Sunday, January 4, 2009

Notes from a Unitarian Universalist service

My wife and kids are out of town for a week or so, and I thought today would be a good day to check out the local Unitarian Universalist congregation. I had heard good things about the Unitarians, and had been meaning to check them out for a long time. I'm not big on church these days, but I figured that if there were any church I might enjoy going to, UU would be it. I wasn't disappointed. Here is a synopsis, compiled from the notes I took on my PDA.

UU logoWhen I entered the chapel, I was astonished to find a room of laughing, smiling people loudly greeting and socializing with each other. It was like I had crashed a house party. Everyone seemed really happy to be there, and enjoying themselves immensely. Almost immediately I felt welcome, like these were my kind of people.

I found a seat, and someone rang a bell. Everyone quieted down and found their own seats. The first thing the minister said was something like, "Welcome to First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City, which is home not only to this church, but also to the undefeated Sugar Bowl champion Utah Utes!" That got a round of laughter and applause. Applause in church. It was awesome.

The minister was a witty guy who knew his stuff. I found myself interested and engaged by what he was saying. Before reading from the Book of Revelation, he said, "Unitarian ministers don't often read from the Bible unless they have a good excuse," which drew a laugh. After reading about the wrath of God and the devastation of the earth, he said, "Thus endeth the reading. And thus endeth the world." This was followed by ominous piano music and more chuckling from the congregation. Lest you think he was simply making fun of the Bible, he did actually have a point, which he eventually came around to making during the sermon.

Next, though, was a reading of the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to become immersed in the imagery. I actually felt like I was in high school again (in a good way). He talked about the poem for a while, and at one point, someone in the congregation shouted, "Amen!" The minister didn't miss a beat and responded with, "Amen! But! ... How do you follow an 'amen'? With a 'but'!" I found this highly amusing, and highly refreshing.

Hubble Deep FieldAt one point, he talked about how scientists had believed until recently that gravity would overcome the expansion of the universe, and that the universe would end in a Big Crunch. He explained that more recent evidence indicates that the universe will continue to expand forever, eventually ending in proton decay and black holes evaporating into virtual nothingness "more than a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years from now. And the universe is only 14 billion years old. So we have some breathing room." I have never heard anything like this in a sermon, in any church. I just about wanted to jump out of my seat and shout "amen" myself.

Anyway, the main theme of the sermon seemed to be that despite the turmoil that always surrounds us in life, despite everyone who thinks that the Obama presidency (or the Middle East conflict, or whatever) will result in the end of the world, and despite the fact that the end of the world actually is coming someday, we should:

- Repent from the past.
- Live a good life in the present.
- Look with hope to the future.

It was a simple message, but I found it inspiring. It made me think of some specific ways in which I can do all three of these. We closed with a hymn that was about how thankful we are for life. It was very nice.

There were coffee, snacks, and mingling afterward, which was also nice. There were several stations with information about the various projects that church members can get involved in. And they had a mini bookstore, where I noticed that they were selling (among others) The Secular Conscience by Austin Dacey. Yeah, this is the kind of church I could get used to. I'm not putting my name on the membership rolls or anything just yet, but I think I'll definitely be going back.


Pam said...

I really enjoyed your story of your experience. I hope it continues to be a pleasant place for you. I feel the same joy when I go to our services in the Presbyterian church. I have a friend who was raised Baptist, converted to the LDS church, then a year later went in active and now goes to UU with her boyfriend. She really likes it. she was the one I saw Fireproof with, She and I were crying at the end of that movie, that is when she told me about the UU experience she had been having.

As my current bishop once said, "We go where we are spiritual fed." I got to "meet" your wife, well her words. Hope all is going well for you and yours, I think you and your wife are a great example of not leaving each other behind through the process of changes in faith, as you are making your love and family front and center.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

That is very interesting. I'll admit that I've been curious about UUism for a while now, but since leaving Mormonism, I've been leery of anything that is a "church" or even anything "spiritual", being an atheist.

I may have to check it out. Did you go to the one near Ft. Union, or the other one?

Saganist said...

It was worth checking out. I haven't been back since, but I keep intending to go. I went to the Unitarian church up by the University of Utah, on 1300 E near 500 S. They have services at 9:00 and 11:00.

Anonymous said...

I was surfing, looking for a UU chalice logo to put on my new website, and found your post. I'm a UU ministerial candidate and it's good to know - and hear in engaging detail - that you had a positive experience there.

Saganist said...

Thanks, REWM! I hope to have more positive experiences there, though I will have to drag my lazy butt out of bed to do so. I hope everything goes well for you.