A Chosen Faith
The following is an excerpt from the Forward written by Robert Fulghum, from the book, A Chosen Faith, by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church. In it, Mr. Fulghum reconstructs an “awkward conversation” he says he has had many times. The conversation helps to illustrate how Unitarian Universalism embodies certain principles without dictating rigid beliefs.
“You mean there’s no party line – no dogma?”
“Yes and no. We agree that individuals must work out their own religious conclusions. We agree that we will disagree on those conclusions. We agree to respect those differences. We agree to learn from one another through dialogue about our beliefs. We agree on a process and the tools to be used in the process.”
“Give me some examples of the tools.”
“The principles of democracy, integrity, continuing education, and individual responsibility, to name a few.”
“It sounds more like NPR or PBS to me than a church.”
“Actually, the analogy is not far off. Public radio and public television are good examples of things that Unitarian Universalists support. We want to be exposed to a wide range of information and a broad range of viewpoints. We want each individual to have an influence on programming, and we want each individual to take responsibility for keeping the programs on the air. It’s not the easiest way to go about radio or religious community, but it’s the way we choose.”
“So if I’m open-minded and listen to NPR and watch PBS, I qualify as a Unitarian Universalist?”
“Let’s say you have Unitarian Universalist tendencies. There are, however, Unitarian Universalists who listen only to jazz or country-western music or opera, or those who watch only baseball on TV. I say again, we respect diversity in all things.”
“What about politics?”
“No exception. Full spectrum. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Socialists, and a few who are either Anarchists or just confused – it’s hard to tell. We share only the conviction that one ought to be active in the affairs of the world. We don’t dictate which particular party one ought to join.”
“Are Unitarian Universalists Christians?”
“Again, yes and no. Some are and some aren’t, and some haven’t decided. Same answer if you ask whether Unitarian Universalists are Buddhists. In fact, most of the specific questions you might ask have this kind of answer. Yes and no. Some are and some aren’t. Some do and some don’t. We’re known for respecting diversity of opinion and belief.”
“I’d like to come take a look at a church like that, but I don’t want to get put on your missionary list.”
“No problem. We don’t evangelize. We keep a door open to those who are looking for the company of people like us. We find there are a great many people who are Unitarian Universalists and don’t know it. When we ask most Unitarian Universalists how they came to be members, they say it’s because they were looking for a community of people who are liberal in their religious values and active in their commitment to community service. We believe in the right of the individual to choose religious principles and in the individual’s responsibility to put those principles into practice.”
“I’d like to know more.”
The Seven Principles
The following are the seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations 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.
Unitarian Universalism draws from many sources:
- 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-entered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.
There are many ways the Unitarian Society of Hartford puts these principles into action:
- We demonstrate our respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person by being a “welcoming congregation,” welcoming all people, including: bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people and their families, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identities. We have made strides in making USH more accessible to those with physical limitations by installing an elevator, providing pew cuts to facilitate use of wheelchairs and/or space for chairs with strong arms, making the chancel accessible by a lift, utilizing an automatic door for building access and recently increasing our handicapped parking in front of the Meeting House. In addition, we have available large print hymnals, excellent sound system and an array of personal hearing devices. Our current focus is on finding ways to be more accessible and supportive of people with mental health issues.
- We show compassion in human relations by maintaining an active network of volunteers who provide support to those in need in the form of our “Caring Network.”
- We accept one another and encourage spiritual growth with the celebration of various religious traditions, such as Seder, Kwanzaa, and the newest addition to our Sunday services – a candle lighting ceremony.
- We help our members and friends to engage in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning through our Small Group Ministry program, in which small groups of people meet regularly to discuss various topics that explore the spiritual dimensions of each individual’s life.
- We have structured our governance body and make decisions through the use of the democratic process.
- We work towards the goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all with an active Social Justice Council, which embodies various groups working for the goal, including CUREJ (Congregations United for Racial Equity and Justice) and ICEJ (Interreligious Coalition for Equity and Justice).
- We recently demonstrated a respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part by purchasing an environmentally friendly set of furnaces when our old one died as well as using the most efficient form of lighting wherever possible.