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.