First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus
Today I attended my first non-Christian service of the year, attending a Unitarian Universalist service at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on Weisheimer Road. For those that aren’t aware of the distinction (like I was), Unitarians are historically “Christian,” but believe the God in Christianity is one being and not a trinity (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost). They believe Jesus is a savior and his teachings were inspired by God, but he was not a deity himself. Unitarian Universalism, on the other hand, is a liberal religious movement characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” and assert no specific creed, but encourage spiritual growth. So, I attended the latter, and since there was no mention of Christ or Christianity, it was not a Christian service.
Despite it not being a Christian service, the procedure was similar to others I have attended so far this year in that there were songs, a sermon, a collection, and a closing. However, the content was very different. The songs we sang weren’t hymns but from a book of “meditative and mythical songs.” Instead of prayer there were moments of silent meditation. There was a choir that sang generic, soothing songs instead of Christian songs, and their instrumental musical choices were puzzling. They had an interlude called Minstrel’s Lament from The Elder Scrolls IV, which is, if you aren’t aware, a video game. Their whole focus is on being welcoming, opening with a song called “You Are Welcome Here,” having and ASL interpreter, and having a special parking spot for first time visitors which you bet I took advantage of because I was a little late. I should mention I also brought my friend and coworker, Aaron, with me for moral support. And I made him late, too (THANKS AARON SORRY).
This church could be described as aggressively liberal. My political beliefs shouldn’t have to be part of this blog but since we’re going there– I would characterize myself as moderate but left-leaning. I did agree with a majority of what the church was saying, but I still felt uncomfortable by the overall set up of the service. Because the Unitarian Universalists have no particular creed, it felt almost like a politically-motivated service. If I am not there to hear about God or Christ or any of their teachings, I assume I am instead there to meditate on life’s unanswerable questions and to think about how I can be a source of good in this world. There was some of that, but it also got uncomfortably political to a point where I felt like I was at a rally instead of a church.
This isn’t to say I didn’t like it, I liked the people there and even the content of their sermon today. Yet I still felt a warring inside of me like I do at almost any church. Normally the internal dissonance I feel is with my own belief system, but today it was because I didn’t even feel like I was at a spiritual service. I kept thinking what are they trying to do here?
I think they’re trying to provide some of the best perks of being in a church (the meditative hour, the community support) without attaching the creed. Literally everyone is welcome because they aren’t nailing any theses to the wall. It’s an agnostic’s oasis, and I think it is nice a place like that exists, but I’m a little too old fashioned for it. I can’t hang with the hippie nature of the Unitarian Universalists. I wanted more structure, I wanted there to be a point. I didn’t want them to mention American politics, because oftentimes that is something that doesn’t provide me any peace or solace and I would like a break from it when I’m at church.
All of those very fundamental complaints aside, the sermon today focused on vehement disagreement and having constructive conversations with those with whom we disagree. The ministerial intern who preached today, Amanda, made some refreshing points. I can’t do her words justice, but the gist of it was that we should expect good or neutral intent from those with whom we might be arguing, and try to be tolerant. Liberals always boast about their tolerance of others, but are hypocrites when it comes to being tolerant of conservatives. Liberals can be tolerant of Muslims and Hispanic immigrants because those people tend to align with the party’s goals, but they can’t be tolerant of their conservative family members or coworkers. Liberals (me included) have the tendency to say we don’t tolerate conservatives because we “don’t tolerate hate,” but if we assume they aren’t coming from a place of hate but instead a place of good intent, then we have no reason not to be tolerant. If you’re pro-life it probably isn’t because you hate women and don’t want them to have control of their bodies, but because you want to love and protect all life and have a different idea of when life begins. If you’re anti-LGBTQ rights, it might be because you have been told your whole life a non-straight person is going to hell and you want to protect their soul. These things can have damaging effects, they might be misguided, but we can’t count people that believe things like this out and completely disregard their opinion. We could use some tolerance here. It’s hard when it’s matters that literally concern life and death to practice tolerance, but that is all the more reason to do it. The more we work together, the more we can accomplish.
I probably won’t be going back to this Unitarian Universalist church, but I really appreciate what they’re trying to do. If you told me three months ago that I had to join a church, I probably would have picked one just like this. They are very non-committal in the faith aspect, and that’s awesome for those that are questioning. Even only a few months into my journey, though, I know that I like the structure of a traditional service. I like that there is a point and a creed, and I like that the people at traditional services often have a variety of political opinions and they are each interpreting the word of God differently. If going to all these churches has taught me anything, it’s that there isn’t only one way to have faith, and you can be part of a faith and still have questions about the details.