Mon 20 Feb 2006
When I first arrived at the Unitarian Universalits of the Cumberland Valley service this past Sunday morning I really had no idea what to expect of this way of religion. Upon my arrival I was kindly greeted by many people, as they seemed to welcome everyone with open arms. There were many different tables set up with information describing different events being run by the the universalists in order to engage themselves with the community. As I was aimlessly viewing these tables a man by the name of Jeb approached me and made a comment to the affect of us be “secret spies”. This broke the ice, and I felt comfortable upon speaking with Jeb. He was just a normal guy, in jeans and a shirt. Jeb was very open to telling me about his experiences with his recently acquired way of faith. From Jeb, I learned firsthand, the advantages of the Universalists way of religion. He told me it was a very relaxed atmosphere in which important issues from society were discussed, rather than many religions we are accustomed to in which we are preached to and listen to scriptures or stories of the past. I would soon find out what Jeb meant. What Jeb told me coincided with the mission and vision statement of the church. The Mission Statement said: “Our mission as an enduring liberal religious community in the Unitarian Universalist tradition is to transform lives and care for the world.” Moreover, the Vision Statement said, ” We are a liberal religious community of adults and children that: worships together, practices hospitality, encourages self-development, values wisdom, promotes justice, and forsters stewardship. These objectives were evident throughout my time there. Also, in the gathering room before hand we were all offered a name tag. Everyone at the service wore a name tag. This struck me as a good idea, ensuring that everyone would be able to get to know each other. A strong sense of community was upon me.
Then the service began. It began with some piano playing and singing. The topic of the day was “What is the Value of One Vote?” Two women led the service. They are both ministers of the religion. The first thing that struck me was that they were not wearing and fancy garments or robes, but were simply dressed as the other practitioners. It was nice to see women being involved in the service, as many other religions consider women secondary. This idea would tie in perfectly to the focus of the days service; women’s suffrage. The day focused on the importance of societal issues and how they can be related to religion. The service was basically a process of stories, hymns (one of which my professor sang a parody about women’s right to vote), and confessionals in which people praised and were thankful for the breakthroughs that women have made in today’s society. Another part of the service that interested me was the initiative that was taken to involve the children in the service. First, their was a “children’s moment” in which a child’s story was told in order to parlay the importance of everyone’s vote to the children. Then the children were taken downstairs to be taught more, but on a personal basis. Another part of the service, which I must admit was overwhelming, was the time that the ministers took out to recognize the newcomers to the community. Each newcomer was given a bag which contained cookies and information about them. The reason I say this was overwhelming is because it did seem a bit like propoganda. However, in retrospect I believe it is simply a community trying to spread their word.
Finally, once the service ended there was a period afterward called “gathering hour”, or something to that affect. This was a time for everyone to gather and chat afterwards while drinking coffee, eating snacks, and basically just enjoying each other’s presence. Another part that was a bit overwhelming was that afterwards when a bell was rung, the current practitioners were supposed to approach newcomers and ask if they were interested in learning more about the faith. If you were interested, they would “escort you to a back room”. This once again seemed as though they were pushing a little hard to have people join, which in a way can be discomforting. Although, I do believe what they are doing is only with the best intentions.
So there you have it. Just a small piece of my experiences at the Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley Service. Learning about there approach to religion was quite interesting and opened my eyes to a new way of approaching things.