What is the UU? Who are Unitarians?

After writing this column for many years, sometimes I feel as if I’ve already written about every religion and cultural tradition, but of course that’s not possible. Not even close.According to some estimates there are roughly 4,200 religions and 195 countries in the world. That should keep me going!

But I try to focus on traditions and cultures that we here in Pennsylvania might interact with, or that readers of this space will find interesting. It occurred to me there is one group that I’m very familiar with that I have yet to write about: Unitarians, or Unitarian Universalists.

First let me try to differentiate between these two terms. Unitarian means one, not three or as known in Christianity, the Trinity. Unitarian Universalism (UU) is the result of a merger between American Unitarianism and American Universalism groups. While it has roots in Christianity, UU is not Christian. However, no one is asked to give up beliefs if they attend or join. With roots in both Jewish and Christian traditions, they really are neither. For my purposes I will simply refer to them as Unitarians or the UU.

Minister Joanna Herren (l) Rev. Kim Wilson and Congregational District Executive Andrea Lerner dedicate the UU Fellowship of the Poconos on May 29, 2015
(Pocono Record File Photo)

Although Unitarians started out more like a religion, most contemporary Unitarians base their beliefs on reason and experience. They are closer to Humanists, who I recently wrote about.

You could come from any background, whether Jewish or Christian, as well as Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, atheist, or just about anything and find yourself at home in a UU congregation if you are looking for something without dogma.That is perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of UU groups for people who do not necessary believe in a super-natural power, or God; they can find fellowship, friendship and meetings that resemble a church or religious service.

The flaming chalice is another symbol for the Unitarians.

I love how they put their philosophy into action and often are involved in social justice movements, not to be confused with politics. They are interested in social issues, not political parties.

It was the Transcendentalist movement that first divided American Unitarians, before the came back together. I thought this was interesting. Transcendentalism is  an idealistic philosophical and social movement that took place in New England around 1836 in reaction to rationalism. Developed in part by Immanuel Kant, and embraced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, it is based on the idea of theunity of all creation, the innate goodness of humanity, and the supremacy of insight over logic to find the deepest truths, through intuition. A kind of ‘new age’ philosophy for its time. But I digress. 

Back to the UU. Another interesting fact about the UU is that they have their own seminaries – theological schooling, and so their ministers are highly trained and credentialed individuals. They have had women ministers for over 100 years – and I think that in itself tells us a lot about them. The UU approach is one of open-mindedness. They encourage freedom and equality, and you would be correct to brand them as liberal.

Unitarians are interested in the whole range of challenges facing our society and our world. They believe that their liberal religious beliefs, their affirmation of human dignity and a one-world vision have something important to offer. In the UU you will also find a way to have ceremony and ritual for all of life’s milestones, something I strive to provide as a well as a Humanist Celebrant. 

There is no set liturgy or format for a Unitarian wedding ceremony, so like me, they can create whatever fits for the couple. In fact, you do not even need to be a member of a Unitarian congregation to get married by them. That’s great news!

As one congregation, the UU of Palo Alto, CA, puts it:

  • We are united not by a single creed, but by a covenant of mutual respect.
  • We encourage spiritual curiosity in our children and continue that learning journey throughout our lives.
  • We are inspired by music and the arts, science and the beauty of the earth.
  • We are building a world that is more just, peaceful, and sustainable.
  • We support each other in community, building relationships with depth and caring concern.

find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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