Tuesday, March 20, 2012

All Souls Welcome

On Sunday I attended a Unitarian church called All Souls on the Upper East Side, my fourth religious service for challenge #29.

All Souls is a "self-governing congregation of nearly 1,500 people that was established in 1819. We come together to worship, serve the community and create an enriching, non-dogmatic religious environment." They are dedicated to "providing an environment in which all people feel welcome regardless of race, sexual orientation or physical ability."

In 1961 the Unitarians and Universalists joined together, making All Souls a Unitarian Universalist church and part of the UUA.

I was greeted warmly, took a program and entered the large sanctuary a few minutes early. Taking in my surroundings, I noted a few things: No crosses (or any symbols for that matter). No statues. No stained glass. A bare-bones but beautiful sanctuary, anything but intimidating.

My pew number. Fitting.

The crowd was extremely diverse, which was refreshing. I never felt out of place for a second. The overall vibe was friendly, approachable, and easy-going.

If I were to sum up this church and its service in one word, it would be community. Most of what was said in the sermon was about living life together, how we are all interdependent and can use that interdependence for good. What was missing? Talk of death, the afterlife, judgment. The word "God" was used, but when we were led in prayer, it was addressed to the "Spirit of the Universe."

The Doxology read as follows:
From all that dwell below the skies,
Let faith and hope with love arise;
Let beauty, truth and good be sung,
Through every land, by every tongue. Amen.

The music at All Souls had a more melodic quality than I've experienced before, at times taking on almost a Disney feel -- upbeat, happy and warm. There was a soloist who sang two different songs throughout the service. When he was finished, something truly remarkable happened. Something I have never experienced at a religious service before: There was applause. Applause! Well-deserved applause, might I add. Much better than stuffy silence and a few throat-clearing coughs.

Interesting hymn lyrics.

Stunning organ.

When the (55 minute) service was over, I headed downstairs to the coffee hour, where I stumbled upon a welcome surprise: vegan cookies at the ethical eating committee table. Praise Jesus! Or not!

Some people think that Unitarianism isn't a religion and that what I attended wasn't really "church." But according to one particular resource (my brain), if a group of people who share the same beliefs about a higher authority or spirit (in this case, the belief that God is who you want him/her to be) come together as a community to celebrate and explore those beliefs, then by God (or not), that is a church. I understand how Unitarianism could offend people of other faiths by being so open and accepting of so many convictions, but that doesn't mean that I think Unitarianism is wrong or evil. My experience with it was such a positive one that it's hard to fault them. Let them pray to the Spirit of the Universe, let them be welcoming to atheists and Christians alike, let them keep doing what they're doing. Because all they really want to do is good.