Editor's note: this story is part of a series featuring various religious groups throughout the valley.
In celebration of April Fool's Day, April 3 was "laugh at ourselves" Sunday at the Cache Valley congregation of the Unitarian Universalist church. Each person in attendance had an opportunity to read aloud a good-natured and only slightly cheeky joke about Unitarian Universalism or religion in general, and laughter filled the re-purposed house on the corner of 600 East and 900 North in Logan.
"How did Moses part the Red Sea?" read one woman in the congregation, "he used a sea-saw."
"There was a man who had been appointed to paint a church," read another woman. "The church was on a pretty tight budget, so the man stretched the paint as far as he could with thinner. As he was about to finish, the pastor of the church showed up to check on his progress. The preacher thought the church looked horrible, and cried out to the man, ‘Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!'"
But not every Unitarian Universalist service is so silly, said lay minister Beth Walden. In fact, drawing material for discussion from a variety of religions and philosophies, Walden said no two Sundays are ever alike.
According to the church's website, www.uua.org, Unitarian Universalism originated with two separate religious traditions that developed independently, but opted to combine in 1961, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). According to "Unitarian Universalist Origins: Our Historic Faith," by Mark W. Harris, Universalism has its roots in sixteenth-century Transylvania, or what is now Romania, with a group of Christians who did not believe in the concept of the Trinity established by the Nicene Creed. Instead, they believed in the "unity," or "oneness" of God and the salvation of all people, regardless of differences in doctrinal beliefs.
"Unitarians and Universalists have always been heretics," Harris wrote in his essay. "We are heretics because we want to choose our faith, not because we desire to be rebellious. ‘Heresy' in Greek means ‘choice.'" According to Harris, Universalism began in the 1700s with preachers in Philadelphia and the middle Atlantic and southern states. They preached the "gospel of universal salvation" and "challenged its members to reach out and embrace people whom society often marginalized," such as black people and women, Harris said.
Now, the combined Unitarian Universalist Association holds debates and votes to determine where the church stands on certain social issues such as gay marriage, abortion and war, Walden said. A self-defined liberal church, the UUA is environmentally conscious, pro-choice, anti-war and supports same-sex marriage. The Cache Valley congregation recently adopted the status of a "welcoming congregation," welcoming individuals of all sexual orientations, and as a co-sponsor of the Cache Valley Peace Works Organization, Cache Valley Unitarian Universalists can be seen holding peace vigils in downtown Logan on any given Friday.
Although the topics of discussion vary widely from week to week and may include theology from a variety of world religions, humanist perspectives or social issues, Walden said there are guidelines that determine what the nature of the discussion should be. The guidelines include seven principles and six sources for faith, and "anything that values the inherent worth and dignity of every person," Walden said.
Describe your belief in God/supreme being.
Each individual has their own belief. Within our congregation there are those with no belief in God, those who believe in the Judeo/Christian God, those who believe in God with different definitions and understandings, those who believe in deity that is not necessarily God, those who believe in a higher power that is not necessarily divine.
Where and how often do you worship as a group?
At the church building weekly. There are other gatherings for adult religious education, and studying and discussion of topics of interest.
Describe your scripture/worship book.
Because of the six sources of our traditions (seven principles and six sources that congregations affirm) all the scriptures of the world's religions are sources for inspiration, reverence, understanding and learning. We do have two hymnals. One of them contains readings in the back which are often used during church services.
What happens after death?
Again, there is a diversity of beliefs. Some believe nothing (there is no afterlife), reincarnation, union with God, and who knows/I don't know. For some, the question is not important.
How does one become a member?
Attending a brief orientation and participation in a membership ceremony are common parts but not necessary. The necessary activity is to sign their name in the membership book.
Ordained ministers will often wear a stole and sometimes a robe. Different congregations vary from good Sunday dress to jeans and T-shirts. At CVUU we are very relaxed about what we wear.
Lay clergy or minister, are women allowed?
The Unitarian Universalist Association does have two seminaries, but ministers are ordained by congregations. Some congregations do not have a spiritual leader and are called lay led. A few, including CVUU have a person designated as the Lay Leader. Men and women ministers are about equally divided.
What makes this church unique?
That we can create a church together with a broad diversity of beliefs. That there is no creed that is required. That individually and together we make a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" (one of the seven principles).
Views on homosexual/bisexual/transgender individuals?
We are officially designated by the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Welcoming Congregation. Many years ago we went through a lengthy study and discussion process about issues surrounding homosexual/bisexual/transgender individuals. This culminated in a congregational vote to explicitly state that we are welcoming and accepting of homosexual/bisexual/transgender individuals. We do have such members.
We have two hymnals, but also sing folk, rock, gospel, and almost anything with a positive message.
We will celebrate and discuss almost any holiday of any of the world's religions. We are conscious, however, of not co-opting the traditions and rituals of religions other than our own, both individually and as a group. We will celebrate that the holiday exists and learn from and about it. However, we don't duplicate those rituals that are sacred to other people. We do have two mostly UU traditions. Flower Communion in the Spring when people bring flowers to the altar and leave with a different flower brought by someone else in our community. We also have Water Communion in the Fall when we all come back together for the fall season from our various travels bringing water with us from meaningful locations. The waters are joined in a common bowl.
Once again varied. Often the couple writes their own vows, and the ministers meet with the couple to create a special service. In those states where same sex marriages are legal, UU ministers often perform those ceremonies. In states where it is not legal, UU ministers may perform a joining ceremony for the couple that celebrates the commitment of the couple to each other.
Specific roles of men and women in church?
Any that they want. Volunteerism is extremely necessary in congregations that are self-supporting. Gender of the volunteer is not an issue.