serves as the minister of First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, New York.

Victoria Safford

When I was nine or ten, I found a dead deer in the woods. I saw the flies feeding on her open eyes and felt the silky roughness of her coat, forgetting all those warnings to never, ever touch a dead animal, not even with a stick. A child is made for wonder, not for hygiene. I pressed my living hand against the stiff carcass, smelled the black blood, lifted up the heavy hooves. I thought about death and how deer run, how they stand among spring trees, glance up, and disappear. That afternoon I learned as much about the sacred as I did in all my later classes in theology.

When I say sacred, I mean the architecture of this radiant creation, and whatever it reveals to us of beauty, truth, and love. It is the common, holy mystery of life and death.

We are part of the cosmos, fragments of its holiness. In our relation to the whole— expressed as reverence, joy, gratitude, prayer, and among us as compassion —the sacred is made manifest. It is the larger love which transcends all our understanding.

Victoria Safford serves as the minister of White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church.
The editor, Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor, is the director of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom and professor of interdisciplinary studies at Virginia Wesleyan College.

For Further Reading

Some of these resources are available from the UUA Bookstore: 1-800-215-9076; www.uua.org/bookstore.

Brock, Rita Nakashima, and Rebecca Ann Parker. Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.

Eshin Rizzetto, Diane. Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation With Intelligence and Compassion. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2005.

Holbrook, Kate, et. al., eds. Global Values 101: A Short Course. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

Mendelsohn, Jack. Being Liberal in an Illiberal Age: Why I am a Unitarian Universalist, 2nd Edition. Boston: Skinner House, 2006.

Parker, Rebecca Ann. Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now. Edited by Robert Hardies. Boston: Skinner House, 2006.

Rasor, Paul. Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century. Boston: Skinner House, 2005.

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UU Views of God


Edited by Paul Rasor

Many people have questioned whether any concept of God can be meaningful in a modern, scientific world. Others, however, find the idea of God to be profoundly meaningful. Among Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals, conceptions range across a wide spectrum. Some reject God altogether and hold a strictly atheistic view of the universe. Others may use the term God to convey very different ideas, such as the creative power of evolution in the universe, or the power that makes transformation possible in our lives, or the ongoing power of love, or simply the ultimate mystery within which we all must live. And while few UUs think of God as a supernatural being, many understand themselves to be in some sort of personal relationship with God, however conceived. Many also stress the feminine aspects of the divine by invoking Goddess imagery and using metaphors such as mother or sister in place of traditional metaphors for God such as father or lord.

Theologians remind us that the symbol "God" can serve several important functions. First, it offers a vision of the highest values of truth, justice, love, and goodness toward which we strive. In this sense, it serves as a standard against which to measure ourselves and our achievements. Second, the concept of God can remind us of the relativity and limitations of our own ideas. Here, it serves as a corrective to our biases and a basis for critical reflection. Finally, by bringing together our highest ideals in a single symbol, the idea of God provides a focus for personal devotion or communal worship. These are among the many reasons why God continues to be an important and meaningful symbol for many Unitarian Universalists today.

Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor, Editor Life Force



Rev. Scotty McLennan


As a young child I thought of God as a magical, all-powerful being who was responsible for everything that happened, good or bad. Later in childhood I began to feel I had a cause-and-effect relationship to God, gaining some control over good and bad results by how I prayed, petitioned, and behaved. Then in my teenage years God became personalized for me as the ideal parent, unconditionally accepting and loving. By the time I was in my twenties, God had become an impersonal force or energy in the universe. I still resonate most closely with William Wordsworth's way of describing God in "Tintern Abbey": "A sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused, whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, and the round ocean and the living air, and the blue sky, and in the mind of man: a motion and a spirit, that impels all thinking things, all objects of all thought, and rolls through all things."


Yet, in my fifties I've also begun to pray to God as a person again, especially in times of great need and great joy. I do that even as I know God intellectually as an impersonal life force. So I live in paradox and ambiguity with God now, often simply feeling overcome with awe as spirit fills me from some source far beyond my own conscious control.


Rev. Scotty McLennan, Director of Religious Services, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Kate Lore - Mystery

My faith is pretty simple and rock solid. It feeds my soul, is the source of my joy, and
colors all that I do. I experience God as love, light, power, and wisdom. The God I pray to is both transcendent and immanent, a part of me but also greater than me. Sometimes I experience God as a light that comes to me in the darkness. This light emanates intense love and compassion and leaves me feeling joyous and connected to all of creation. Other times, I simply "hear" God's guidance. It seems similar to a nudge or sometimes a whisper. This guidance usually comes suddenly and clearly, and it can arrive while I am deep in prayer or simply going about my business of the day, such as when I'm doing the dishes.

I am usually shy about sharing my experiences of God because I can't explain God in an intellectual manner. I experience the Sacred through my heart and when I try to define "it" with words, the words always fall short of my experience. Such is the Mystery! I consider myself to be both a Unitarian Universalist and a Christian mystic.

Kate Lore, Social Justice Director, First Unitarian Church, Portland, OR

Rev. Kathy Huff - The Web of Existence

Long before I knew anything about physics, I sensed that life is woven together by
invisible threads of being, that the earth and all that lies beyond it emanate not from one source but from a complex web of existence and energy that spans time and space. And while I believe that there are conscious connections and interdependent relationships within this great web of existence, I do not use the word God or Goddess to describe it.

The universe that I experience has no moral aspect. There is no underlying plan or message to be discerned. Giving intentionality to life is a human tendency. The beauty and excitement of being human is that we have infinite opportunities to make our own meaning.

This reality forces me to share viscerally in the full range of the Earth's joy and suffering. It requires that I work for justice and the transformation of all that would marginalize or oppress. Being part of a conscious universe with no moral first cause means that each moment profoundly matters. Everything that I do, say, think, or feel relates to everything

else and may have consequence and meaning beyond my comprehension. In the midst of this I am in perpetual awe of the power of such a universe.


Rev. Kathy Huff, Associate Minister, First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Arlington, MA

Rev. Lisa Schwartz - The Biblical God


The core of my Unitarian Universalism is my belief that no theology is universal. I believe that theology is more akin to autobiography than to rational speculation. My own Christian upbringing is probably the biggest reason I now call myself a Unitarian Universalist Christian.

As a chaplain serving poor, often mentally ill and/or addicted people, I have found that any understanding of God that could really ground and sustain me would have to be equally accessible to the people I work with. For me, a recovering addict working in a treatment center for mostly poor and many minority clients, the story of struggle, sin, and redemption found in the Bible is key. As a literal story the tale of Jesus' resurrection is hard to sustain, but as a metaphor that illustrates that there is life beyond the death of addiction, despair, and total loss, it's hard to beat.

My ideas about God have even evolved into something vaguely trinitarian. I believe we experience God on several different planes simultaneously: as the transcendent, mysterious other; as the force of life and inspiration within ourselves; and in the faces of other people, both our friends and our enemies.

Rev. Lisa Schwartz, Chaplain, Substance Abuse Recovery Programs, Topeka, KS

Anthony B. Pinn - Community


It has been years since I have used the word God to explain anything about the world in which we live. The issue of evil and suffering prevents me from finding any comfort in this term. This is especially true when I consider the history and current needs of my own community-the African American community. The idea of God has had a mixed record at best with respect to the African American struggle for liberation. In my experience, it has often justified suffering by seeing it as redemptive instead of encouraging a strong, consistent fight against injustice. I see no merit in this. I believe the tradition of African American humanism points to the human potential for progressive activity, without any need of God talk.

Mine is a firm atheism that avoids talk of transcendence. From my perspective, there is nothing behind the symbol God. In its place, I affirm the idea of community. It is in

community that we are encouraged to develop our full human potential and overcome oppression.

Anthony B. Pinn, Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN

Rev. Elizabeth K. Ellis - Love


For twenty years I have followed the practice of Ignatian contemplative prayer while ministering in a variety of settings in inner-city communities. This path is one of activist spirituality. We deepen our experience of God through spiritual direction and prayer; we come to know that which is beyond our explanations, but which is always Love. From the knowing, and from the mutuality of the experience of Love, we are called to be co - creators of the reign of God on earth.

God is in the nitty gritty work of loving one another in the social, economic, political, and material world. We are called to understand the world's systems and its evils and to establish mutual love in spite of all our unlovability. At the same time, through attention to prayer we discover God, who beckons us to know Mystery in life; we discover a Love without beginning or end in which we live, which lives in us, and which offers us unimaginable joy beyond our expectations.


Rev. Elizabeth K. Ellis, Senior Minister and Executive Director, Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry, Boston, MA.

Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom


When I was young, I believed in a personal God-a person who, though invisible, would probably look like one of Michaelangelo's paintings. As I grew older, I came to believe in an impersonal God-a force like gravity, or love, or life itself. This later belief satisfied my mind for some time.

Yet what was missing from this understanding of God, for me, was the quality of relationship-the actual experience of a relationship with God, which I had known as a child, and which, in my honest moments, I knew still even though it no longer made sense. After much wrestling, I now believe in a personal God who is not a person, who is a Mystery beyond my ability to comprehend, yet no less real for my confusion. This God is wholly Other, yet also "as close as my own breath." St. Augustine wrote, "If you can understand it, it's not God." I cannot say what God is, though I know in my soul that God is. God is known by many names, yet is not fully known by any name. Even so, God can be known and loved, and God loves us all.


Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, Parish Minister, First Universalist, Church, Yarmouth, ME 

Recommended Reading

Armstrong, Karen, A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, reprinted, New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.

Borg, Marcus J., The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith, reprinted, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

Kaufman, Gordon D., In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology,
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Kushner, Harold, Who Needs God?,  New York: Pocket Books, 2000.

McFague, Sallie, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology,
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Miles, Jack, God. A Biography, reprinted,
New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

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Faith Without a Creed

Asking Questions as a Unitarian Universalist


By Julie Parker Amery


Illustrated by Dennis Murphy


Perhaps you’ve heard it said that Unitarian Universalists can believe anything they want. This is simply not true.

Unitarian Universalism is a faith without a creed . This means that Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to question and explore what is not known to them—such as what God is, or what happens after we die. The answers are not dictated.

However, Unitarian Universalist beliefs are consistent with seven principles that Unitarian Universalist congregations have agreed to affirm. These are:

·        The inherent worth and dignity of every person

·        Justice, equity and compassion in human relations

·        Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth

·        A free and responsible search for truth and meaning

·        The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process

·        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.

While Unitarian Universalists have their individual beliefs about a number of things, including God, the Bible, Jesus, the earth, death, prayer, and ritual, they are united in their beliefs that all people are inherently worthy, that we should work for a peaceful, just world, that we should continue to question and search for the truth, and that we should cherish the earth and all its inhabitants.


Follow the road that shows the history of Unitarian and Universalist principles. Jesus said that we should love everybody.

We can see the roots of Universalism in the beliefs of a man named Origen, who lived in the third century. At that time, people believed that God favored certain people, but Origen claimed that God loves everyone.

The roots of Unitarianism came in the fourth century when some people saw Jesus as a very good man, but not part of God. They were called “unitarians” and were punished because the Christian church had declared that Jesus was part of God.

Later, in 1553, Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in Switzerland for writing a book stating the same Unitarian view.

In 1568, King John Sigismund of Transylvania—now Romania—allowed people to choose their own religion for the very first time. Prior to that, everyone had to follow a religion that the state chose. The world’s first Unitarian church was formed in that country by Francis David.

Unitarianism spread across Europe to England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Meanwhile, Universalist groups were expanding in western Europe.

John Murray brought Universalism to North America from England. The first Universalist church in America was formed in Gloucester, MA, in 1779. Universalism took hold in New England under the leadership of Hosea Ballou.

Unitarianism was brought to North America by scientist Joseph Priestley, who established the first Unitarian church in Philadelphia in 1796. Unitarianism grew under the leadership of people like William Ellery Channing.

The American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America shared a philosophy of religious tolerance and questioning. They merged to become the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1961. Now there are more than 205,000 Unitarian Universalists in the US and Canada.

This is a religion rich in history with many great historical figures who were either Unitarians or Universalists.

·        John Quincy Adams, USA president

·        Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross

·        Susan B. Anthony, suffragist

·        Frank Lloyd Wright, architect

·        Beatrix Potter, author and artist

·        Whitney Young, social activist

·        Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize winner, minister and author

But mainly, Unitarian Universalist congregations consist of the kind of folks you meet every day.

Unitarian Universalism teaches us that all people have value and that we should cherish and respect all people, regardless of their culture, faith, sexual orientation, physical being, or family situation.

Unitarian Universalism is not a religion that claims to have all the answers. But in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, you are encouraged to seek and develop your own truth, within a community of fellow seekers.

There are over 1,000 Unitarian Universalist congregations in North America alone, and many more throughout the world. For more information, contact the Unitarian Universalist Association, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108, (617) 742-2100, or email us at info@uua.org.

Julie Parker Amery is the Director of Religious Education at First Religious Society in Newburyport, MA.

Dennis Murphy is an illustrator living in Columbia, Missouri, where he and his wife, Jeanne, and their two children, Katie and Joe, attend the Shepard Boulevard UU Church.

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Welcome to Unitarian Universalism:


A Community of Truth, Service, Holiness and Love

by Tom Owen-Towle


Unitarian Universalism is a faith that aspires to be a truthful, serving, holy, and loving community. We hope you will make Unitarian Universalism your religious home and help to make our common visions a reality. Welcome!

A Community of Truth

Unitarian Universalists belong to a way of religion that challenges the orthodoxies of our era. We believe that facing this real and known world with integrity is preferable to yearning for an imagined and unknown one later on. Our spiritual forebear Henry David Thoreau stated: "One world at a time, my friend, one world at a time!"

Unitarian Universalism has differed radically from mainline Western and Eastern faiths by claiming that truth is multifaceted and elusive. Whereas there may be many different truths in our lives, THE TRUTH is not accessible to human grasp.

As Unitarian Universalist minister Greta Crosby muses: "I want to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and the truth is not simple but complex." We earthlings are saddled with imperfect vision and incomplete knowledge. In our religious communities you will find no single pathway to God or enlightenment. Instead, there are numerous worthy routes that have been demonstrated by Unitarian Universalists throughout history. Joseph Priestley came to his truths via the scientific method. Judith Sargent Murray defied convention by espousing the doctrine that God's love embraces us all. William Ellery Channing claimed reason rather than revelation as the instrumental source of his faith. Margaret Fuller was a transcendentalist who advocated intuition as her entrance to the divine mysteries. Dorothea Dix found her religion verified in prophetic duty. In Unitarian Universalism you will discover historical sup-port for the scientific, feminist, rationalistic, spiritual, and activistic route, or any blend thereof you might choose.

Furthermore, we come to our religious values experientially. The beliefs we hold are not so much revealed to us as experienced by us. We encourage our children to develop their own working wisdoms instead of their inheriting the truths of their parents or tradition. All who would participate in our Unitarian Universalist cradle-to-grave religious adventure have the opportunity to develop a faith that is personally meaningful, intellectually sound, socially relevant, and spiritually expansive. We are not ashamed to confess that "truth comes in small installments," to quote Universalist minister Clinton Lee Scott. Those modest and well -lived insights are sufficient to sustain a fulfilling existence.


A Community of Service


We often say ours is a religion of deeds more than creeds. Or, as Albert Schweitzer claimed, "My life-my argument." In acknowledgment of the wondrous, unmerited gift of life, we can only respond with overflowing gratitude and compassionate service. We live as religious beings not so much where we breathe as where we serve.

Unitarian Universalism reminds us that we are not sufficient unto ourselves but are interdependent. We are called to treat tenderly and justly the entire universe, and all forms of life therein. We affirm with Martin Luther King, Jr., that "the religion which ends with the individual ends."

In our religious community you will find ample opportunities to serve. Some choose to work in the area of AIDS service programs. Others focus on the peace, reproductive choice, environmental, or economic justice movements. Our faith acknowledges that there are a thousand worthy social causes clamoring for our talents and resources. Each of us must locate ways of serving our faith that match our gifts, claim our enthusiasm, and permit us to "win some victories for humanity," to use Unitarian Horace Mann's evocative phrase.

As members of a community of service, Unitarian Universalists aspire to pursue self-fulfillment without falling prey to narcissism and to embody compassion without succumbing to sentimental do-goodism. Grounded in Jewish and Christian traditions, we follow the Biblical injunction to "love thy neighbor as thyself." Thus we serve others best when we simultaneously respect ourselves.

A Community of Holiness


Unitarian Universalists are women and men who seek to be whole humans, sensitive to the sacred. We hold that the holy is present amid the ordinary and that spirituality permeates the commonplace. We believe that people hunger for a holy place where minds are stimulated, hearts are fortified, bodies are embraced, and spirits are restored.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, when asked why he attended a Unitarian worship service, replied that he had a plant called reverence that needed watering each week. In a world where women and men are avalanched with trivia and traumas, we yearn for a sacred circle to celebrate the sabbath - to rest and renew our spirits.

In our worshipping community we invite you to be still and be sustained. We invite you to engage in ritual remembrance of persons who have enlarged your existence, or events that have stirred your soul with joy or sorrow. We invite you to gather in song and enjoy music as a spiritual expression rather than a performance. We invite you to enter our

sanctuary with reverence and joy, comforting your heart when it is heavy-laden and awakening your spirit when it slumbers in diffidence. We invite you to join in holy celebration, knowing that you may be driven to tears or laughter, to silence or to action.

As you share in our community of holiness, know that you are extending a living tradition that embraces such social reformers and spiritual leaders in our Unitarian Universalist heritage as Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, and Whitney Young, civil rights activist. Unitarian Universalists constitute a community of persons committed to both justice and hope, women and men summoned to meditate and march, pray and protest in ceaseless rhythm.

A Community of Love


If we are only a truthful, serving, or holy noisy community that does not embody love within and beyond our walls, we are "but a gong and a clanging cymbal."

The Philadelphia Articles of Faith, adopted by the Universalists in 1790, proclaimed: "We believe in one God, infinite in all perfections, and that these perfections are all modifications of infinite, adorable, incomprehensible and unchangeable love." Two hundred years later we are still a religious tradition grounded in and nourished by an "infinite.. .love." Held fast in the everlasting embrace of divine love, we are challenged and enabled to love in return.

For us love isn't an abstraction or platitude, but the primary way of saying thank you for the wondrous gift of abundant life. Our purpose on earth is not only to discuss love, but to embody it. Being human, our aspirations outstretch our accomplishments. Much as we try, we aren't always truthful. We fail to serve the larger world, and we are often anything but holy. Love carries us forward as a community of frail yet sturdy pilgrims.

So welcome to a religious community that encourages us to love ourselves, our neighbors, the rest of the natural world, and God.

Welcome to a religious community that invites us, when bitter, to risk love; when cynical, to consider love; when exuberant, to share love.

Welcome to a religious community that summons us to receive as well as give love. The African American liberal minister Howard Thurman declared that a robust religious life requires that "our hearts be swinging doors that open in and open out."

Unitarian Universalist May Sarton describes best the flow of our beloved community in her poem "Gestalt at Sixty":


Lovers and friends,
I come to you starved
For all you have to give,
Nourished by the food of solitude,
A good instrument for all you have to tell me,
For all I have to tell you.
We talk of first and last things,
Listen to music together,
Who is not changed.
I meet no one here who does not change me.


Welcome, one and all, to our Unitarian Universalist religious community. We welcome you, whoever you are, whatever tradition, gender, race, sexual orientation, or age you represent. In our presence may you walk the ways of truthfulness, service, and holiness. And through all your days and nights in our presence may you experience love.


The Rev. Tom Owen-Towle serves as Co-Minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego, CA, and is the author of several books, available through the UUA Bookstore.

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Unitarian Universalism: A Welcoming Place for

Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender People


Scott W. Alexander

"As a gay man, I know how lucky I am to be a Unitarian Universalist. My congregation
honors all aspects of my identity, including my sexual orientation. It's a real microcosm of my ideal of a just society, where differences are celebrated and honesty is accepted and affirmed."—Roger Jones, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Sunnyvale, California

"I was raised in a mainstream Protestant denomination that invalidated my life as a lesbian by condemning me and others like me to invisibility. Hoping for a place to explore my spirituality,I left that denomina tion in pain, confusion, and separation. For ten years I had no religious community in which to live, grow, flourish as a human being. Imagine my delight at discovering in Unitarian Universalism a religious tradition that stands for the inherent worth and dignity of me. My life partner and I were welcomed into our church, accepted as a couple, and our lives were affirmed as ones of worth, importance, and visibility. I am thankful for this community that says yes to me."Carole Yorke, Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalists, Oldsmar, Florida

"I began attending the Unitarian Universalist Church because gay persons, both lay and clergy, were accepted in the denomination. Our congregation is working to claim for itself this Unitarian Universalist Association concept of active affirmation. Though being a partner in this process is sometimes discouraging, it is mostly challenging, exciting, and rewarding. We are truly becoming a safe and welcoming place as gays, bisexuals, and non-gays engage in open and heartfelt dialogue and gradually we are transformed."—Pat Aungst, Unitarian Universalist Church, Bloomington, Indiana

"I have been a minister for over twenty years in the same UU congregation, and my church has been very supportive of my partner and myself. They understand that relationships are relationships, gay or straight. What I really like about Unitar-ian
Universalists is that when they find out you're gay, lesbian, or bisexual, they don't react with shock or horror, sympathy or pity, but as if it's the most natural thing in the world, which, of course, it is for us."Tony Larsen, Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church, Racine, Wisconsin

"Three years ago, as a Jew attending a UU Sunday service for the first time with a friend, I could not have guessed that the following month I would become a member, six months later I would feel safe enough to come out as a lesbian, and twoyears later I would stand up in a service and announce my upcoming holy union service! As a Unitarian Universalist I am free to choose my lifestyle, encouraged to explore my spirituality, and given the opportunity to learn and grow with people who celebrate diversity. I feel that I've truly found a home and a family."—Leni Brown, First Unitarian Society,
Plainfield, New Jersey

"As much acceptance as my partner and I have dared ask for, we've gotten. That's not saying it's always been everything we wanted, but the atmosphere and attitude are of
welcoming and encouraging diversity. Unitarian Universalism lets me be me-all of the various parts that make up the whole me."—Helene Haapala, First Universalist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The living tradition of Universalism extends love and acceptance to all people, and Unitarianism recognizes the inherent good of all persons. At a time when some faith
traditions are expressing deep ambivalence about whether to truly welcome bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons and others continue to express open hostility toward anyone who is of a minority in sexual orientation or gender identity, Unitarian Universalism is deepening its long-standing commitment to the full inclusion and affirmation of all persons - without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.

In June of 1970, the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association passed its first General Resolution supporting the bisexual, gay, and lesbian communities in their struggle for equal rights and acceptance.

Since then, in the face of the widespread homophobia embedded in North American culture, the denomination has repeatedly advocated for persons of a minority in sexual orientation or gender identification - supporting human rights and legal equality for all; creating and funding the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns (OBGLTC); encouraging ministers and congregations to conduct services of union for same-gender couples; supporting Interweave (Unitarian Universalists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns) - a membership organization of caring religious liberals; and advocating that openly bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender ministers not face employment discrimination.

The more than one thousand member congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association have been encouraged to include and affirm bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons in every aspect of their community life - and an ever-growing number have actively and intentionally done so.

The Unitarian Universalist commitment to become a safe and affirming place for all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity took on new meaning and intensity with the passage of a resolution at the 1989 General Assembly, instituting the Welcoming Congregation Program.

Acknowledging that every UU congregation reflects our society's homophobia to a degree, the delegates voted to initiate a sustained and systematic program designed to help congregations create a truly welcoming environment for all persons. In 1996, in order to be fully inclusive, the UUA recognized the need to revise the Welcoming Congregation Program to address the concerns of transgender people. These "welcoming congregations" would:

·        Be inclusive and expressive of the concerns of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender persons at every level of congregational life.

·        Celebrate the lives of all people and welcome same-gender couples, recognizing their committed relationships and equally affirming displays of caring and affection with regard to sexual orientation.

·        Seek to nurture ongoing dialogue between bisexual, gay, heterosexual, lesbian, and transgender persons, and create deeper trust and sharing.

·        Advocate for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people, attending to legislative developments and working to promote justice, freedom, and equality in the larger society.

·        Speak out when the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people are at stake.


The UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns has created a wide variety of educational and programmatic materials to help Unitarian Universalists address these complex issues-and hundreds of congregations have received and used these resources. Unitarian Universalism, which has long had as its first guiding Principle the commitment to "affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person," has come further than any other North American faith tradition in welcoming and affirming bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgended persons.

And yet the struggle against heterosexism and gender dualism in both the denomination and society at large continues. Unitarian Universalism is working hard to realize the dream of religious communities where everyone is welcomed and cherished, just for who they are.

The Reverend Scott W. Alexander is a contributing editor of The Welcoming Congregation: Resources for Affirming Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and/or Transgender People. Currently he is a minister at River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Worship in Unitarian Universalist Congregations


by Mark Belletini

Unitarian Universalists worship in a variety of settings-from a Gothic nave to a large living room, from a nineteenth-century meeting house to a rented school auditorium.

It stands to reason then that no one style of worship has universal appeal among us. Some worship services are formal, with a sense of decorum and a devotional atmosphere. Other services are marked by applause, a pulpit-pew dialogue, and familiar banter.

Local culture, a particular minister or lay worship team, inherited traditions-even geography-contribute to the style of Unitarian Universalist worship.

Whatever the style, Unitarian Universalist services are rooted in our living tradition, which invites the individual to worship within the community. The community remains the locus of the Holy. In the Hebrew scriptures, Moses and Miriam do not come out of captivity alone, but with the whole assembly of Israel. In the Buddhist tradition, Gautama (who became the Buddha) is not content to sit alone under the pipal tree but gathers companions in Deer Park. And in the Christian scriptures, Jesus does not dine alone, but blesses bread for all of his followers. Although we recognize the power in personal devotion and solitary walks in the garden, we choose to worship together for the strength of many hearts beating in the spirit of shared wisdom.

Sunday service, program, morning celebration, and morning prayer are terms we use to refer to our communal worship. Invocations, music, and opening words begin a service with a tone of praise and presence. Many of us light a flaming chalice or candle. Others prefer visual simplicity and make do without candles or elaborate props. In a few of our churches you'll notice a simple cross. In others you'll find a full range of symbols-including the Cross, Star of David, Buddhist wheel, Tao circle, and Sufic winged heart.

Some of our congregations use traditional prayer books. Others have put together special anthologies of contemporary writings. Most use a simple order of service with responsive readings and benedictions taken from Unitarian Universalist worship resource materials.

Choirs with robes are featured in some of our congregations. In others the congregants sing all the hymns. Pipe organs are heard in some of our churches and spinets in others. Guitars, harpsichords, and autoharps contribute a different feel to our Sunday mornings. In some of our congregations, liturgical dance troupes or congregational circle dancing are a regular part of the service.

Silence, prayer, and meditation root us in the Whole, the Holy-whether we address God by name or find deeper devotion in namelessness. We locate ourselves in a spiritual context which both transcends and transforms our daily concerns. These devotions help open our fists and heal our wounds. We are called to a deeper sense of our complicities and compassion. Even silence enables us to know ourselves as physical beings, our breath and pulse no longer drowned out by the clamor of everyday life.

Announcements share the joys and concerns of individual members with the entire congregation. This sharing promotes a very real sense of community, which shapes the best of our worship celebrations.

Worship services may include scripture, poetry, proverbs, and other readings chosen as touchstones of the rich heritage of spirituality expressed in human cultures. Whether it's the story of Esther or the transforming insight of poet Audre Lorde, readings situate our common worship in a larger world. Readings teach us, amuse us, prod us, and ground us in our living tradition.

Sermons may be carefully prepared texts or improvised reflections. While a play, a film, or a long poem is occasionally offered, the sermon endures as a central element in Unitarian Universalist worship. Topics of a mystical, political, ethical, or historical nature may be addressed within the sermon. Often a minister's personal testimony will help members of the congregation reflect honestly on their own lives.

Occasionally a sacramental expression-such as the Flower Communion, a child's dedication, or the breaking of bread-deepens the worship experience. These special ceremonies serve to bind us to traditions, to the generations, and to holy ideals.

Most of our congregations take offerings, although some groups forgo this custom and encourage parishioners to contribute to the church community in other ways.

Finally, closing words, benedictions, and blessings send us into our lives with renewed purpose.

Worship invites us to focus on the transcendental, the intimate, and the worthy. Worship helps us to regain our grip on the fragmented, the obsessive, and the divisive. Worship reminds us that we-empowered by the love we receive and give-may challenge any idol of greed or violence which pollutes the human condition. We ask that you bring to worship something of what you receive: a capacity to heal, to think both critically and poetically, and to experience a growing sense of belonging, rootedness, and blessing.

Worship helps us regain a sense of ourselves. The slow dance of our bodily movements in daily life, the timbre of our voices when we sing together, the glint of joy in another's eye, the smell of musk roses on the table, the taste of fresh bread-these return us to our senses in a world that often seems devoid of sensual inspiration. For in worship, the sensual is one with the spiritual, the intellectual, and the emotional. "Come, taste and see...."

The Reverend Mark Belletini is minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus, OH. He served as Chairman of the UUA Hymnbook Resources Commission.

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