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Unitarian Universalist

In: Religion Topics

Submitted By june0204
Words 1841
Pages 8
Amber Crawford
Tim Jones
Religion in the United States
13 November 2014
Unitarian Universalist I had the pleasure of attending a Unitarian Universalist service in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. At first I was intimidated by the thought of attending a religious service because I was not raised in the church, and do not currently practice a religion of any sort. My mentor, knowing my personality, suggested the Unitarian Universalist church. I had never heard of this religious organization before, so after doing some research, I realized that this was definitely the place for me to attend. I was pleasantly surprised by the service, as was my husband who is a diehard atheist. Unitarian Universalism is an organizational embodiment of the extremely liberal religious tradition in the United States (Hemeyer, 2010). The current Unitarian Universalist Association is the result of the Universalists and the Unitarians coming together (Hemeyer, 2010). To better understand the Unitarian Universalist we know today, we are going to look at origins of the Universalists and the Unitarians prior to when they merged. The Universalists believe that all persons will eventually be saved by God, which means that salvation is universal and not restricted to a certain number (Hemeyer, 2010). Universalism was already present by the time of the American colonies (Hemeyer, 2010). John Murray (1741-1815) has been referred to as the father of American Universalism (Hemeyer, 2010). He preached what may be considered the very first Universalist sermon in America in 1770 (Hemeyer, 2010). In Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1779, the first covenant was drawn up in Murray’s church (Hemeyer, 2010). In 1780 Murray met with a group in Philadelphia to draft the Universalist declaration of faith (Hemeyer, 2010). Another notable early leader is Elhanan Winchester (1751-1797) (Hemeyer, 2010). He was an intellectual, and helped to spread the Universalist message by utilizing his skill in writing (Hemeyer, 2010). He also gave credibility to the Universalists (Hemeyer, 2010). A Unitarian by the name of Hosea Ballou (1771-1852) blended universalism in ways that prefigured the future merger between the two groups (Hemeyer, 2010). The first American attempt to develop a coherent theology along Universalist lines was Ballou’s “Treatise on the Atonement” (Hemeyer, 2010). He became the pastor of the Second Universalist Church in Boston, and worked closely with William Ellery Channing (Hemeyer, 2010). Channing later became known as the father of American Unitarianism (Hemeyer, 2010). During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries universalism spread slowly (Hemeyer, 2010). However it was successful in rural and frontier areas (Hemeyer, 2010). Universalism had become known as a liberalized and universalized form of Christianity by the mid-1990s (Hemeyer, 2010). It remained this way until its eventual merge with Unitarianism (Hemeyer, 2010). The other religion that contributed to what we know today as Unitarian Universalist are the Unitarians. Unitarians reacted to other elements of traditional Christian teaching such as the doctrine that God is a trinity, formalized by the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. (Hemeyer, 2010). This doctrine says that God is three distinct persons with but one substance (Hemeyer, 2010). The Unitarians taught the oneness of God (Hemeyer, 2010). There were other Christian doctrines to which they objected, even though their name derives from this one teaching (Hemeyer, 2010). These included the infallibility of the Bible, human depravity and the inheritance of original sin, and the doctrine that some will be damned eternally (Hemeyer, 2010). The doctrine that some will be damned eternally was what aligned Unitarians with Universalists (Hemeyer, 2010). In the late 1700’s, the first church in the United States that had an explicitly Unitarian view had arrived (Hemeyer, 2010). James Freeman, a young minister with Unitarian views, was appointed to the Episcopal church King’s Chapel in Boston in 1785 (Hemeyer, 2010). Freeman led his congregation in changing the Anglican Prayer book to discard any references to the Trinity (Hemeyer, 2010). In 1787 Freeman became the first American-ordained Unitarian minister because the Episcopal Church refused to recognize the church as Episcopalian (Hemeyer, 2010). The first Episcopal Church in Boston became the first Unitarian Church (Hemeyer, 2010). William Ellery Channing (1780-1842) became known as the father of American Unitarianism (Hemeyer, 2010). Channing preached his famous sermon, “Unitarian Christianity,” where he defined the new movement in 1819 (Hemeyer, 2010). Channing founded the American Unitarian Association six years later (Hemeyer, 2010). Transcendentalism largely played a role in the early Unitarian movement (Hemeyer, 2010). Transcendentalism sought to refine Unitarianism and bring into conformity with what it believed was the common substance of all the world’s religions (Hemeyer, 2010). What we now know as Harvard University, became the intellectual stronghold of Unitarianism (Hemeyer, 2010). Most faculty and students, especially between 1811 and 1820, were Unitarian (Hemeyer, 2010). Harvard became the leading Unitarian training center in the United States (Hemeyer, 2010). Unitarianism was strongest in New England and in the urban areas of our growing nation (Hemeyer, 2010). Unitarianism eventually transformed itself from the distinctly Christian Unitarianism of Channing’s sermon into an ethically oriented, pragmatic, humanistic, and occasionally theistic, religion (Hemeyer, 2010). In Chicago during 1893, American Unitarians played a dominant role in organizing and supporting the Parliament of Religions (Hemeyer, 2010). This was what transformed Unitarianism into the present-day Unitarian Universalist Association (Hemeyer, 2010). Today the Unitarian Universalists hold seven principles as strong values and moral teachings. They are as follows: 1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person; 2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations; 3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; 4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; 5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; 6. The goal of the world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; 7. Respect for the independent web of all existence of which we are a part (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2014). Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove said, “The principles are not dogma or doctrine, but rather a guide for those of us who choose to join and participate in Unitarian Universalist religious communities” (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2014). Unitarian Universalists also share a “living tradition” of wisdom and spirituality, taken from many sources. These include the following, taken directly from their website: * Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life; * Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love; * Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life; * Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves; * Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit; * Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2014).
They also light a flame within a chalice (a cup with a stem and foot) at the beginning of a service and extinguish it at the end of the service. This is a primary symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2014). An Austrian artist, Hans Deutsch, first introduced the chalice and the flame as a Unitarian symbol during his work with the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2014). For Deutsch, the image represented sacrifice and love (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2014). Today there are many different interpretations of the flaming chalice, including the light of reason, the warmth of community, and the flame of hope (Unitarian Universalist Association, 2014). I attended a service with my husband at the Unitarian Universalist church on a Sunday morning in Mount Vernon. The building was not flashy by any means, it was simple and quaint. When we walked in I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. There was a gay pride flag hanging on the stage, Buddhist teachings sewn into ornate wall hangings, a huge drum with interesting decorations on it, and other decorations that represented various faiths. As soon as we walked through the door I could feel the warmth and sincerity of the people there. Every single person made a point to wish us a good morning and introduce themselves. There were probably about 20 people there, so I guess you could say it is a rather small congregation. The service we just so happened to attend was going to be led by the church members. They started the service with a woman playing a song I did not recognize, but it was beautiful none the less. She then lit the chalice. She started by saying that we were going to start things off by sharing our sorrow and happiness with everyone else. So, she passed the microphone around the room, and one by one everyone shared what was going on in their lives. I found that to be incredibly interesting and out of the norm. I chickened out and handed the microphone off to my husband. To my surprise, he actually participated, and my husband is not religious by any means. After everyone was done sharing, one by one different members of the church came up and gave their own little sermon. We had a Jewish man that spoke of the meaning behind Halloween and its relationship to Judaism. Followed by a gay man that spoke of the changing views of homosexuality in the Southern Baptist sect. Then came three more females, each coming up to share some beautiful poetry. The book a couple of the women used for their poetry readings was this thick book of songs and poems that was passed out at the beginning of the service. Looking through it, it was definitely not your typical hymns. The songs and poems were beautiful, and were talking about nature and kindness. It was just so incredibly uplifting. I truly enjoyed this service, and much to my surprise, my husband did too. These people represent everything I believe in, equality, peace, compassion…I was just so impressed. The service concluded with one more poem out of the book about the harvest season, and then the same lady that started the service extinguished the chalice flame. We were invited to coffee and discussion afterward, but because of time restraints with our babysitter we were unable to stay. I really feel like this experience opened me up to a whole different world of religious practices. If we had the resources to have a babysitter on a regular basis, we would be regular attendees. I hope that we will be able to attend a service again in the near future.

(2014, 11 17). Retrieved from Unitarian Universalist Association:
Hemeyer, J. C. (2010). Religion in America. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

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