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Ask a Unitarian Universalist...


Rivka
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...and she will light a chalice and say, "Hmm. That's an interesting question that people interpret a lot of different ways. I think X, but sometimes I've thought Y, and I know people who think Z. Where are you on this?" And then she'll listen.

 

(I can't sleep.)

 

(Seriously, if anyone has questions about UU, I'd be happy to share my perspective.)

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I've heard that UU is often like a cult.  That's not true is it?  I can't imagine it is. 

 

 

Yo, believe whatever you want about deities, gain inspiration from any old holy person or philosopher you fancy and get into social activism, Baby.

 

That sounds like a poor quality cult to me :lol:

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Aww, I'm sorry, Rosie. I didn't mean to embarrass you!

 

Having participated at a local UU for almost a year, I can say that from my experience it was far from a cult. More like a place for misfits- those questioning aspects of their religion/ spirituality, those who had firm ideas of what they believe but it didn't fit in with a particular religion or Christian denomination, those who were tired of dogma or couldn't accept certain tenets of faith but longed for a religious community, couples who did not share the same faith but wished to worship together....

 

Because UU is based in 7 principles with no regard for a specific deity or deities, you can be Christian, Hindu, pagan, atheist, a pastafarian, etc. http://www.uua.org/beliefs/principles/

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No questions, just want to say...I love you guys.  Every experience I have ever had with the UU church and UU church members has been positive. I worked as a secretary in a UU church when I was going to law school.  Wonderful, open and affirming congregation.

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I love my congregation without walls and RevMeg is awesome!

 

I definetly identify with Elfknitter in that it is a place for those who don't fit anywhere else, but everyone is incredibly welcoming and kind. And you can believe what you want as long as you respect others right to believe what they want. In addition the services make me think of things I hadn't thought of before, or in ways I hadn't thought of before.

 

What drew me in was the emphasis on growing as an individual and caring for the here and now.

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I love my congregation without walls and RevMeg is awesome!

 

I definetly identify with Elfknitter in that it is a place for those who don't fit anywhere else, but everyone is incredibly welcoming and kind. And you can believe what you want as long as you respect others right to believe what they want. In addition the services make me think of things I hadn't thought of before, or in ways I hadn't thought of before.

 

What drew me in was the emphasis on growing as an individual and caring for the here and now.

I need to get in on the Sunday worship with RevMeg. I just watched the introduce and I can see why she's appealing. :) I might be able to actually attend a Sunday evening sermon.

 

One (of the many) thing(s) I do like about UU's is the presence of women in the clergy. And in our technological age, it's cool that one can "worship" via the internet.

 

Hey Sadie and Rosie: maybe this is a way around the costs of RE curricula? http://www.questformeaning.org/page/reflecting/for-famillies. Scroll to RE Express.

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I need to get in on the Sunday worship with RevMeg. I just watched the introduce and I can see why she's appealing. :) I might be able to actually attend a Sunday evening sermon.

 

One (of the many) thing(s) I do like about UU's is the presence of women in the clergy. And in our technological age, it's cool that one can "worship" via the internet.

 

Hey Sadie and Rosie: maybe this is a way around the costs of RE curricula? http://www.questformeaning.org/page/reflecting/for-famillies. Scroll to RE Express.

 

Once the sermon is "over" they put them up online so you can watch them anytime.

 

I "attend" the Monday 1.30 one and we always have good conversations in the chatbox at the same time. Imagine that, talking in church :D

 

Right now most of our clergy, including interns, are female. But there are regular videos from men too so you get a variety of perspectives. We also often get to see TedTalks, and I've used several of them in my teaching.

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If UU beliefs are more universal and encompass any, all, or no organized religion at all, then what does a service look like?

 

Is there specific clergy?

 

If so, are they "ordained" or do they go through some sort of "seminary" type training... or is it open to anyone?

 

A friend of DH's goes to a UU church and mentioned once that anyone in the congregation can "preach" and that one week someone spoke about fashion. Is that typical practice?

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Is there specific clergy?

 

If so, are they "ordained" or do they go through some sort of "seminary" type training... or is it open to anyone?

 

 

That reminds me. I remember KarenNC talking about a pagan seminary. Would they preach or work through UU churches?

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If UU beliefs are more universal and encompass any, all, or no organized religion at all, then what does a service look like?

Ok, I only knew mass. This was more like a service from any old Protestant church. There was an opening; depending on the day, the kids might be sung to class (there was a specific song); the chalice is lit, (for kids, this was done in their classroom); songs; a sermon for the day, church announcements, and songs (interceded when appropriate.) the main sermon could be a talk, a discussion or a commentary for you to think upon.

 

Is there specific clergy?

This church had a regular, female pastor. Lay clergy were scheduled throughout the year.

 

If so, are they "ordained" or do they go through some sort of "seminary" type training... or is it open to anyone?

Nope. Any old Joe Schmoe could talk. I did note that either they were somewhat coached by the minister or had be members who attended regularly and knew the mundane workings of the church.

 

A friend of DH's goes to a UU church and mentioned once that anyone in the congregation can "preach" and that one week someone spoke about fashion. Is that typical practice?

Dunno about typical, but ministers can talk about what impacts impacts or calls to them. In the church I attended, there was much talk about social activism- from "greening" the church, to the local food bank, to the men's group discussing population control. It also has a Buddhist group, a welcoming committee, and a CUUPS group (pagan worshippers).
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Wow, you did the like thing after than me! I *just* recently did that! and I've been reading here for a bit. :)

 

I have my own thoughts about lit chalices, but here's the UUA explanation: http://www.uua.org/beliefs/chalice/

 

Very cool!  I really like that a lot.

 

Are there different branches of Universal Unitarianism or does its inclusive nature keep it from splitting off like the chasms within each denomination of the Christian church? 

 

For instance, I'm thinking along the lines of there being a PC - USA and a PCA etc. within the Presbyterian denomination.  Both are Presbyterian in nature but each is different from the other in many ways.   Each independently holds that it is the "correct" type of Presbyterianism and both churches and parishioners are often VERY adament about which they belong to. 

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If UU beliefs are more universal and encompass any, all, or no organized religion at all, then what does a service look like?

 

Is there specific clergy?

 

If so, are they "ordained" or do they go through some sort of "seminary" type training... or is it open to anyone?

 

A friend of DH's goes to a UU church and mentioned once that anyone in the congregation can "preach" and that one week someone spoke about fashion. Is that typical practice?

 

A service is designed to suit the congregation. Most congregations like to have a routine. In my congregation, it includes

  • hymns from Singing the Living Tradition or Singing the Journey, or popular music
  • readings from any inspirational source
  • a story for the kids before they go to Sunday School classes
  • a sermon by the minister, or sometimes a guest speaker or a member of the congregation
  • a time to speak your Joys or Sorrows and light a candle
  • a time to recognize visitors and greet one another.

After the service, there is a coffee and fellowship hour and time for discussion for those interested.

 

Clergy have to attend seminary (typically Meadville Lombard or Starr King, but sometimes Harvard) and be called by a congregation.  They often do so at midlife, after another career--my current minister has also worked in law and education. Our association, the UUA, helps place ministers with congregations.

 

Yes, it is typical for congregations to allow members to speak, arranged in advance, if they have something interesting to talk about. Typically, a minister's contract is for a certain number of Sundays a year (maybe 40-45), and the rest is filled in by others.

 

Bonus that you didn't ask about: Most of us celebrate Christmas, but many congregations don't have a service on Christmas.

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Very cool!  I really like that a lot.

 

Are there different branches of Universal Unitarianism or does its inclusive nature keep it from splitting off like the chasms within each denomination of the Christian church? 

 

For instance, I'm thinking along the lines of there being a PC - USA and a PCA etc. within the Presbyterian denomination.  Both are Presbyterian in nature but each is different from the other in many ways.   Each independently holds that it is the "correct" type of Presbyterianism and both churches and parishioners are often VERY adament about which they belong to. 

 

Naw, there aren't enough of us for that! (Fewer than 1% of Americans are UU.) But remember we don't have a particular creed or set of rites, so each congregation can do its own thing to a greater extent than most denominations. Some congregations look very Christian (basically indistinguishable from UCC) and some more pagan, etc. But we try to include everyone.

 

I volunteer for my church in order to serve the only church that serves me. Not fitting anywhere else does a good deal to help us stick together. :)

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Very cool! I really like that a lot.

 

Are there different branches of Universal Unitarianism or does its inclusive nature keep it from splitting off like the chasms within each denomination of the Christian church?

 

For instance, I'm thinking along the lines of there being a PC - USA and a PCA etc. within the Presbyterian denomination. Both are Presbyterian in nature but each is different from the other in many ways. Each independently holds that it is the "correct" type of Presbyterianism and both churches and parishioners are often VERY adament about which they belong to.

What I rudimentarily know is that the Unitarians and Universalists came together at some point in the 19th century (I'm sure UUA has a history page), and that's pretty much been it. What I do understand is each group does vary, so I have a Welcoming group (meaning GLBTQ) are welcomed, a CUUPS groups, a Buddhist meditation group, and the RE classes. Some might not be Welcoming groups, some don't have a CUUPS group, etc,

 

But to specifically answer your question, no. I think, as the church currently is, schisms or splinter groups are not happening.

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Ok. Is there *anything* that *doesn't* fit in? 

 

Absolutely. You don't belong in a UU church if you believe in a singular correct religious path which everyone must follow or if you believe that people wiith the wrong religious beliefs are going to hell. And because our first principle affirms the inherent worth and dignity of all people, you don't belong in a UU church if you have beliefs about the inferiority of particular races, genders, or nations.

 

How do you light a chalice?

 

With a match?

 

A chalice is any kind of dish or cup with a candle in it. Sometimes the candle is even one of those little battery-powered ones. UUs virtually always light a chalice at the beginning of a religious service. In my tradition, we pretty much light a chalice at the drop of a hat: at the beginning of an RE (Religious Education) class, for example, or at the start of a Board or committee meeting. I know some families who light a chalice when they sit down to dinner together. Typically when you light the chalice someone says a few words: opening words, centering words, an invocation of the spirit, a wish for the gathering, a statement of purpose.

 

In my young children's RE classes, we say these words when we light the class chalice:

"We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism.

This is the church of the open mind, this is the church of the helping hands, this is the church of the loving heart."

 

In my teen RE classes, a kid lights the chalice and then rings a chime. Everyone sits very quietly until they can no longer hear the tiniest echo of the chime. Helps them settle down!

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Pretty much what everyone has said, although we rarely have anyone from the congregation "speaking" as it is always recorded in advance, instead our "visiting" speakers are ted talks, or old recorded speeches from different UU events

 

There is also a lot of music in our services. When Peter Seeger died they played quite a few of his songs.

 

There is a lot of discussion about social justice issues, right now primarily Standing on the side of Love.

 

We always do the sharing of joys and sorrows, often fairly early on in the service.

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In my young children's RE classes, we say these words when we light the class chalice:

"We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism.

This is the church of the open mind, this is the church of the helping hands, this is the church of the loving heart."

 

In my teen RE classes, a kid lights the chalice and then rings a chime. Everyone sits very quietly until they can no longer hear the tiniest echo of the chime. Helps them settle down!

 

I love this.

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Rosie, you asked my questions!!!

 

I've heard that UU is often like a cult.  That's not true is it?  I can't imagine it is.  I've also heard people who go to UU, identify themselves as Christians.  How does that work?

 

 

ETA:  I'm loving the "Ask a" threads.  They're interesting and informative.

 

We are totally too disorganized and pigheaded to be a "cult." There are Christians out there who consider any religion outside of their belief system to be a cult, and so there are websites out there explaining the dangerous wrong-headed cultishness of UU. But even they aren't trying to claim that there is strict centralized control, brainwashing techniques, etc. They just mean we're wrong.

 

UU is a "noncreedal" religion, which means that we don't have a statement of faith. We don't have a set of theological tenets that everyone agrees to. Historically we come from Christian roots - Unitarianism and Universalism were both initially Christian denominations. Unitarianism was based in rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity (http://people.bu.edu/dklepper/RN212/unitarian.html) and Universalism was based in a rejection of hell and damnation.

 

In the 1930s or so, Unitarianism broadened beyond Christianity to include other types of beliefs, including humanism/atheism. Somewhere along the line it stopped being a Christian deonmination.

 

HOWEVER, because we don't have a creed, individual UUs follow many different religious paths including Christianity. When I first started attending a UU church, I considered myself a UU Christian. I met with a small group of others in my congregation for Bible study, and sometimes our minister served us Communion. Eventually I fell away from that. There is a UU Christian Fellowship that has its own annual gathering and newsletter.

 

UUs who are Christian look pretty different from many of the Christians on the WTM, obviously! They tend to identify strongly with the teachings of Jesus, but they don't believe that Jesus is the only path or that nonbelievers will go to hell. They don't believe in substitutionary atonement (do I have that phrase right?) and they don't believe in being "saved." Their beliefs are more akin to a liberal Protestant denomination like the United Church of Christ - I've even heard it suggested that UCC stands for "Unitarians Considering Christianity."  :P

 

Yo, believe whatever you want about deities, gain inspiration from any old holy person or philosopher you fancy and get into social activism, Baby.

 

That sounds like a poor quality cult to me :lol:

 

No kidding!

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Okay, but I'm not sure mine are the crystal orbs of salvation. Lately they are the tween hormonal antagonists. :lol:

 

Can I say how I appreciate how the clergy are willing to be filmed for YouTube/church record? It has to be hard being filmed for so many unseen viewers.

 

I'm pretty sure everyone wants to smash those crystal orbs every so often ;) :lol: Preferably over their heads

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What does that look like? 

 

In my virtual church there is a video with a bowl of some kind and an anonymous hand putting in rocks. There is usually some soft music playing and one of the ministers will say something along the line of "now we share the joys and sorrows that are to big for one heart". Those who have joys or sorrows to share type in the chat box and we all "hug" or say engouraging words to that person.

 

edit for spelling

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What does that look like?

For my church, it was part of the service. Literally, "now we will share our joys and sorrows. You are welcomed to place a rock in the bowl of waters...."

 

Some weeks there were many of both, some few, some more joys, others more sorrows. I always thought of it as a visual reference to what anyone you met could be experiencing-- which I thought was the point..

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If UU beliefs are more universal and encompass any, all, or no organized religion at all, then what does a service look like?

 

Is there specific clergy?

 

If so, are they "ordained" or do they go through some sort of "seminary" type training... or is it open to anyone?

 

A friend of DH's goes to a UU church and mentioned once that anyone in the congregation can "preach" and that one week someone spoke about fashion. Is that typical practice?

 

Services look different depending on the congregation, so I always recommend that if someone tries out a UU church and they don't like it they should try a couple of other ones. My church is what some might call "high church Unitarianism," with a structure similar to the mainline Protestant services of my childhood:

 

Prelude and/or choir anthem

Opening words & chalice lighting

Several hymns (sprinkled throughout the service)

Children's message

Reading (from a religious text or not)

Sermon

Prayer or meditation

Offering

Closing words

Postlude

 

There are other congregations where that kind of service structure wouldn't fly because it's too traditional. My husband went to a UU church for a while that he described as being more like a Sunday morning comparative religion class.

 

Specific clergy: It depends, actually. In the 50's, Unitarianism was spread far and wide through the west and the south more quickly than ministers could be ordained, via the "Fellowship movement." A UU fellowship was a group of like-minded people who met to worship together without benefit of clergy. Some fellowships met in homes, but some became fairly large and had their own buildings. There are still UU groups who are proud of being fellowships and do not have a minister. In those groups, responsibility for leading services is shared among the members. Other fellowships eventually called a minister and look like regular churches, even if they still have the name "fellowship."

 

Most churches have an ordained minister. There is a UU seminary (alas, there used to be two), but a UU minister-to-be can actually go to any seminary that will take him or her. I used to follow the blog of a seminarian in Texas who was attending a seminary in which almost everyone else was African-American (she was white) and evangelical. Boy, did they have interesting discussions! One of the members of my congregation is attending a Christian seminary with the intent of becoming a UU minister.

 

Lay-led services are a common practice in UU churches even when there is an ordained minister. In my church we usually have lay-led services during the summer. I led a service once - picked the hymns and readings and preached a sermon. It was about assisted suicide, and it was one of the scariest things I've ever done. Deeply meaningful, though!

 

That reminds me. I remember KarenNC talking about a pagan seminary. Would they preach or work through UU churches?

 

They could, if they were "called" (i.e., invited to serve as a minister) by a UU congregation.

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What does that look like? 

 

Our congregation has some candles in sand. Each person comes forward, says briefly into the microphone his/her joy/sorrow (e.g., "We have a new grandbaby! Mikayla Jane was born Tuesday"). The congregation responds with something like, "We hold you in our hearts," or "Our hearts are with you." Then the person lights a candle and returns to his/her seat.

There's often a separate time to light a candle silently during music, if you don't want to announce what's going on.

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Our congregation has some candles in sand. Each person comes forward, says briefly into the microphone his/her joy/sorrow (e.g., "We have a new grandbaby! Mikayla Jane was born Tuesday"). The congregation responds with something like, "We hold you in our hearts," or "Our hearts are with you." Then the person lights a candle and returns to his/her seat.

There's often a separate time to light a candle silently during music, if you don't want to announce what's going on.

That's cool. I wish mine did that. That's one thing, I miss from a RC church. On the flip side, I can also do it at home and save the change deposited for the use of the candle.
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Ok, so the chalice is an oil lamp?

 

The big one in our sanctuary is. Other times it's a votive candle on some sort of vaguely chalice-shaped stand.

 

Very cool!  I really like that a lot.

 

Are there different branches of Universal Unitarianism or does its inclusive nature keep it from splitting off like the chasms within each denomination of the Christian church? 

 

For instance, I'm thinking along the lines of there being a PC - USA and a PCA etc. within the Presbyterian denomination.  Both are Presbyterian in nature but each is different from the other in many ways.   Each independently holds that it is the "correct" type of Presbyterianism and both churches and parishioners are often VERY adament about which they belong to. 

 

There are a few churches out there which are old-school Unitarian. They still consider themselves to be a Christian denomination, and they didn't join the Unitarian-Universalist Association when the two groups merged in the 60s. Within UU there are definitely congregations which disagree with each other's practices (common point of disagreement: spirituality vs. humanism) but it's a really really big tent.

 

What does that look like? 

 

My church used to have weekly time for joys and sorrows. The minister would share any that he or she was aware of ("Our hearts are with Joe Smith, whose mother died last week in Cincinnati...") and then they'd play quiet music and anyone who had a joy or sorrow to express would file up and light a candle. Now they only do that once a month, and instead people  slip up to the front to quietly light "candles of joy and sorrow" at any point during the service.

 

In my little kids' RE class, we pass a basket of beautiful smooth glass "stones" and each person (child and teacher) takes one and places it by the chalice, sharing something good or bad about the past week. For my teens we have "check in," where we go around in a circle and everyone says how they are & shares any joys or sorrows at that time.

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Do people of different faiths join a UU church (i.e. are there Buddhists and Christians and various Native religions) or is UU in itself a faith? (Like all paths lead to truth) For if you were a Buddhist, why would you choose a UU church rather than a Buddhist organization? Or is it not a faith? What brought you to UU? Is it the community or the ritual aspect?

 

I think a UU church sounds like a really fun place to hang out since I am fascinated by all sorts of spiritualities and faiths, but I would probably not want to participate in any rituals since I follow a particular faith.

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Are there different branches of Universal Unitarianism or does its inclusive nature keep it from splitting off like the chasms within each denomination of the Christian church? 
Naw, there aren't enough of us for that! (Fewer than 1% of Americans are UU.) But remember we don't have a particular creed or set of rites, so each congregation can do its own thing to a greater extent than most denominations. Some congregations look very Christian (basically indistinguishable from UCC) and some more pagan, etc. But we try to include everyone.

 

 

 

Our church is both UUA and UCC.  So we're kinda like Unitarians that don't mind God-language (many Unitarians do) and the occasional reading from the Bible.  We do talk about Jesus, but I think most think of him as a teacher or prophet rather than literally divine (but it's also okay if you believe that, and some do).  We also sometimes read from religious texts from other faiths, as well as other generally spiritual texts or thoughtful inspiring reflections that are not specifically religious in nature.  We have communion once a month, because we're a mixed congregation, every other month it's "traditional" communion with bread and grape juice; on alternating month's it's Unitarian-style communion like flower communion - we've also had coffee communion and christmas cookie communion.  Obviously communion has a different meaning for Unitarians than for Christians; it's more about coming together in community.

 

Neither the UUA nor the UCC have a creed, so there's no proscribed beliefs in either.  Our ministers are ordained and went to divinity school.  We're currently looking for a new one.  Our last one was a woman that was ordained UCC, our interim is UUA and male (and used to be a rock band roadie).  Don't know who we'll be hiring next.

 

Both UUA and UCC are congregational, so each congregation can decide what they want to do, so no need for splitting up into sub-denominations, we can all just agree to disagree.  Although actually historically Unitarians (before the joined the Universalists) and the Congregational church (an earlier version of the UCC also before other later mergers) were the same church but split (over the whole Unitarian vs. Trinitarian nature of God).  That's why most traditional white churches in the town centers of New England are Unitarian.  When they divorced, often the Unitarians got the building, and the Trinitarians the communion silver. :)  Both can trace back to the Puritans, believe it or not (although Unitarians also have some roots back in Bohemia/Czech areas that somehow got mixed in there).  I guess when you let the congregations follow their own hearts (Puritans were also congregationalists in structure), there can be some serious drift in dogma...

 

We light a candle instead of a chalice.  The hymnal we use used to be the UCC one, but it got changed when the last permanent minister came.  The new one is called the Chalice Hymnal but is not the Unitarian one, it's from some church in Canada, I think?   Other than that, our services run very similarly to what a PP said hers are like.

 

Most UUA and UCC churches take the summers off.  We have lay people talking in the summer, and honestly then attendance is extremely sparse.  I recently learned this has some history with the fact that the Harvard Divinity school took summers off and went to the Cape or something?  I don't have that quite right, but there's some historical reason.  Hey, look, Google helped me; look what I found!:

 

Hence, one theory about the summers off: thank Harvard. Unitarianism in the United States took off after 1805, when Harvard caused a scandal by appointing a Unitarian professor of theology. In the years after, many Congregational churches took a Unitarian direction in their teaching. “Since then,†Mr. Slap opined, “our fate has been tied to Harvard University,†whose calendar has provided for summers off since the early 1800s.

 

And since Unitarianism was a religion of the educated and professional class, the vacationing class, “the Unitarian churches in New England would all close down in June, and everyone headed for the Cape,†he said.

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re: lighting a chalice...

 

...

 

 

With a match?

 

A chalice is any kind of dish or cup with a candle in it. Sometimes the candle is even one of those little battery-powered ones. UUs virtually always light a chalice at the beginning of a religious service. In my tradition, we pretty much light a chalice at the drop of a hat: at the beginning of an RE (Religious Education) class, for example, or at the start of a Board or committee meeting. I know some families who light a chalice when they sit down to dinner together. Typically when you light the chalice someone says a few words: opening words, centering words, an invocation of the spirit, a wish for the gathering, a statement of purpose.

 

In my young children's RE classes, we say these words when we light the class chalice:

"We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism.

This is the church of the open mind, this is the church of the helping hands, this is the church of the loving heart."

 

In my teen RE classes, a kid lights the chalice and then rings a chime. Everyone sits very quietly until they can no longer hear the tiniest echo of the chime. Helps them settle down!

 

This is so lovely... so many of the most poignant and (to me) resonant rituals of different traditions speak to this same calming / call to mindfulness / centering of the individual / creation of a community...

 

thank you for sharing this.

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Yay - a UU thread!  :)  We are also UU and our services and experiences are very similar to what has been shared thus far.   I'm currently teaching RE also.

 

And ROFL - we're not a cult.  :D  In fact, people are very free to come and go at will and take or leave what works for them on their spiritual journey. 

 

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