Frequently Asked Questions
Check the Internet at uua.org. Wikipedia has a good article about Unitarian Universalism. Most public libraries carry a book by John Robinson called The Unitarians and the Universalists, as well as other information about us. Most new members of UU churches are new to our denomination, so our church often has classes on the basics of Unitarian Universalist history, theology, and approach to faith. All are welcome to those classes! We also welcome you to contact our minister, visit a Sunday service, or send us an email at CCUU@ccuu.org.
We look forward to meeting you!
Frequently Asked Questions
To Unitarian Universalists there is no one right or wrong way to pray. Prayer is a conversation between people and their community, the world, or the spirit of love and life, that some people call God. The motivation behind prayer can be diverse. People pray to thank, forgive, to express regret, to express a hope or help heal. Some people pray to feel connected to something larger then oneself. Others pray to hear a quiet voice within. For some people, prayer is a silent conversation, or spoken word with closed eyes and folded hands. For others, prayer is taking care of a sick person, singing or playing music, planting a tree, practicing an art, walking in nature, or cooking and sharing a meal. Some people pray often; and others hardly ever pray. What prayer often has in common is that it lets us be mindful and in the presence of the Spirit of Life.
Answer: “Yes we pray, but prayers are different for each person and that’s okay.”
Adapted from ‘How can we pray with integrity, grace, power, and purpose?’ by Wayne Arnason and Kathleen Rolenz, UU World, Spring 2008
Our children’s religious education curriculum includes exploration of the world’s major religions, with particular attention given to our Jewish and Christian heritage and sacred texts. One of the six sources of Unitarian Universalism is “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves”. As part of our cultural context, and as a source of our faith journeys, we believe it’s important for children to have an understanding of the stories from the Bible and to have a broad understanding about the meaning, use, and interpretations of Hebrew and Christian scripture.
Answer: YES, we do believe in studying the Bible.
Many UU’s view Jesus as one of the great ethical teachers who have shown humans how to live a life of courageous love, service and compassion. Though some may question whether Jesus was an actual historical figure, others feel a strong connection with Jesus – we believe his teachings are of important ethical and moral significance. Many of us honor Jesus, and many of us honor other master teachers of past or present generations, like Moses or the Buddha. As a result, many families of differing religious backgrounds find common ground in UU congregations where their diverse beliefs and backgrounds are welcomed and honored.
Adapted from ‘Our Unitarian Universalist Faith: Frequently Asked Questions’ – Alice Blair Wesley,www.uua.org
Music is a tie that binds us to each other, the worship experience and our Unitarian Universalist heritage and values. Music—including the Countryside Choir, professional pianist, singing meditation and song circle—is an integral part of Sunday service and life at Countryside. <Read more link>
Adults in our congregation have the opportunity to grow and thrive spiritually through involvement in our small group program, Chalice Circles, adult faith development classes and member-led ministries. We support one another on our respective spiritual journeys and enjoy one another’s fellowship outside of Sunday service. <Read more link>
If you are interested in Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church, we invite you to attend services and get acquainted with our church and members.
Please contact the church office administrator or visit our “Welcome Window” on Sunday morning. Meet the Minister at our monthly sessions following service, talk with our members and, if you have children, please visit our religious education program.
We recommend immersing yourself in the life of the church as the best way to decide if you wish to join. And, when you decide in the affirmative, we welcome you to our Path to Membership program to provide further information about Unitarian Universalism, our church and our congregation.
Check the Internet at uua.org. Wikipedia has a good article about Unitarian Universalism. Most public libraries carry a book by John Robinson called The Unitarians and the Universalists, as well as other information about us. Most new members of UU churches are new to our denomination, so our church often has classes on the basics of Unitarian Universalist history, theology, and approach to faith. All are welcome to those classes!
We also welcome you to contact our minister, visit a Sunday service, or send us an email at CCUU@ccuu.org. We look forward to meeting you!
There are about 150,000 Unitarian Universalist adult members of our congregations and another 100,000 children registered in our Sunday schools. About 500,000 American adults tell pollsters that they are UUs, but they don’t actually belong to a congregation. There are about 1,000 UU churches in North America. Many are clustered in New England, but there is at least one UU congregation in most cities with a population over 50,000. There are Unitarians in England, Eastern Europe, India, and the Philippines, as well. Unlike most of the mainline denominations, Unitarian Universalism has grown slowly over the past 30 years in the U.S.
Each local congregation governs itself in a democratic fashion, usually with an elected board of trustees. Churches call and dismiss ministers and other staff, buy and sell property, set goals, and establish policies and budgets according to their own bylaws. This is called “congregational polity.”
“Minister” is another one of those beautiful old words (Latin, this time), which means “to serve.” Ministers serve congregations by being spiritual leaders (preaching, giving guidance to individuals and groups, offering classes and retreats) and by assisting lay leaders with the institution’s management and programs (supervising staff, serving with the Board of Trustees, dealing with building programs, and so on). In addition, many ministers serve their community in social justice and community-building activities.
Do you have bishops? How do ministers come to be at a particular church?
UU ministers have a degree from an accredited seminary, which attests to three years of postgraduate work in religion, including scripture, religious history, religious sociology, psychology and counseling, current affairs, theology, and more. They complete two internships, usually one in a church and one in a hospital. They are certified by a body called the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. They are ordained by local churches. We do not have bishops. Each congregation, democratically governed, is sovereign over its own affairs, chooses its own minister, and, if necessary, dismisses him or her by processes outlined in its bylaws. The UUA consists of member congregations, who pay dues, and it uses that money (and proceeds from past generations) to assist and provide resources to its member congregations.
Each of our churches governs itself and has a slightly different set of requirements for membership. Generally speaking, membership in UU churches is open to any adult or older teen who has informed themselves about the church, made a contribution to the church, and signs a document attesting to their sympathy with the church’s general aims and program.
We value committed, loving relationships and perform weddings and holy unions for opposite and same-sex couples. We help each couple craft the words and rituals that express the meaning of their relationship.
At the time of death, we honor the deceased with a funeral (generally, a formal service with the body present) or a memorial service (less formal and the body is not present). Our focus is on comforting the bereaved by remembering the deceased and honoring his or her life, rather than on doctrine or theology.
We welcome babies and children into life and our congregation by dedication. The children are welcomed with a touch of water (symbol of the life we all share) and a flower (symbol of their unfolding beauty). Parents and the congregation pledge to do their part to nurture the child, “that she may grow in beauty, love, and truth.” Some UU ministers, who are themselves of a Christian bent, will perform baptisms.
We teach our children that they are capable of looking into their own hearts and minds for religious truth, and that no one can tell them what they must believe. We teach them about the kinds of answers others have made to the great questions of religion. We teach them that their natural response of awe and wonder to the beauty of the world is a spiritual response. We teach them to think about moral and ethical issues, and we teach them to be curious and respectful rather than frightened or angry when they encounter persons who are different from them.
We celebrate Christian holidays, but with more universal implications. Some congregations celebrate Jewish holidays as well, and a scattering of other religious holidays (the Hispanic Day of the Dead, for instance, or Dwilli, a Hindu thanksgiving festival). Many of our congregations celebrate national holidays, too, such as Thanksgiving. As to rituals, we dedicate babies, and we have a spring ritual called the Flower Communion, which comes to us from Unitarian churches in Transylvania.
The flaming chalice has roots in Catholic Czechoslovakia, where a heretical movement called the Hussites used it as their emblem. During World War II, the Unitarian Service Committee was working among war refugees who spoke many languages, and it commissioned one of them to come up with an icon. Remembering the Hussites and realizing that their independent spirit was similar to that of the Unitarians, he drew a flaming chalice for the Service Committee. Over the next 50 years, the chalice slowly became accepted as the Unitarian, then Unitarian Universalist symbol, and most congregations adopted the practice of lighting a chalice at the beginning of worship.
“Worship” is one of those amazing Anglo Saxon words, which means “the consideration of things of worth,” and it can therefore be used by people who believe in God, or not. Our worship services cover many things of worth in our lives: moral values, family relationships, the spiritual quest, all the way to social issues, sex, and pets. As to how we do this, each congregation develops its own worship style, but most are patterned after Protestant worship. We sing together, we proclaim what is important to us, we hear a sermon, and we spend some time in the comfort and depth of our own inner silence. We take an offering, we hear announcements, and sometimes the children join us for a story. It’s usually about an hour, and it is usually followed by a social hour.
Good question! In theory, there are a lot of answers, but in practice, we act on our beliefs by loving our neighbors, working for a better world, studying the wonders of creation, and appreciating the beauty around us. Most UUs believe that how we live is much more important than what we believe, so we’re a pretty active bunch. We also have an active Social Action group which promotes justice in the world and in our local communities through service projects, education/awareness lectures, and fundraising.
…and teaching evolution?
UUs value justice, human autonomy, and equality of opportunity, and tend, therefore, to be on the progressive side of the political aisle. But, just as there are some politically progressive evangelical Christians, so there are some politically conservative UUs.
You’ll find many UUs who believe that this life is all there is and that our immortality comes from the contributions we have made to life and how we live on in the hearts of others. Some UUs believe in some form of reincarnation, others in an ongoing life of the human soul. A few will speak about heaven (hardly any about hell, on account of our Universalist side). Most UUs will qualify what they say about life after death by saying, “Of course, we don’t really know.” Most UUs face death with sadness but without fear, and some come to accept it as an adventure into Mystery.
As a principle, we promote the responsible search for truth and meaning.The belief that we share is that pondering questions like “What is God like?” is important, and that the answer to that question must be found, not in a famous book or an ancient tradition, but in our own hearts. We offer opportunities for both formal and informal development of our own personal theologies.
Some UUs look into their own hearts and find a very traditional God who loves them, consoles them in difficulty, guides them in times of need, and hears their prayers. Other UUs look into their hearts and conclude that they do not know very much about God. Still others find a feminine, motherly force in the world and call it “Goddess.” Some UUs believe in God as something greater than they are, but they don’t see that something as a person, rather it is the creative force of the evolving universe, love, or mystery. And some UUs don’t like to use the word “god” at all, or have decided that such a thing does not exist.
Although there are a variety of beliefs about the Bible among UUs, most of us believe that the Bible is a document, like others of the world’s scriptures, which demonstrates human creativity and contains human wisdom that is worth studying and living by. (Some of us would say that creativity and wisdom are the inspiration of the divine.) Also, we think the Bible is important because it is a part of the prehistory of our culture, and we want our children to know its stories and teachings so they will be culturally literate. We study the Bible using the tools of modern scholarship and understand it to be somewhat limited by its time and place. So while we honor the Bible, we use it as a resource, not as an authority.
While we don’t share a common set of beliefs about the existance and truths about God, we do share a set of principles and have a covenant that binds us together as a spiritual community. 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.
So, it’s not as hard as you might think. People brought up with different religious tranditions sit next to each other in a worship service because they have a basic attitude of respect toward the truths and gifts that other faiths have, even toward those who feel strongly attached to and served by the beliefs that they hold dear. We UUs value the kind of spiritual curiosity that would lead an agnostic to try a Buddhist meditation or a Christian to pray by turning to the four directions with pagan friends. In short, if you’re willing to regularly hear ideas drawn from the many great sources of spiritual belief and practice, you will get a lot out of being part of a UU congregation!
Unitarian Universalist churches are non-creedal churches. We don’t have one set of beliefs that everyone must share in order to join. Therefore, our churches are very diverse, theologically speaking. You will find liberal Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics, pagans, Buddhists, and believers in all varieties of higher powers worshipping together, discussing their beliefs, and learning from each other. We think that diversity enriches us all as we talk about a reality that none of us can possibly know completely.
The Universalists believed in universal salvation: that God, like a loving parent, wants every person enfolded in divine love (in heaven) after their deaths. (Sometimes called the “no hell” religion.) The Universalists were very popular in frontier America, especially in the years after the Civil War. Not only did they preach against hellfire and damnation, they were quick to embrace the emerging disciplines of evolution and Biblical scholarship. The Universalists, and to a lesser extent the Unitarians, got a lot of flack from their neighbors for their heretical beliefs, and they came to value religious freedom and the right of each individual to form their own faith over their founding doctrines and did not use creeds as a test of membership.
Exactly right. From the beginnings of Christianity, many people have argued that God is a unity, that Jesus was a human being sent by God to teach us how to live, and that the Holy Spirit is just a name for the divine. But from the Council of Nicea (425 CE) until the Protestant Reformation, it was downright dangerous to be a Unitarian or any other kind of heretic.
After the Reformation, some religious freedom was allowed in some places, and Unitarian Churches were formed, especially in England and Eastern Europe. The Kingdom of Transylvania even had (briefly) a Unitarian king . . . our only claim to royalty. In the United States, Unitarianism began as one school of thought within the Puritan churches in New England. These tax-supported churches split in 1825 into two denominations, the Unitarians (the liberals) and the Congregationalists (the traditionalists). From New England, Unitarianism spread all over the U.S. and Canada.
In 1964, the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged and formed the Unitarian Universalist Association, called the UUA for short. We Unitarian Universalists call ourselves UUs. It’s a tough name, but both sides of our denominational history are precious to us. Some congregations never changed their names to reflect the merger. Speaking of names, some of our congregations call themselves churches, some call themselves fellowships, religious societies, or (in New England, where some of our churches are 300 years old) parishes. It’s all the same to us.