Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalism (UUism) is a theologically liberal religion characterized by its support for a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.

Both Unitarianism and Universalism trace their origins to Christian Protestantism and thus Unitarian Universalism has its historical roots in the Christian faith. But by the time they decided to combine their efforts at the continental level, the theological significance of these terms had expanded beyond the traditional Christian understanding. Today’s UUs appreciate and value aspects of other religions ranging from Judaism to Jainism. Although Unitarian Universalist congregations and fellowships tend to retain some Christian traditions, such as Sunday worship with a sermon and the singing of hymns, they do not necessarily identify themselves as Christians nor do they necessarily subscribe to Christian beliefs. The extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into one's personal spiritual practices is a matter of personal choice in keeping with Unitarian Universalism's creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), founded in 1961 as a consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America, is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves churches mostly in the United States. The Canadian Unitarian Council became an independent body in 2002. [CUC-UUA Tradition. Canadian Unitarian Council [http://cuc.ca/who_we_are/cuc-uua_transition.htm Growing Vital Religious Communities In Canada] ] The UUA represents more than 1,000 member congregations that collectively include more than 217,000 members. According to the United States Census Bureau 629,000 individuals identified themselves as Unitarian/Universalist in 2001. [ [http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/04statab/pop.pdf] U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004-2005, Table 67. Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population:1990 and 2001 ] A more recent survey (2007) performed by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 0.3% of U.S. adults or approximately 340,000 individuals identified themselves as Unitarian Universalist. [ [ http://religions.pewforum.org/affiliations] U.S. Religious Landscape Survey ] Unitarian Universalists follow a congregational model of church governance, in which power resides at the local level; individual congregations call ministers and make other decisions involving worship, theology and day-to-day church management. The denominational headquarters in Boston in turn provides services for congregations that can more effectively be handled through joint efforts.

A separate organization from the UUA is the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), founded in 1995, which coordinates national Unitarian and Universalist associations of churches throughout the world.


Unitarian Universalism was formed from the merger in 1961 of two historically Christian religions, the Universalist Church in America and the American Unitarian Association, both based in the United States.


Universalism broadly refers to any religion and theology that believes all persons and creatures are related to God or the divine and will be reconciled to God.

Christian Universalism

Christian Universalism has a long history, which can be traced deep into Christian past, beginning with the earliest Church scholars. Both Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa preached its essentials. It is based upon the doctrine of universal salvation through Christ and the restitution of all things (apocatastasis). Christian Universalism denies the doctrine of eternal damnation, and proclaims belief in a loving god who will redeem all souls. In 1793, Universalism emerged as a particular denomination of Christianity in the United States, eventually called the Universalist Church of America. [ [http://www.uua.org/visitors/ourhistory/6904.shtml UUA: Universalism] ]


Traditionally, Unitarianism was a form of Christianity. The term may refer to any belief about the nature of Jesus Christ that affirms God as a singular entity and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarianism was rebuffed by orthodox Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, but it resurfaced subsequently in Church history, especially during the theological turmoils of the Protestant Reformation. A Spanish physician, Miguel Serveto Conesa (known as Michael Servetus in English), studied the Bible and concluded that the concept of the Trinity was not Biblical. His books "On the Errors of the Trinity" and "Christianismi Restitutio" caused much uproar. Servetus was eventually arrested, judged, and burned at the stake in Geneva in 1553 when John Calvin was leading the Reformation there. [ [http://www.miguelservet.org/servetus/biography.htm [ Michael Servetus Institute [Times that Servetus lived ] ] Unitarian churches were formally established in Transylvania and Poland (by the Socinians) in the second half of the 16th CenturyHarris, MW. Unitarian Universalist Origins: Our Historic Faith] . The early Unitarian church not only rejected the Trinity, but also predestination, Original Sin and Substitutionary atonement; there were several different forms of Christology in the beginnings of the Unitarian movement; ultimately, the variety that became prevalent was that Jesus was a man, but a man with a unique relationship to God.

Unitarianism in England

Samuel Clarke revised the Book of Common Prayer, removing the Trinitarian Nicene Creed and references to Jesus as God [http://www.americanunitarian.org/fisherhistory.htm. Chris Fisher, "A Brief History of Unitarian Christianity", retrieved July 18, 2008] ] Theophilus Lindsey also revived the Book of Common Prayer to allow a more Unitarian interpretation. His efforts met with substantial criticism by the more conservative priests and bishops who held sufficient power within the Church of England to stifle Lindsey's attempts at reform. In response, in 1774, Lindsey founded the Essex Street Chapel, the first true Unitarian congregation in England. A third Anglican, Joseph Priestley (more widely known as the scientist who discovered oxygen), founded a reform congregation. Priestley fled to America after his home was torched, and became a leading figure in the founding of the church on American soil. [ [http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/ppet/priestley/page1.asp?secid=31 Joseph Priestley] ]

Unitarianism in the United States

In the United States, the Unitarian movement began primarily in the Congregational parish churches of New England. These churches, which may still be seen today in many New England town squares, trace their roots to the division of the Puritan colonies into parishes for the administration of their religious needs. [ [http://www.uunashua.org/sermons/sampson.shtml Bob Sampson, Seventy-three Years In the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Nashua, July 16, 2006] retrieved July 18, 2008] In the late 18th century, conflict grew within some of these churches between Unitarian and Trinitarian factions. In 1819 William Ellery Channing preached the ordination sermon for Jared Sparks in Baltimore, outlining the Unitarian position, and the dispute culminated in the foundation of the American Unitarian Association as a separate denomination in 1825. [ [http://www.uua.org/visitors/ourhistory/6903.shtml UUA: Unitarianism ] ]

The integration of Unitarianism and Universalism

After the schism, some of those churches remained within the Congregational fold, while others voted to become Unitarian. In the aftermath of their various historical circumstances, some of these churches became member congregations of the Congregational organization (later the United Church of Christ), others became Unitarian and eventually became part of the UUA. Universalist churches in contrast followed a different path, having begun as independent congregations beyond the bounds of the established Puritan churches entirely. Today, the UUA and the United Church of Christ cooperate jointly on social justice initiatives such as the Sexuality Education Advocacy Training project [ [http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/issues/comprehensivesexuality/27418.shtml] ] . In the 19th century, under the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson (who had been a Unitarian minister) [ [http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/UIA%20Online/97emerson.html] ] and other Transcendentalists, Unitarianism began its long journey from liberal Protestantism to its present more pluralist form.

Unitarians and Universalists often have had a great deal of common interests and communication between them. In the often-quoted words of Thomas Starr King, pastor of the San Francisco Unitarian Church at the beginning of the civil war, "The Universalists believe that God is too good to damn them, and the Unitarians believe they are too good to be damned!"Sias, John. 100 Questions that Non-Unitarians Ask About Unitarian Universalism [http://www.uunashua.org/100q/100questions.pdf] ]

In 1961, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America (UCA), thus forming the Unitarian Universalist Association. In the same year, the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) formed [http://www.cuc.ca/governance/archival/History.htm] ] . The Unitarian Universalist Association was also given corporate status in May 1961 under special acts of legislature of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of New York Fact|date=June 2008. In 1998 the CUC and UUA dissolved their financial accord, although they continue to cooperate in many ways.

In 1995 the UUA helped establish the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) to connect unitarian and universalist faith traditions around the world [ [http://www.icuu.net/aboutus/briefhistory.html] ] .


General beliefs of UUs

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) believe in complete but responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any heritage, have any sexual orientation or gender identity, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions.

Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some believe that there is no god (atheism); others believe in many gods (polytheism). Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendent reality (pantheism). Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), a Christian god, or a god manifested in nature or the universe, as revealed by science. Many UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of the "spirit of life" that binds all life on earth. Unitarian Universalists support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of spirituality.

Principles and purposes

Although lacking an official creed or dogma, Unitarian Universalist congregations typically respect the Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association. As with most actions in Unitarian Universalism, these were created in committee, and affirmed democratically by a vote of member congregations, proportional to their membership, taken at an annual General Assembly (a meeting of delegates from member congregations). The full Principles, Purposes and Sources can be found in the article on the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Principles are as follows:

"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote

* The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
* Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
* Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
* A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
* The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
* The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
* Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." [cite web
url = http://www.uua.org/aboutuua/principles.html
title = The Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association
accessdate = 2007-02-24
publisher = Unitarian Universalist Association

Various children's versions exist, such as:

*(Sung to the tune of Do-Re-Mi)
*ONE — Each person is important
*TWO — Be kind in all you do
*THREE — We're free to learn together
*FOUR — And search for what is true
*FIVE — All people need a vote
*SIX — Build a fair and peaceful world
*SEVEN — We care for Earth's lifeboat
*That will bring us back to me and UU... (repeat)

Unitarian Universalism is often referred to by its members as a "living tradition", and the principles and purposes have been modified over time to reflect changes in spiritual beliefs among the membership. Most recently, the last principle, adopted in 1985 and generally known as the "Seventh Principle", "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part", and a sixth source (adopted in 1995), "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" were added to explicitly include members with Neopagan, Native American, and Pantheist spiritualities. [cite web
url = http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/3643.shtml?lj
title = "Shared values: How the UUA’s Principles and Purposes were shaped and how they’ve shaped Unitarian Universalism"
accessdate = 2007-02-24
author = Warren R. Ross
year = 2000
month = November/December
work = UUWorld
publisher = Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Unitarian Universalists tend to be open-minded and promote unique beliefs of a person that are based on their individual thoughts, and can range from a strict monotheistic belief to more of a philosophical view of things.

Approach to sacred writings

A Unitarian Universalist approach to the Christian Bible and other sacred works is given in "Our Unitarian Universalist Faith: Frequently Asked Questions", published by the UUA:

We do not, however, hold the Bible - or any other account of human experience - to be either an infallible guide or the exclusive source of truth. Much biblical material is mythical or legendary. Not that it should be discarded for that reason! Rather, it should be treasured for what it is. We believe that we should read the Bible as we read other books - with imagination and a critical eye. We also respect the sacred literature of other religions. Contemporary works of science, art, and social commentary are valued as well. We hold, in the words of an old liberal formulation, that "revelation is not sealed." Unitarian Universalists aspire to truth as wide as the world - we look to find truth anywhere, universally.

In short, Unitarian Universalists respect the important religious texts of other religions, but do not necessarily accept them as truth. UUs view these sacred texts as historically significant literary works that should be viewed with an open mind, a critical eye, and an appetite for good literature. Unitarian Universalists view the individuals depicted in such works in much the same way. For example, many UUs believe that Jesus of Nazareth probably existed, and they respect him for many of the values he stood for and for his fearless campaign for what he believed in. Most Unitarian Universalists, however, do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God or the Messiah.

Elevator speeches

Recently, "UU World" magazine asked for contributions of "elevator speeches" explaining Unitarian Universalism. These are short speeches that could be made in the course of an elevator ride to those who knew nothing of the religion. Here are examples of the speeches submitted:

In Unitarian Universalist congregations, we gather in community to support our individual spiritual journeys. We trust that openness to one another's experiences will enhance our understanding of our own links with the divine, with our history, and with one another. – Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, Oklahoma City, OKcite web
url = http://www.uuworld.org/2003/06/affirmations.html
title = "Affirmations: Elevator speeches"
accessdate = 2007-02-24
work = uuaworld.org
publisher = Unitarian Universalist Association

Most Unitarian Universalists believe that nobody has a monopoly on all truth, or ultimate proof of the truth of everything in any one belief. Therefore, one's own truth is unprovable, as is that of others. Consequently, we should respect the beliefs of others, as well as their right to hold those beliefs. Conversely, we expect that others should respect our right to our own beliefs. Several UU's then, would likely hold as many different beliefs. Other beliefs they may hold in common are a respect for others, for nature, and for common decency, leading to a particular caring for the poor, the weak and the downtrodden. As a result, issues of justice, including social justice are held in common among most. – Gene Douglas, Harrah, OK [cite web
url = http://www.uuduluth.org/newsletters/nov06news.html
title = "Dear Ones"
accessdate = 2007-02-24
author = Rev. Karen Johnson Gustafson
year = 2006
month = November
work = Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth Newsletter

Worship and ritual

As in theology, Unitarian Universalist worship and ritual are often a combination of elements derived from other faith traditions alongside original practices and symbols. In form, church services might be difficult to distinguish from those of a Protestant church, but they vary widely among congregations.


The most common symbol of Unitarian Universalism is the flaming chalice, often framed by two overlapping rings that many interpret as representing Unitarianism and Universalism (the symbol has no official interpretation). The chalice itself has long been a symbol of liberal religion, and indeed liberal Christianity (the Disciples of Christ also use a chalice as their denomination symbol). The flaming chalice was initially the logo of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee during the Second World War. It was created by Austrian artist Hans Deutsch, inspired by "the kind of chalice which the Greeks and Romans put on their altars. The holy oil burning in it is a symbol of helpfulness and sacrifice." [cite web
url = http://www.uua.org/aboutuu/chalice.html
title = "The History of the Flaming Chalice"
accessdate = 2007-02-24
author = Adapted from the pamphlet "The Flaming Chalice" by Daniel D. Hotchkiss
publisher = Unitarian Universalist Association

Nevertheless, other interpretations have been suggested, such as the chalice used by the followers of Czech heretic Jan Hus Fact|date=June 2008, or its vague resemblance to a cross in some stylized representations. Most UU congregations light a chalice at the beginning of worship services. Other symbols include a slightly off-center cross within a circle (a Universalist symbol associated with the Humiliati movement in the 1950s, a group of reformist, liturgically minded clergy seeking to revive Universalism).

Other symbols include a pair of open hands releasing a dove. [cite web
url = http://archive.uua.org/CONG/chalices/
title = "UU Chalices and Clip Art"
accessdate = 2008-04-12
author = Steve Bridenbaugh
publisher = Unitarian Universalist Association

Worship services

Religious services are usually held on Sundays and most closely resemble the form and format of Protestant worship in the Reformed tradition. The vast majority of congregations have a lightly structured service centered on a sermon or presentation by a minister, a lay leader of the congregation, or an invited speaker. [cite web
url = http://www.uua.org/worshipweb/commonworship/vogt.html
title = "Common Worship: How and Why; The contribution of Von Ogden Vogt"
accessdate = 2007-02-24
author = Commission on Common Worship
year = 1983
work = Leading Congregations in Worship: A Guide
publisher = Unitarian Universalist Association
] Sermons may cover a wide range of topics. Since Unitarian Universalists do not recognize a particular text or set of texts as primary or inherently superior, inspiration can be found in many different religious or cultural texts as well as the personal experiences of the preacher.

The service also includes hymn-singing, accompanied by organ, piano or other available instruments, and possibly led by a song leader or choir. The most recent worship songbook published by the denomination, "Singing the Journey" [ISBN 1-55896-499-1] contains 75 songs and is a supplement to the older "Singing the Living Tradition" which contains readings as well. [ISBN 1-55896-260-3] Hymns typically sung in UU services come from a variety of sources – traditional hymn tunes with new or adapted lyrics, spirituals, folk songs from various cultures, or original compositions by Unitarian Universalist musicians are just a few. Instrumental music is also a common feature of the typical worship service, including preludes, offertory music, postludes, or music for contemplation.

Pastoral elements of the service may include a time for sharing Joys and Sorrows/Concerns, where individuals in the congregation are invited to light a candle (similar to the Catholic practice of lighting a votive candle) and/or say a few words about important events in their personal lives. Many UU services also include a time of meditation or prayer, led by the minister or service leader, both spoken and silent. Responsive readings and stories for children are also typical.

Many UU congregations no longer observe the Christian sacraments of baptism, communion, or confirmation, at least in their traditional forms or under their traditional names. Congregations that continue these practices under their more traditional names are often federated churches or members of the Council of Christian Churches Within the Unitarian Universalist Association (CCCUUA), or may have active chapters associated with the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship or similar covenant groups. [ [http://www.liveoakuu.org/christian04.htm Christians 2004 ] ] "Child dedications" often replace more traditional infant baptisms (though it should be noted that such "dedications" are sometimes practiced even in "orthodox" Christian communities that do not baptize infants for theological reasons). Annual celebrations of Water Communion and Flower Communion may replace or supplement Christian-style communion (though many pluralist and Christian-oriented congregations may celebrate or otherwise make provisions for communion on Christian holy days). [cite web
url = http://www.westhartforduu.org/sermons/my_neighbor.html
title = "Who is My Neighbor? A Homily for World Wide Communion Sunday"
accessdate = 2007-02-24
author = Rev. Jan K. Nielsen
date = October 6, 2002
] Confirmation may be replaced by a "Coming of Age" program, in which teenagers explore their individual religious identity often developing their own credo. After they have completed exploring their spiritual beliefs, they write a speech about it which is then presented to a portion of the congregation.


Historically, Unitarian Universalists have often been active in political causes, notably the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the social justice movement, and the feminist movement. In the 19th century, Unitarians and Universalists were active in abolitionism, the women's movement, the temperance movement and other social reform movements. The second woman's rights convention was held at the First Unitarian church in Rochester, NY.

Susan B. Anthony, a Unitarian and Quaker, was extremely influential in the women's suffrage movement. Unitarian Universalists and Quakers still share many principles, notably that they are creedless religions with a long-standing commitment to social justice. It is therefore common to see Unitarian Universalists and Quakers working together.

UUs were and are still very involved in the fight to end racism in the United States. John Haynes Holmes, a minister and social activist at The Community Church of New York – Unitarian Universalist was among the founders of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), chairing the latter for a time. James J. Reeb, a minister at All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C. and a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was clubbed in Selma, Alabama on March 8, 1965, and died two days later of massive head trauma. Two weeks after his death, Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist, was murdered by white supremacists after her participation in the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Reeb and approximately 20% of UU ministers marched with Martin Luther King in the three marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. The Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights are best known as Bloody Sunday, although technically that refers only to March 7, the most violent day of the three.

The current head of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. William G. Sinkford, is African-American, making Unitarian Universalism one of the first traditionally white denominations to be headed by a member of a racial minority.

While political liberals make up a clear majority of Unitarian Universalists, the UU movement aspires to diversity, and officially welcomes congregants regardless of their political views. Politically conservative Unitarian Universalists point out that neither religious liberalism nor the Principles and Purposes of the UUA require liberal politics. Like the beliefs of Unitarian Universalists, politics are decided by individuals, not by congregations or the denomination.

Many congregations have undertaken a series of organizational and practical steps to be acknowledged as a "Welcoming Congregation," a congregation which has taken specific steps to welcome and integrate gay and lesbian members. UU ministers have been performing same-sex unions since at least the late 1960s, and now same-sex marriages where legal (and sometimes when not, as a form of civil protest). On June 29, 1984, the Unitarian Universalists became the first major church "to approve religious blessings on homosexual unions." [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D05E0DB1539F93AA15755C0A962948260 "Unitarians Endorse Homosexual Marriages"] , UPI, "New York Times", 29 June 1984.] Unitarian Universalists have been in the forefront of the civil rights work to make same-sex marriages legal in their local states and provinces, as well as on the national level. Gay men and lesbians are also regularly ordained as ministers. In May 2004, Arlington Street Church was the site of the first state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in the United States. The official stance of the UUA is for the legalization of same-sex marriage – "Standing on the Side of Love." In 2004 UU Minister Rev. Debra Haffner of The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing published An Open Letter on Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality to affirm same-sex marriage from a multi-faith perspective.

Many congregations are heavily involved in projects and efforts aimed at supporting environmental causes and sustainability. These are often termed "seventh principle" activities because of the seventh principle quoted above.


Unitarian Universalists place emphasis on spiritual growth and development. Unitarian Universalism is a creedless religion. The Unitarian Universalist Association affirms seven principles:
* The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
* Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
* Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
* A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
* The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
* The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
* Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The official statement of Unitarian Universalist principles describes the "sources" upon which current practice is based:
* 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.

The religious pluralism of Unitarian Universalism respects diverse traditions within the movement and often within the same congregation. Many see it as a typical syncretic religion, in which personal beliefs and religious services draw from many faith traditions.

Unitarian Universalism asserts a strong commitment to social justice and community exploration of spiritual development.

Historically, New England Unitarians evolved from the Pilgrim fathers' Congregational Christianity, which was originally based on a literal reading of the Bible. Liberalizing Unitarians rejected the Trinitarian belief in the tri-partite godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost/Spirit. Instead, they asserted a unitary notion of God similar to the Hindu Atman.

New England Universalists rejected the Puritan forefathers' emphasis on the select few, the Elect, who were reportedly saved from eternal damnation by a just God. Instead Universalists asserted that 'all were universally saved.' Universalists rejected the hellfire and damnation of the evangelical preachers who tried to revive the fundamentalist Christianity of the early Pilgrim fathers.

Unlike traditional Christians, Unitarian Universalists assert no theology. Unitarian Universalists believe that the divine can be found in all people and in many faiths. Unitarian Universalists draw inspiration from a variety of other faith traditions. Many Unitarian Universalist churches celebrate observances associated with other religious traditions, including Buddhist-style meditation groups, Jewish Seder dinners, and Christmas Eve/Winter Solstice services. Children's religious education classes teach about the divinity of the world and the sanctity of world religions. One of its more popular curricula, Neighboring Faiths (formerly Church Across the Street), takes middle and high school participants to visit the places of worship of many faith traditions including a Hindu temple, a Reform or Orthodox synagogue, and a Catholic church.

Many Unitarian Universalists consider themselves humanists, while others hold to Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, natural theist, atheist, agnostic, pantheist, pagan, and other beliefs. Most choose to attach no particular theological label to their beliefs. This diversity of views is considered a strength in the Unitarian Universalist movement. The emphasis remains on the common search for meaning among its members rather than adherence to any particular doctrine. Many UU congregations have study groups that examine the traditions and spiritual practices of Neopaganism, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Pantheism, and other faiths. Some UU ministers, such as the Reverend James Ishmael Ford, are also ordained Zen teachers. Other UU ministers, such as the Reverend David Miller, are atheists. There are Buddhist meditation teachers, Sufi teachers, as well as gnostic and episcopi vagantes clerics. Some view their Jewish heritage as primary, and others see the concept of God as unhelpful in their personal spiritual journeys. While Sunday services in most congregations tend to espouse Humanism, it is not unusual for a part of a church's membership to attend pagan, Buddhist, or other spiritual study or worship groups as an alternative means of worship. Some Unitarian Universalists are also atheist or agnostic.

In a survey, [John Dart, ed. Surveys: 'UUism' unique Churchgoers from elsewhere. "Christian Century". [http://www.uua.org/news/011205.html] ] Unitarian Universalists in the United States were asked which provided term or set of terms best describe their belief. Many respondents chose more than one term to describe their beliefs. The top choices were:
*Humanist – 54%
*Agnostic – 33%
*Earth-centered – 31%
*Atheist – 18%
*Buddhist – 16.5%
*Christian – 13.1%
*Pagan – 13.1%

There is great variety among Unitarian Universalist congregations, with some favoring particular religious beliefs or forms of worship over others, with many more home to an eclectic mix of beliefs. Regardless of their orientation, most congregations are fairly open to differing beliefs, though not always with various faith traditions represented to the same degree.

There is also a wide variety in how congregations conceive of themselves. Congregations call themselves "churches," "societies," "fellowships," "congregations," or eschew the use of any particular descriptor (e.g. "Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists"). Many use the name "Unitarian Universalist," (and a few "Universalist Unitarian"), having gradually adopted this formulation since consolidation in 1961. Others use names that reflect their historic roots by keeping simply the designation "Unitarian" or "Universalist" (e.g. "Community Unitarian Church at White Plains"). A few congregations use neither. For some congregations, the name can be a clue to their theological orientation. For others, avoidance of the word "church" indicates a desire to distance itself from traditional Christian theology. Sometimes the use of another term may simply indicate a congregation's lay-led or relatively new status. However, some UU congregations have grown to appreciate alternate terms such as "fellowship" and retained them even though they have grown much larger or lost features sometimes associated with their use (such as, in the case of fellowships, a traditionally lay-led worship model). [See for examples: [http://www.uufellowship.org Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester] and [http://www.uuathensga.org/ Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens] .]

Also of note is that there are many more people who identify as UU on surveys than those who attend UU churches (by a factor of four in a recent survey), [Largest Religious Groups in the United States of America. Adherents.com. [http://www.adherents.com/rel_USA.html] ] reflecting lapsed members (and those who have never joined) who nonetheless consider themselves part of the UU movement.


Lack of formal creed

The lack of formal creed has been a cause for criticism among some who argue that Unitarian Universalism is thus without religious content. In May 2004, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn ruled that Unitarian Universalism was not a "religion" because it "does not have one system of belief," and stripped the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church in Denison, Texas of its tax-exempt status. However, within weeks, Strayhorn reversed her decision. [ [http://www.window.state.tx.us/news/40524church.html News Release From Carole Keeton Strayhorn ] ]

Confusion with Unitarian and Universalist Christianity

There are separate movements and organizations of Christians who hold to classical Unitarian or Christian Universalist theology and do not belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association or consider themselves UUs. The American Unitarian Conference and the Christian Universalist Association are the two most significant organizations representing these theological beliefs today. Christians who hold these beliefs tend to consider themselves the true Unitarians or Universalists and heirs of the theological legacy of the original American Unitarian Association or Universalist Church of America, and they do not wish to be confused with UUs and UUism. [See http://www.americanunitarian.org/voicearticle.htm and http://www.christianuniversalist.org/articles/unitarian.html]

Language of reverence

During the presidency of the Rev. William Sinkford, debate within the UU movement has roiled over his call to return to or create an authentic UU "language of reverence." Sinkford has suggested that UUs have abandoned traditional religious language, thereby abandoning words with potential power to others who will then dictate their meanings in the public square. He has suggested that Unitarian Universalist regain their proper seat at the interfaith table by making this language their own. Others have reacted to this call by believing it to be part of an effort to return UU congregations to more orthodox Christian worship patterns. Sinkford has denied this, citing the words of UU humanists as examples of what he means by the "language of reverence." The debate seems part and parcel of an attendant effort at increasing biblical literacy amongst Unitarian Universalists, including the publication of a book by the UUA's Beacon Press written by former UUA President John Buehrens. [ [http://www.beliefnet.com/story/132/story_13272_1.html Past Unitarian Universalist Association President John A. Buehrens on why even humanists should read the Bible - Beliefnet.com ] ] The book is titled "Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals", [ISBN 0-8070-1053-7] and is meant as a kind of handbook to be read alongside the Bible itself. It provides interpretative strategies, so that UUs (among others) might be able to engage in public debate about what the Bible says from a liberal religious perspective, rather than relinquishing to religious conservatives, and other more literal interpretations, all control over the book's contents and significance in matters of public and civic import. Also an important work by Rev. Buehrens, along with Forrest Church, is "A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism", [ISBN 0-8070-1617-9] in which, the authors explore the many sources of the living tradition of their chosen faith.

Borrowing from other religions

Recently, the "borrowing" of religious rituals from other faith traditions by Unitarian Universalists was discussed at the UU General Assembly in 2001 during a seminar titled Cultural Appropriation: Reckless Borrowing or Appropriate Cultural Sharing by the Religious Education Dept, UUA. [http://www.uua.org/ga/ga01/2038.html Cultural Appropriation: Reckless Borrowing or Appropriate Cultural Sharing] Reported for the Web by Dwight Ernest, July 24 2001, Unitarian Universalist Association] [ [http://www.uua.org/leaders/leaderslibrary/leaderslibrary/interconnections/45522.shtml When Worship Becomes Cultural Misappropriation] , September 15 2007, UU Interconnections] In particular, the action of borrowing rituals and practices that are sacred to specific tribes or using spiritual practices without real context.

Quotation|When UUs pick and choose from these things, it trivializes their spiritual practices. The specificity [of their use] is so complete, that visiting Native Americans do not participate in another tribe's rituals, and to do so would be perceived as foolish. I would not even practice the rituals of my own tribe, because I am not an elder or spiritual leader. If this is true of her own people, then the use of these things by others who share no cultural context is seen not only as particularly foolish and inappropriate.

Not all of this usage is inappropriate, though. Some taped music, written prayers, that kind of thing, might be alright, but it's not right to fool around with it. If it's not in context, if the user is not walking with us, if the user is not part of our struggle, then it is presumptuous.|Reverend Danielle Di Bona|2001 General Assembly

UU's were instructed to think about honoring differences, versus appropriating them.

Unitarian Universalist organizations

* The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) of is the largest association of Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist congregations in the world, and the most well-known. It operates mainly within the United States. A few Unitarian and UU congregations in other countries, such as San Miguel de Allende (Mexico), Puerto Rico [ [http://uupuertorico.org/] ] , Auckland (New Zealand) [ [http://www.unitarian.org.nz/auckland/ Welcome!] ] , and a few others are also members of the UUA.

* The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) split off from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2001 and serves Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist congregations in Canada.

* Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) is the youth organization within the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Canadian Unitarian Council. It was created in 1981 and 1982, at two conferences, Common Ground 1 & 2. Common Ground was called to form a UUA-controlled replacement for Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the youth organization that preceded YRUU. LRY was dissolved by the Unitarian Universalist Association, and its assets absorbed by the UUA.

*Unitarian and Universalist churches worldwide are represented in the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU). The UUA is a member of this organization.

*Promise the Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Promise the Children's mission is to help Unitarian Universalists advocate for and with children and youth. Promise the Children is also an Independent Affiliate of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

*The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) is an association of Unitarian Universalists who define themselves as Pagans or Neopagans.

*The Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship (UUCF) is an association of Unitarian Universalists who define themselves as Christians.

*The Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) exists to serve UUs remote from any physical congregation.

Number of members

As with all religions and religious groups, estimates of exact membership vary. At the time of the merger between Universalists and Unitarians, membership was perhaps half a million. Membership rose after the merger but then fell in the 1970s. In 1956, Sam Wells wrote that "Unitarians and Universalists are considering merger which would have total U.S. membership of 160,000 (500,000 in world)". [cite book | author = Wells, Sam, ed.| title = The World's Great Religions V.3 Glories of Christiandom| location = New York | publisher = Time Incorporated | year = 1957 | pages = pg. 205] In 1965 Conkin wrote that "In 1961, at the time of the merger, membership [in the United States] was 104,821 in 651 congregations, and the joint membership soared to its historically highest level in the mid-1960s (an estimated 250,000) before falling sharply back in the 1970s ...". [cite book | author = Conkin, Paul K. | title = American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity | publisher = The University of North Carolina Press | location = Chapel Hill, NC | year = 1997 | pages = pg. 95 ISBN 080784649X] The most recent estimates, from the 1990s, put world membership between 120,000 and 600,000. [ [http://www.adherents.com/Na/Na_642.html Adherents.com ] ]

In the United States, the American Religious Identification Survey reported 629,000 members describing themselves as Unitarian Universalist in 2001, an increase from 502,000 reported in a similar survey in 1990. [ [http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris/key_findings.htm The Graduate Center, CUNY ] ] The highest concentrations are in New England and around Seattle, Washington. [Concentration of Unitarians by U.S. county http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/pics/geo200/religion/unitarian.gif]

Notable Unitarian Universalists

Notable congregations

Certain Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist congregations (churches, societies, fellowships, etc.) have particular historic or other significance.
*All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, DC, was founded in 1821 by (among others) John Quincy Adams.
*Arlington Street Church in Boston was the congregation of William Ellery Channing and Dana McLean Greeley (1729). The congregation played a large role in the origin and foundation of the faith and has been a leader in social justice causes. It is considered by many to be the 'Mother Church' of the faith. [ [http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/unitarians/greeley.html Dana McLean Greeley: The First Unitarian Universalist President ] ]
*Church of the Larger Fellowship is a worldwide congregation.
*First Parish Church, Unitarian Universalist [ [http://www.duxburyuu.org First Parish Duxbury UU Church Home Page ] ] in Duxbury, Massachusetts, was founded in 1632 by Pilgrims. The Elder William Brewster (Pilgrim) was the church's first religious leader, and the church included John Alden and Myles Standish as members. It was the second religious body of the Plymouth Colony.
*First Unitarian Church of Rochester was the Unitarian congregation of Susan B. Anthony; the building was designed by Louis Kahn.
*First Unitarian Society in Madison, Wisconsin is the largest UU congregation; its building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
*Follen Church Society of Lexington, Massachusetts, was, from 1836 to 1838, the last pulpit of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Its unique octagonal sanctuary was designed by first minister Charles Follen, a noted abolitionist.
*King's Chapel in Boston is one of the oldest New England churches of any denomination (1688), and is on the Freedom Trail. It is one of the oldest surviving congregations in the United States.
*Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, site of the 2008 Knoxville Unitarian Universalist church shooting.
*Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York City. Founded in 1819 following an inspiring sermon by William Ellery Channing during a visit there, All Souls is one of the largest and most influential churches in the denomination. Herman Melville and Peter Cooper were members of All Souls, and minister Henry Whitney Bellows led the congregation for 43 years. Forrester Church, author and theologian, served as senior Minister for almost 30 years and is currently Minister of Public Theology. [ [http://www.allsoulsnyc.org All Souls Web Site] ]
*Unitarian Universalist Church in Charleston S.C., established in 1772, is "the oldest Unitarian church in the South". [ [http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/charleston/uni.htm Unitarian Church ] ]
*United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts, is the burial place of U.S. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams and their wives.
*Unity Temple Oak Park, Illinois, had its building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

ee also

*American Unitarian Conference
*Christian Universalism
*Congregationalist polity
*Homosexuality and Unitarian Universalism
*Liberal Christianity
*Unitarian Christian
*List of Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists
*United and uniting churches


Further reading

*"A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism" (Revised edition) by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church, 1998, Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-1617-9.

External links

* [http://www.uua.org/ Unitarian Universalist Association] (UUA)
* [http://www.cuc.ca Canadian Unitarian Council] (CUC)
* [http://uuyan.org Continental Unitarian Universalist Young Adult Network] (C*UUYAN)
* [http://www.uuworld.org/?wi UU World Magazine]
* [http://www.icuu.net/ International Council of Unitarians and Universalists] (ICUU)
* [http://www.uusc.org Unitarian Universalist Service Committee] (UUSC)
* [http://yruustar.org/rye/ Religious Youth Empowerment] (RYE)
* [http://www.uuism.net/uuwiki/index.php/Main_Page Unitarian Universalist Wiki] (UUWiki)
* [http://www.hds.harvard.edu/library/bms/merger_timeline_1900s.html Unitarian-Universalist Merger Timeline] from Harvard Divinity School's website.
*dmoz|Society/Religion_and_Spirituality/Unitarianism_and_Universalism/|Unitarianism and Universalism
* [http://unitarian-universalist.wetpaint.com/ Unitarian-Universalist Encyclopedia]
* [http://www.DiscoverUU.com DiscoverUU]
* [http://www.fuuse.com FUUSE]

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