What kind of congregation is Valley Unitarian Universalist ?
We are a people's church, a congregation of seekers who joyfully affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every individual. Our doors are open to all people and we welcome the rich exchange that such diversity brings. But a word of warning: Attendance at this congregation's Sunday services can be habit forming!
We offer spirit filled music and laugh easily here, we have a theology of joy and our only doctrine is love. We work hard to create anew each Sunday a safe place where you can find both "peace and celebration as we encounter the mystery of life" as we say it. Unitarian Universalism has good news that you can actually use, here and now in your life.
So what is this "good news"?
Imagine a peaceful, just world. Imagine a place where people do get along with each other even when they disagree, where love is the only doctrine and where radical hospitality and acceptance are living realities. We offer such a Beacon of Hope for this torn and divided world.
A colleague, the Reverend Charles Howe wrote:
“ Who am I? I am a person of dignity and worth. I share this world with other human beings of dignity and worth. Therefore I will live with respect for my neighbor and for myself. I am a flawed person. I am not perfectible. But I can change. I can become more compassionate, more involved in life. I can learn to recognize when people are demeaned and I can gain courage to speak out in protest. Through my decisions and actions I can make a difference in this world. “
It seems so self evident. You have intrinsic value. But how evident is this message in a world that tells us otherwise? Daily we are told in thousands of words and images how many ways we can buy our way to happiness. Our worth in the marketplace is measured by what we can produce. Actions that deny our common humanity are commonplace. Watch the news late at night and you will likely get nightmares. To believe that goodness is possible in this world takes a leap of faith. We take that leap every Sunday.
What do UU’s believe?
We have no fixed creed so you will get not one, but many different answers. The word Unitarian comes from the belief that God is one. Universalism comes from a belief in universal salvation, that a God of love could never condemn his or her children to everlasting hell. These ideas are part of our “heretical history.” Yes, “heretic” is a term of honor among us. We love to question!
Do you believe in Jesus? Are you Christians or not?
If by Christian you mean someone who tries to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus, well then some of us are trying to do that, however imperfectly. Jesus' radical teachings are hard to follow: love the poor, turn the other cheek, forgive those who have wronged or hurt us, love our neighbor as ourselves and give away all you have. I suspect there are very few real followers of Jesus in this world. Maybe Gandhi, a Hindu, with his non violent resistance could be called a follower. Or Mother Teresa, a Catholic, who certainly loved the poor. In our own “UU” tradition maybe someone like Dorothea Dix, who fought for humane treatment of the insane, or the British Unitarian Florence Nightingale, who founded the modern nursing profession would qualify.
But if by Christian you mean someone who believes in the Apostles Creed, word by literal word and in the Trinity, and thinks that they have the only religious truth for this world and for all other people, well then we are most certainly not. We have Unitarian and Universalist Christian roots and grew out of the Radical Reformation in Europe, but we also have many so called “Lox and Bagel” Unitarian Universalist who value and identify with the Jewish tradition. Not to mention Buddhist, staunch Humanists, Agnostics, etc, the list is only limited by your imagination.
Do you believe in God?
Some of us do, and some of us don’t, and what we understand by that word is likely to be very different from one person to the other. Some of us prefer to use other words, some of us prefer to envision the ultimate reality as female, and others will speak of the all embracing Universe or the Spirit of Life and Love. Our Unitarian theologian Henry Nielson Wieman spoke of God as the creative force for good, working in this world. In this view God is a verb, not a noun.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of our Unitarian Prophets, once wrote: Beauty is God’s Handwriting. I plan to spend the rest of my life learning how to read it.
With so many differences what holds you together?
With all our diversity of beliefs we work hard to create one caring and united community. Our hope is that Valley UU will continue to grow in compassion as we welcome the stranger and search for those UU’s still wandering in the theological wilderness. Those kindred spirits who have lost all hope of ever finding a congregation like ours.
While we have no creed we do have a set of purposes and principles that we have agreed democratically to affirm and promote. To be a Unitarian Universalist is not a passive proposition. It has more to do with how we act in this world, toward each other and with each other than it does with the exact words we may use to express our individual beliefs.
Thus we might say as did the Unitarian Association back in 1887: "We believe that to love the Good and to live the Good is the supreme thing in religion. We hold reason and conscience to be final authorities in matters of religious belief. That is as true today as it was back then.
So how do you figure out what to believe?
That is the responsibility you take on with this religion. To search out the truth for yourself, to shape and refine a religion that you not only can believe in, but also one that will continue to give you joy and comfort, a “faith for all seasons” and a guide by which to live your life.
Are there UU congregations in other countries?
Unitarianism and Universalism became one denomination in 1961. There are Unitarian congregations in Europe that go back to the early days of the reformation. There are Universalist congregations in the Philippines and some Unitarian offshoots in India and Japan. But if you visit a Unitarian Church in England or in Transylvania today you will find many differences from what happens in this congregation every Sunday morning. Unitarian Universalism in North America has a unique flavor, a development and philosophy that make it a very American Experience. In our religious ideals we embody part of the American dream of a society of equals, with religious freedom and respect for the individual. We are with all our diversity of beliefs but one caring community.
What about sin, good and evil?
We UU’s are not much into talking about sin. Certainly most of us do not believe in the concept of children being born sinful as in original sin. But, for Unitarian Universalists, our much treasured freedom also carries with it responsibility. We have the right to dismiss someone’s opinion but not to dismiss that person.
Our purposes and principles spring from a deep moral and ethical conviction that we are here to make this world better. Another colleague Bruce Marshall tells this story. “You know” a new member of the congregation said to me, “this is not the real world!” Oh?" I said without understanding. This person went on to explain. “It is not the real world because in a real world Christians and Jews and Atheists and Theists and Humanists don't try to live together. And in the real world you don't seek to understand another person's ideas- you attack or ridicule or ignore them. In the real world gays and lesbians and straight people don't share in the same life together. And in the real world people are kicked around a lot and no body cares very much and you can pray to your God to hurt someone else and that is acceptable. And so you shouldn't think that this congregation is the real world because it isn't."
But (as Marshall did) we put our faith in the knowledge that our Unitarian Universalist congregations embody the real world, as it could be, or should be.
The ancient Universalist message of goodness, mercy and love is still not heard, let alone lived by most of this wounded world. Society tells people daily directly or indirectly to measure themselves by how much they have achieved in material ways and by how much money they have accumulated. Not often are we valued simply for who we are. This is part of our task. To be places where our members can find what it is that gives them meaning and purpose in their lives.
This is an open invitation to those who want to find out more. Come and visit us on Sunday morning. Know that you are welcome here.
Perhaps you are still searching, still in the process of finding out what you can in good conscience, believe. Welcome then to this company of searchers, who hope to continue to grow in understanding and depth of their faith, as long as we live. Our doors are open for services and religious education at 10:30 AM. Try us out, you may be surprised.