Sunday, May 13, 2007

Church #37: Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church

1. Who attended? Bradley & Erica.

How welcome did you feel at this church?
1: I was so uncomfortable and/or offended that I did not stay to the end of services.
10: This church was welcoming and thought-provoking. I would recommend that others experience this church.

ERICA: 10?
BRADLEY: I think this might actually be my first 10.

3. Picture(s) of the church

4. Name/location of the church:
Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church
2710 Newtown Road
Cincinnati, OH 45244

5. Was it recommended to Church Hop?
No, but people have been suggesting that we step outside the traditional Christian church (and really, that was the idea from the beginning... it's just easier said than done). Also, I had heard about UU churches when I was in college but was never able to visit one.

6. Time/duration of services:

7. What type of religion did the church cater to?
Universalist Unitarian, and thus many religions.

8. Who did you meet?
Many people... lots of fellowship. Several Bobs.

9. If applicable, scans of handouts, tracts, etc

10. Church Hopper’s personal experience with the church, additional details:

ERICA: Well well well. Didn't really see this coming.

Service was over hours ago, but I'm still a little floored to have found so many of my "prayers" answered today. I'm really not sure where to start.

This project, as I have mentioned before, was never really about finding a church home. It was about an exploration and personal growth. That being said, where has this church been all my life?

Let me back up. Last night, I watched a religious debate, which left me incredibly frustrated. We had some churches still on the queue, but they were more of the same sects we've already visited, and I needed something else. UU has always been in the back of my mind because a professor mentioned it to me once, when I was in college. He said they were about questioning faith, and that interested me (though not enough to hunt them down, until just now).

So I Google'd "Universalist Unitarian" and my zip code, and voila... the internet did what the internet does and I had this church. I was excited to be doing something new and unfamiliar.

We found the church with no problem. Parked in the first time visitor spot, across from a Rav4 with an Obama '08 bumper sticker. There was a lot of green... trees and flowers and a little garden.

When we walked in, everyone was clamoring for one another's attention-- hugging and congesting the lobby with small talk and handshakes. Very loud and very upbeat (though yes, something difficult to walk into as an outsider). We got our program and found our seats.

I'm a sucker for windows. This church had bare walls, few if any decorations anywhere... but a giant, round window in the front of the auditorium (the way we were facing), and tall windowed doors to our left, which looked out into more green green green. The windows were the first thing I noticed-- the second was the lack of the cross, or of any religious artifact whatsoever. (Anyone who knows about UU is probably bored with this post already, but I knew very little going into this.)

Bells to start service. Bells to transition. Hymns about life, compassion, the Earth... not a mention of God, Jesus, higher powers. [Edit: Reverend Bill Gupton has informed me that they do mention God, but they "don't tell you what God is."] Silent reflection (I loved this so much) instead of guided prayer. "Sharing our abundance" instead of holy offerings. A segment called "How We Serve": this week's was about the church's Green Team's new compost heap. Welcoming new members, where the congregation pledged to "renew our covenant to seek and speak the truth, to love one another, and to serve humankind in fellowship."

Is this not what I've been talking about for a year now? Being a good person, serving your community and your fellow human beings, without the threat of hell or the promise of heaven? A journey and a search and the ability-- the encouraged ability-- to question and to doubt?

This is not a church without religion-- they still watch movies about religion, hold forums with religious discussion, have an entire religious education department... but during services, it isn't necessarily about invoking The One Power and swearing allegiance. I could not be happier to know this exists.

Celebrating Life, Creating Community, Seeking Justice. ...Yes, please.

Now I know I've gone way tangential, because this blog was supposed to be heading toward a "welcome" notion. But today I found something I really needed to find, so grant me this.

And the church was welcoming, though not in any specific way that I've outlined with other churches. There was a guest registry, some hand-holding during Benediction, some quick fellowship, open invitations. But finally the way I think and feel and believe was welcomed, in a way I hadn't really found yet.

Bradley and I want to go back. Bradley expressed the desire before I asked him about it, which is just one more thing that tells me this was a great thing. But neither of us want to give up this project-- we aren't done with it yet. We're considering Hopping every other week, and on the other Sundays re-visiting HUU to see if it gives us that same feeling consistently. Any suggestions on how else to keep exploring, while maaaaybe considering giving the church home thing a try?

Brad: Wow. Just wow. This church really blew me away, and put me in a place that is the hardest thing to put into words that I've ever had to face. This church really put my mind in an awkward place-but a place that was so foreign it wasn't entirely a bad experience. In fact, quite the opposite. This church was like nothing I had ever been to, and to be honest, I'm liking it more and more.

I had a good feeling about this place upon entering when I saw that one of the cars outside had a sticker reading "Obama '08". This put a grin on my face that would last the entire duration of my experience at this church. When Erica and I walked in, there was no crucifix on the wall, and no large cross on the wall behind the pastor. It was simply a clean white room, with simple architecture and a large amount of folding chairs. The end of the room had a large circular window that outlooked into a sort of courtyard that would later be mentioned.

We sat down and took it all in. I was already thinking this would be a good time (which was later proved right) because (for some odd reason in my mind) it looked like all of the people here were science teachers. It might have been the high "beard rate" or the intelligence level, but something just gave me that vibe.

The whole service started, but with the (and not complete, but lowered) absence of God related references, and the induction of several new members who all were "tired of the guilt" of other religions. They were all shrugging off their old ways to bring on this new way of thinking. It was around this time that I was thinking I could be doing the same thing.

I don't know if it's just the idea of being able to keep the same thought I have right now, and just apply them within a community of people who are all in the same boat, looking for the same type of answers. It just was very appealing to me, and it's still brewing in the back of my mind. While the goers of the church seem a bit wiser, it'll still be nice to be with people of the same thought process behind what we want in life. Plus, I noticed a man interested in eastern thought, something I'm finding has more and more to offer.

I'm hoping that giving this church a shot will pay off.


Brianna said...

Any idea what their family program is like? I loved the UU church I went to visit oh so long ago, and I would be interested in trying this one, too.

Eebs said...

I do not know what their family program is like. However, I can tell you that we were the youngest people there (besides children, I mean). There were a couple of young families and there's a time when kids leave the main service to go to a Sunday school-type thing, but beyond that I'm really not sure. The vast majority of this congregation was substantially older than I am, I will say that. Not bursting with young families-- was yours?

DGH said...

I am begging you not to hear a debate about the existence of God by Kirt Cameron!!1 Holy Crap that guy should not be representing Christianity! here s a local Presbyterian pastor who blogged about his frustration about the debate!

Anyway, here is Markus' blog:

Thanks yall! and continue to love the blog!

Maihop said...

Now I'm more excited than ever to visit the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Columbus - we have to go the next time you come visit!

Anonymous said...

," ... not a mention of God, Jesus, higher powers. Silent reflection [...]"Sharing our abundance" [...] "How We Serve": this week's was about the ... Green Team's new compost heap. Welcoming new members, where the[y]... pledged to "renew our covenant to seek and speak the truth, to love one another, and to serve humankind in fellowship."

This sounds like a club meeting or a service group meeting. 4-H maybe. It's not church if there's no mention of God or Jesus. Depending on ourselves and each other to help us get through the day is a nice support group, not church.
To be church the Word (scripture) needs to be preached and the sacraments need to be provided (baptism, communion). My take on the UUs I guess -- nice people, but not a church. And yes, you can be "religious" and still not be a church if all the rituals are based on people and not what God is doing. A common misunderstanding nowdays, I think.

I have enjoyed reading your hopping experiences since I stumbled across it a while ago. It has given me great insights on what to do and not to do at our own little church (we're new).

Thanks for reporting each week, and I do hope one of these days God really grabs you.


Lewis said...

I also thought that the UU sounded more like a club/commune than a religion. To me, a religion shouldn't include everyone's beliefs. I know it sounds exclusionary, but faith isn't about taking what you like and leaving the rest. I applaud taking the time to follow your own path toward belief, but I prefer a path that has a final destination versus continuing to wander/wonder through various religions all my days.

As a side note, I get the feeling that UU would make a great religion for any politician. It allows him/her to say they are spiritual, but without having to exclude anyone. Truly middle-of-the-road.

PS - When is Bradley going to start posting his thoughts again?

luckeyfrog said...

I think each person has slightly different beliefs, but the different denominations and kinds of religions help to find a church that fits with what you most believe. I don't think any of them are 'wrong'; each person just has to find what fits them, personally, and what they need.

Faith isn't just about taking what you like, but choosing a church IS about finding somewhere that has similar beliefs to yours and has a similar focus.

I'd be interested to check out a church like this and see if it really felt like a church to me. If it didn't, it would only be because of what I'm used to- and I don't think it would mean that it WASN'T a church. I was glad you pointed out its religious components, though. (Especially that they encourage questioning and debate-- that's awesome!)

Some people seem to disagree that this 'counts' as a church, but I'm just excited that you both found somewhere you really liked. Can't wait to read Bradley's take on it. :)

Kate said...

Congrats on finding this place! I think a church can be any community that motivates you to be a better person and respect the people and things around you. A lot of people go to religious services out of guilt or because they feel the need to 'punch a ticket,' and that's not what religion/worship/spirituality should be about. Glad you and Brad found a group that inspires you!

Eebs said...

Okay, lemme see how I can respond to these comments.

First off, I think a church can be wherever you feel spiritually fed. Maybe the UUs need to be using a different word than "church," but maybe not.

It wasn't that they were celebrating a lack of religion, but rather a variety of religions (to each his own, it seemed). How is this different from an "inter-denominational" church like Crossroads? Yes, Crossroads skews Christian. Heritage almost felt pagan, at times. Is it really so different?

It didn't feel like a "meeting" or "4-H" to me... I encourage you to visit a church like this and see that there are still rituals, still beliefs... there's still worship, in their own way. It still has a church feel, but with more emphasis on community (which might be what's throwing people).

Please take into consideration that I was there for less than two hours. I do now know the ins and outs of the religion, by any stretch of the imagination. But the whole point of this is to learn and to grow, and that's what I'm trying to do.

The more time I spend in Christian churches, the less I feel that's what I'm looking for. I'm sorry that this recent discovery is rubbing some people the wrong way, but don't knock it until you've tried it, eh?

Lewis: If you scroll back, you will see that Bradley has left his comments on every post but this one. He posts some later than others, and for that I apologize, but he's his own person and the more I nag him to post the more grudgingly he does it. Just keep checking back... sorry to ask so much patience from you!

d-mc said...

I looked at the blog yesterday and can't pretend I was excited you dug the UU church.

I started to post something and decided to wait a day so I could think about what I want to say.

Tonight I read the comments and one struck a chord with me that helps me put into words what I want to say.

"...choosing a church IS about finding somewhere that has similar beliefs to yours and has a similar focus."

I agree with this statement. That is what finding a church is about for most people. Which may lay at the heart of what I perceive as a problem in the church hopping experience. (Make note by the way that I love your experience and wish I had the time to do the same.) I would also say that it is not YOUR problem I am referring to in particular. It is the general problem that even those who call themselves Christians fall in to.

The problem is this-most of us look for friends, groups, books, churches, etc., that validate what we already believe. If we read/hear something we disagree with, we cast it out of our mind entirely too quickly entirely too often.

Might I suggest a higher pursuit. The search for truth. The search for truth is infinitely harder than the search for what we like. And it also requires us to gather evidence, evaluate it rationally, and come to conclusions.

But the search for truth is infinitely more rewarding. I have also found through the years that when I really pursue truth, I have come to beleive many things that went against what I initially thought.

Let me give you an example. I am an evangelical Christian for various reasons. (I would be happy to share them with you if you ask.)

I have heard for years about Mormonism and what Mormons beleive. But I decied to learn from Mormons what they believe. Let them represent themselves. I have been in a dialogue with some Mormons for a couple months now and am enjoying it greatly. I am not finding much I can rationally buy into, but I am trying my best to give them a fair hearing.

This process is actually what led me to being a Christian in the first place.

Finally, and then I will end my small book :), recognize that you have biases. I have biases. Everyone has biases. It is extremely difficult to see past them. But it is worth it when we try.

Godspeed as you continue your journey. Just remember, pursue truth above everything else.

Peter Zefo said...

Eebs, I concur with the thoughts of D-MC. I hope you don't mind, but I blogged about your recent post. Does that make me a "blog hopper"?

Here's the link...feel free to leave a comment.

luckeyfrog said...

Wikipedia's article on Unitarian Universalism says this: Unitarian Universalism (UUism) is a theologically liberal religious movement characterized by its support of a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning."

Maybe the worship service doesn't focus on religion, but it sounds like the church investigates religion, continuing the 'search for truth' even after people choose it as their home church.

From the little bit I've read about this church, it seems like they embrace discussion, debate, questioning, and changing of beliefs- it seems to me like a very open-minded, intelligent, and logical approach to religion, and despite the fact I've been a Lutheran all my life and this church isn't expressly Christian... I'm intrigued.

I think a church has to have similar beliefs to yours, but I think more than that a church has to approach religion like you. There are people at my home church who are staunchly traditional, refuse to accept any changes, and believe whatever they've been told to believe all of their life. That works for them, and I'm happy for them, but I'm also really glad that there are some people in my church who don't approach religion the same way, because I can't believe something until I've looked into the matter and given it thought, and I think growth is impossible without some change.

I think that, like d-mc said, the search for truth takes time, and really investigating a church takes more than one visit. You can't see everything that the church believes in that one snapshot. I do think that one service can provide a decent glimpse into how a church approaches religion, though- and I'll let Erica and Bradley speak for themselves, but maybe that's what they're looking at when they visit a church.

Anonymous said...

I was truly excited to see the blog on HUUC. I'm a member there - after a very long search to find a place I could call home. We do have a LOT of stuff for families - in addition to the religious ed program, there are ample opportunities for kids and youth.
Thanks for visiting - I was out of town 5/13, but look forward to meeting you!

amo said...

Eebs - to answer your question about Crossroads - I think denomination in the "interdeminational" sense means different "denominations" of Christianity. I would call Hinduism and Islam completely different belief systems, not denominations. Hope that makes sense.

I too think you should consider searching for TRUTH. What a wise comment from Mr. D-MC. I am a Christian, but lately have had my beliefs challenged by a couple different things. I have been diligently trying to discern the TRUTH about those things that have challenged me. Its more important to me, at this point in my life, to find truth rather than something that supports what I currently believe. There seems to be a big difference now that I really think about it. What an interesting discussion!

CMW said...

I too have enjoyed your blog. I don't know why. I think it's because I'd like people like you in my Church. You are finding out how little people in fundamentalist religions THINK. Your blog sets you quite above the average evangelical/fundamental/bapti/costal. I applaud your determination. But sadly I have to agree, if more cordially, with those who are sad you like this UUc. Connecting with the True and Living God is essentially embracing something OUTside of yourself. I have tried to put it this way with those I meet in bars and pubs and other places I spread God's word.
Christian Religion vs. private spirituality

A man walks into a restaurant and asks to apply for a job. Yes, I’d like to try working here, he says. That’s right, I want to work here for a while to see if it fits *me*. I don’t know how things operate yet, nor your philosophy of service & business. But if I find that you fit *my personal style and beliefs*—I’ll stay for a while. Do you have an application? "What job would you like to do in our restaurant?" Well, I’m a great manager, people like me, but I don’t so much like physical labor. Oh, by the way … I have a very tight schedule. Some days it will be very hard for *me* to make it. Some weeks are out, too. You don't have tip-pool do you? I'd rather not give other people money so I can be here!
So as you can see I am a very busy & successful person, I’m sure you’d want to hire *me* right away!
Question: Why do we treat the Church the same way?

I haven't looked at all the posts but it seems you haven't tried Anglican/Episcopal yet.

d-mc said...

Since I may have stirred some stuff up here, I'd like to clarify my position.

Yes-I am an evangelical Christian. But I am in no way saying you should not investigate other faiths.

It was investigating other faiths and belief systems (some weren't "faiths" at all) that led me to Christianity. (The resurrection is what ultimately convinced me.)

But I am certainly not trying to discourage you from your search. On the contrary. But I would be disingenious if I didnt say I hoped (and yes-pray) that you eventually choose Christianity.


JenLo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate, I believe, for self-proclaimed pious believers to shun the UU church for its open-mindedness and call to individuality. While many argue that this "pick and choose" mentality is merely an easy escape from the righteous discomforts of absolutism, I must wholeheartedly disagree: leaving the questionable (and unsupportable) claim to absolute Truth aside, I would assert that the search for personal truth and meaning inevitably requires a more mature, intelligent and compassionate temperament than the simple act of grudgingly digesting all that is preached to be the infalliable truth (and subsequently of hesitating to question such essentialist supernatural claims). Religion, ultimately, is an introspective process of understanding and embracing subjective truth (we must not venture further than postmodernism to find ample evidence against an objective metanarrative) in a supportive community of tolerance. In this regard, the UU church - in my opinion - lives up to and exceeds its mission. Let all religious believers, regardless of denominational identification, celebrate reverence for life itself and the profound blessing of existence (even evangelical Christians lay claim to such a God as expressed by theologian Paul Tillich). Getting caught up in unimportant rhetorical differences acts as a disservice to the final goal of any religious person: acting (through deeds and words) to help heal the world and finding personal fulfillment in so doing.

Anonymous said...

after reading your comments on my church, I realized it's not the truth your looking for, but someone to condone your sin and make you think that your life is fine as is. It's not religion at all that gets you to Heaven, but the believing that Christ died on the cross so that we all could have life through Him. I am not preaching at you, but simply telling you the truth from God's word. God does love you and wants you to come to Him, but will not force you to do so. There is a Hell for those who reject Him. The church that you gave a "10", will lead you to darkness, not light. We are all sinners and need a Savior. Abortion is wrong, it's murder, and homosexuality is wrong the Bible calls it an abomination. It's not opinion, but fact. I hope your exploration leads you to the real truth.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your exploration of different church's. It is important to know what you believe in and why. I've been a Christian all my life, and I would'nt change it for anything. You are looking for the wrong thing though. I noticed after reading all your comments, that you give very low scores to any church that preaches Bible, and high scores that teach nothing but love and peace. Although these things are good, we are to love people, but we are to hate sin. Sin destroys lives and separates us from God, because God is holy, no sin can enter Heaven, that's why we need Jesus and what He did on the cross for us, he paid for our sin so we won't have to in Hell. Hell is very real and so is Heaven. You need to quit listening to man's opinion, and read the Holy Bible. That's where your answers are. Jesus is the only way to Heaven. The Bible says I(Jesus)am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh to the Father but by Me. It's not about religion, it's about Christ. If you reject Him you send yourself to Hell, because your sins have not been covered by Christs blood on the cross. That's your choice not God's. God loves you and wants you to be His child, but again He will not force you He wants you to come to Him willingly. I pray that you will read the Bible to find your answers, not the Unitarian church. They are only telling you what you want to hear to get you to come to their church. The Bible calls these people deceivers, and wolves in sheeps clothing.

Steve said...

I'll step into this minefield just long enough to make one or two comments.

As a member of Crossroads I can assure you that our "inter-denominational" refers to Christian denominations. Anyone is welcome there to seek the truth, but doctrine is clearly Christian.

Crossroads has merely tried to hold tight to scriptural doctrine, while doing away with non-doctrinal ritual and traditions that drive people from the church instead of into it.

The doctrine preached comes from the Christian Bible. That is where Crossroads differs dramatically from the UUC.

Crossroads preaches one triune God, and salvation through Christ as the only route to heaven.

On uncomfortable issues like homosexuality, Crossroads takes a less "fire and brimstone" tone approach than some churches, but we still see it as a sin . . . just like premarital sex, adultery, and gluttony.

Churches deal in the realm of world views. The best test applied to any world view is the rule of non-contradiction.

I by no means claim to be an expert on UUC doctrine (or lack there of), but as their site states, they include people who identify as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and others. They further state that their members are free to search for truth on many paths.

Many of the included theological "identities" hold contradictory primary truths and presuppositions. For example, if Atheism is truth, then Christianity or any belief system acknowledging a deity cannot be truth . . . by the rule of non-contradiction, there cannot be God and no God.

This is just one area where the UUC's theological presuppositions seem weak. I would encourage you to look closely at their core values, or the core truths of any theological body you consider membership in.

I pray that you eventually find comfort in your theological choices, but that your theology never gets comfortable.