Unitarianism: Cultivating the NonTraditional Spirit

With sun pouring down on her from the arched glass windows, a young girl stands at the front of the chapel, a microphone tittering in her tiny hands.

?My name is Morgan, and my cousin let me call her pet whatever name I wanted,? she says, exhilarated. ?I called it Sparkles.?

One by one, the children lined up behind her take the microphone and say their ?milestones? for the week?ranging from getting their braces off to taking a trip to Grandma?s.

This ?intergenerational service? for children?s religious education is only one part of the regular Sunday schedule at the First Unitarian Church.

Founded by Dr. Samuel Atkins Eliot back in 1891?five years before Utah was even a state?this state church is now led by the Rev. Tom Goldsmith.

The history of the religion itself goes back to the Protestant Reformation, according to Goldsmith.

?The word Unitarian is very specific in that it is in contrast with Trinitarian. So, rather than a belief in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Trinity?God in three parts), Unitarians believed way back in the 16th century that you could not divide God into three parts, it was only one God. [That] meant that Jesus was viewed as a great teacher and a great prophet?but not the son of God,? he said.

He went on to explain that Unitarianism first became an official national organization, The American Unitarian Association, back in 1825 in Boston.

However, even with the transition to the new world, many people still attached negative connotations to the word Unitarian.

?It always meant someone who was a liberal Christian?a Unitarian scoundrel,? Goldsmith said.

During his Oct. 14 sermon entitled, ?Does Unitarianism Have a Theology?? Goldsmith pointed out that not much has changed.

He told the story of how people at his daughter?s college associated Unitarianism with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The justification was that both religions were supposedly cults.

According to Goldsmith, faulty logic like that comes from the general public?s misconceptions about the religion.

?It?s almost a cultural misconception where people have a hard time understanding the difference between the religious and church dogma,? he said.

While Unitarians consider themselves to be religious, they do not follow doctrine based on a belief in God.

?There is indeed a very spiritual will inside of people that needs to be replenished and can be done in ways other than reciting creeds, catechisms and doctrines,? Goldsmith said.

?The cultivation of the spirit?a sense of awe and wonder of the majesty of the universe?can certainly be done in nontraditional ways?I think people are yearning for a way to cultivate those religious sensibilities.?

In addition to this emphasis on religious exploration, the ?Red Pamphlet? of the Unitarian Universalist Association outlines other beliefs shared by Unitarians.

These beliefs include, ?freedom of expression,? ?toleration of religious ideas,? ?the authority of reason and conscience,? ?the never-ending search for Truth,? ?the ethical application of religion,? ?the necessity of the democratic process? and ?the importance of a religious community.?

One of the most important values of Unitarianism for Goldsmith is the ?affirmation of the integrity of all people. [It] is a very inclusive affirmation which includes gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered and people of any ethnic background. There are no exceptions?no, ?Well God really frowns upon these people.? It affirms the integrity of literally all people,? he explained.

Since the Unitarian religion opens its doors to all groups of people, its church programs reflect this diversity.

One such program is the popular ?Jazz Vespers.?

Sitting in the dim chapel each Sunday night, community members and Unitarians alike can enjoy jazz music played by local musicians.

In between the songs, Goldsmith speaks on various topics like Utah?s ?Porn Czar? with his light-hearted and easy manner.

While Unitarians believe in encouraging the arts through programs like the ?Jazz Vespers,? they are also very politically and socially active. One unique program that reflects this ideal was begun by the women of the church.

?It?s an adult curriculum called ?Cakes for the Queen of Heaven,?? Goldsmith said. ?Unitarians really applaud and affirm [it because] it involves a feminist theology?an earth centered theology. Just for short-hand, we call it a Goddess Circle.

?There?s no voodoo or magic to it. It?s a response to the patriarchal, male-dominant God. There?s room for the feminine, for the whole creative, female side. We talk about a god, let?s include a goddess too.?

The earth-centered theology of the Goddess Circle also ties in closely with another program of the church, referred to as the environmental ministry.

?Contrary to what it is in the Bible, we do not have dominion over the earth. We feel that the earth is a very sacred gift and that we are the custodians of [it],? Goldsmith said.

?We have, mainly through greed and abuse, just blasphemed the gifts that this earth has brought forth. The environmental ministry is very much an extension of the Unitarian belief in the interconnectedness of the web of all being. [It] is a matter of caring for the earth once again, which is a very important part of our theology,? he added.

Connected by this theology and a desire to form a strong religious community, Unitarians have formed a church steeped in tradition?such as the lighting of the chalice before each service.

They also have their own ceremonies and ways of celebrating holidays.

?We come historically from Christianity, so we do celebrate Christmas, which is really a celebration of hope. In the dark of winter a new life is born, so one is always blessed with new beginnings, even in the darkest of times. It?s a wonderful time for us to celebrate that joy,? Goldsmith said.

?Easter is truthfully a little problematic because if you don?t believe that Jesus is the son of God, then what does Easter mean?? he continued.

?We basically go along with the Christian story through Good Friday. We certainly believe in the historical Jesus, that Jesus was undoubtedly crucified and died?and that?s where we kind of part company from more traditional Christianity. Easter, nonetheless, is a time when we celebrate various resurrections in life.?

In the end, Goldsmith pointed out that Christmas presents and Easter eggs are less important to Unitarians than the joy of humanity itself.

?That?s what we celebrate,? he said. ?The indomitable spirit of the human being.?

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