Published March 21, 2013
Unitarian Universalists focus on living values
Seven principles, individual search for truth are key components of
By Pamela Lannom
If people are looking for answers, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Hinsdale is probably not the place for them.
If people are searching for truth and trying to live in right relationship with themselves and others, the church has much to offer, interim minister Helen Carroll said.
“We are progressive religious tradition, non-credal, non-dogmatic,” she said. “A test to our faith is living values. Those values are captured in what we call our seven principles.”
Those principles promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in congregations; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within congregations and in society at large; the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which everyone is a part.
The first principle focuses on individuals, encouraging them to find their own path. The seventh speaks of interdependence and stresses the need to function within a community.
“I think the challenge is finding the dance between the two,” Carroll said. “Those sometimes are at odds with each other.”
Although Unitarian Universalism in America grew out of the Puritan tradition, many UUs are not Christians. They might be Jews, Buddhists, humanists or mystics. Members do not need to have any particular belief system and they need not believe in God.
“My favorite image of the divine is the coyote out of Native American tradition,” Carroll said.
Some members believe in an afterlife while others do not. And that’s just fine, Carroll said.
“We are the only congregation where it is central to us that it does not matter what you believe,” she said.
She acknowledged that can make some people nervous.
“If in fact that is a tension that is uncomfortable, so uncomfortable that you cannot be in community, then you don’t come here. You go to those places where being in a community of like-minded folks resonates with you,” she said.
Lifelong church member and director of religious education Pam Fodor said she has never struggled with the openness of her religion.
“I think growing up in the church and having the freedom to seek my own truth has just made it very comfortable for me to be respectful of all people and their thoughts and their truth,” she said. “So I feel like I haven’t really had to navigate it — it’s just been a part of who I am and that is how I see the world and people and children.”
Board President Julia Beckman, who grew up a Methodist, was looking for that type of openness when she discovered the church and joined in 1966.
“I have really always appreciated the experience,” she said. “I didn’t look back. I can absolutely appreciate what other churches do, and there is room under the big umbrella for all kinds of beliefs. The fact that we do not require adherence to a certain code or creed has always been very refreshing to me.”
Beckman and Fodor agree being a UU has shaped the way they live their lives.
“The places I’ve chosen to teach are rooted in the worth and dignity of every person. Equity, compassion — all of those things have helped me to make the choices,” she said. “I’m very proud and honored to be part of Unitarian Universalism and everything that I do in the way I interact with people and my work with the children here is centered around all of the things I learned growing up here.”
Beckman said the church has given her a great deal of confidence.
“It’s hard to describe,” she said. “Confidence about how I live my life, that I feel I’m doing it correctly. It has made me very open to how other people believe, how other people live and much more accepting of others no matter how different their beliefs might be.”
The emphasis on humanism in the church in particular has appealed to Beckman.
“We really rely on what we can do in this life to make this life better,” she said. “This is the only life we know of for sure.”
That perspective leads to a focus on social justice issues. Freedom to marry issues and immigration rights are two recent causes. Many UUs have been conscientious objectors as far back as World War II, Carroll said.
“UUs have a long and proud history of being the voice of those who are marginalized,” she said.
The Hinsdale congregation has been certified by the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry as the first Reverence for Life Congregation in the world. The church also has been certified by the UU Ministry for Earth as a Green Sanctuary, and the church has been designated a welcoming congregation dedicated to inclusiveness toward bisexual, gay, lesbian and/or transgender people.
“I don’t know whether we do more than individuals in other churches, but service is such a huge thing for Unitarians that I would guess maybe we do more,” Beckman said.
And yet members of the church still struggle with the same challenges others do, Carroll said.
“The reality is we are as human as you are, and we put a check in the plate very often and go home and say, ‘What a good girl am I,’ ” Carroll said. “It is my job to remind us that justice takes more than a Sunday energy.”
Carroll will serve the church for about 18 months as the congregation seeks a replacement for Ed Searl, who retired Dec. 31 after 30 years with the church.
No matter who is leading the church, it will continue to be a cornerstone of Fodor’s life.
“I’m very proud and honored to be a part of Unitarian Universalism, and everything that I do — in the way I interact with people and my work with the children here — is centered around all of the things I learned growing up here,” she said. “A part of every person in this congregation who has touched my life sort of lives on in the work I do.”
Affiliation: Unitarian Universalism
Interim minister: Helen Carroll
Worship: 10:30 a.m. Sundays, with a service format similar to that of a mainline Protestant denomination. Religious education is offered simultaneously for children in preschool through 12th grade.
Membership: 262 families who live in 30 communities
Average attendance: 130
Location: 17 W. Maple St.
Theology: Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion with origins in European Christian traditions and a long, rich history in America. Unitarian Universalists discern their own individual beliefs and are free to search for truth on many paths. People who identify with any of the world’s religions or none at all are welcome.