Visit to the Unitarian Church
Part of a series about My Faith Journey.
I attended the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society on Sept 19th, 2016. Ever since I became disaffected from the LDS church, I've been shopping around for a potential "new home". I've heard that many ExMos turn to the Unitarian church, so I thought I'd give it a try.
It was a rather humble building, compared to the uber-manicured LDS chapels I'm familiar with. There was a table at the entrance where visitors could sign a roll and write their name on a "visitor" sticker to put on their shirt. Regular attendees had a printed / laminated name tag they could wear; there was a wall full of them near the entrance.
There were no pews, only chairs. The comfy chairs were positioned in the front half of the sanctuary (their word for "chapel") and the hard chars were in the back half (no doubt to encourage ppl to sit toward the front). I was impressed at the size of the congregation. I'd say there were about 200-250 ppl in attendance. There were a number of non-white attendees (black, Latino, etc.) Most everyone wore street clothes. Some men wore business casual and some of the ladies wore skirts (most wore pants). I saw several geeky T-shirts, including Star Wars and Firefly. I didn't see a single necktie.
The Reverend was a lady (Patty Smith) who wore a rainbow-weave scarf-thing. She invited someone from the congregation to light a chalice (a candle atop a tall piece of pottery) to start and the congregation recited some words that were a statement of values. They were very generic values (as would befit a Unitarian church). We sang "Kum ba Ya" for an opening song. Several people (myself included) chuckled at the selection of a quintessentially "hippie-dippy" song, to which the chorister said, "Yes, we're actually going to sing this, and it's going to be fun!" This only made the congregation laugh even harder, but we sang it... and it was fun.
I was surprised at the level of interaction between those seated and those standing at the pulpit. The congregation frequently laughed, and applauded. When the speaker said "Hello, everyone!", the congregation replied with "Hello [name]!"
They had a baby blessing that day. A young couple came forth with their newborn and presented her to the congregation. Both the mom & the dad had written down some wishes for their new daughter (Jennifer) and read them aloud. I remember the mom saying (to her new daughter) "When the time comes that you form your own beliefs, I hope you follow them wholeheartedly." The Reverend (Patty) prompted the whole congregation to say "Welcome, Jennifer!" together.
On this day, they were getting the young people divided into their classrooms. Sunday school teachers came up to the stage and held signs showing names of classes (e.g. "Pathfinders", "Seekers", etc.) and ages (e.g. High School age, Jr. High age, etc.). I was surprised at the number of kids & youth in attendance; I always thought the Unitarian church was for older folks. I asked one member about this and he said, "You're right about the stereotypes, and it used to be just older folks here, but when the November 5th policy happened, tons of young families flooded in."
They passed around collection baskets that had (what appeared to be) Navajo designs woven in. Half the collection went to the church, the other half went to the "Kids Eat" charity. (They pick a different charity to split the pot with every week.)
The sermon was about a community in the south who kicked out the KKK when they tried to establish a footing there. It was presented as a largely secular movement (rather than a case of "divine intervention"); an example of a community banding together to drive out a hateful group that didn't recognize the dignity of each human being (a Unitarian value).
For the closing song, we sang an old Christian hymn with Latin lyrics in a round, with each third of the congregation singing in their turn, and then they extinguished the chalice. (No "prayers" were offered, per se.)
Afterward, they invited us to come downstairs, have some snacks and chat with each other. They had mugs for coffee and tea and ceramic plates for fruits & veggies & crackers that were available (there was no paper/plastic dishes or utensils). (I had jasmine green tea.) They also had a bake sale going on that day and had cupcakes for sale for a dollar each. (I bought one for me and one for a little kid who didn't have any money.) I chatted with a couple of ppl there. Both of them had been raised in a conventional Christian church, left for awhile, and then decided later in life to attend the Unitarian church. (One guy said, "I know it sounds like a cliche.")
They had a small library downstairs containing books of various faiths: Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and even The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Also in the library were some secular books, including titles like "Kids around the World", and "Heather Has Two Mommies".
All in all, it was very nice. I enjoyed my time there. I've attended several times since my initial visit. Sometimes I attend the service, sometimes I attend the Religious Transition Group which is a support group for people going through a faith transition. That group has been very helpful.