No excuses: Every UU church can learn from 2nd U of Chicago

While staying with my sister-in-law in Chicago, I got myself out in the sleet and snow to visit the nearest Unitarian Universalist church: 2nd Unitarian of Chicago.

2nd Unitarian Church of Chicago

Seeing almost no one on the streets in the freezing sleet falling from the gray skies, I expected little turn-out. But as I neared the church, families were pouring out from the early service and twenty-somethings were wandering in for the late one. Oh, there were elderly people as well, but they comprised less than half of those I saw that morning.

There’s nothing ‘youthful’ about the services. It’s not hip and cool. The music took its roots from classical and folk works. However, I noticed one theme that was incorporated into each and every portion of the service.

What makes this church different? After talking with Rev. Jennifer Owen-O’Quil, I discovered the difference.

Interaction.

Not only is Rev Jennifer constantly interacting with the local community to promote UUism openly and honestly-but she’s tailored each and every aspect of the service to be interactive, drawing her congregation in, and profiting from their strengths without taxing them.

Here’s a breakdown:

The service began with a simple congregational song turned into a round that was striking in its simplicity and beauty.

A member came from within the congregation and sang a beautiful operatic song and received reverent praise when he rejoined the group.

We were invited to light a candle during a lovely piano piece.

A reading from the Bible was allowed to sit on the congregation and made me anxious to see how the sermon might comment on it…

*At this point I had not figured out why young people would attend this church more than any other.*

And then it happened:

Instead of a traditional offering, Rev. Jennifer told a story about the history of UUism, this church in particular, and of their tradition of helping others. 2nd Unitarian had made a commitment to share a portion of each month’s donations with a member’s cause. Members are invited to propose a cause of their own for a future month. We had purpose.

Rev. Jennifer then invited someone FROM WITHIN THE CONGREGATION to come up and speak on a particular cause for which she had devoted her life: in this case- bicycles for the victims of the 2004 tsunami. This member then rejoined the group, instilling her cause in us.

I was moved to give twice what I normally do.

Next came Rev. Jennifer’s sermon, which was interesting, personal, and inspirational. It was about us. It was about the world. It commented on the reading and tied everything together.

Finally, we turned and sang Happy Birthday to one of the church’s elders.

And it was over. Every moment either came from the congregation or was about the congregation.

Now I know a lot of churches do similar things on paper. But the thing that Rev. Jennifer really captures, is that the service wasn’t about her, her sermon, or a social cause. It was about the congregation. At no point was there a feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘It’ and ‘me’ were gone. Only ‘us’ remained. The church had become the catalyst for people to realize their dreams, and she was their enabler.

I stood around for a while watching the energy of the congregation as they talked and then broke off into social action or men’s groups and the like. I could complain that I was never approached and embraced by the congregation outside of the ‘turn to your neighbor’ time, but I’m going to admit… I might have been putting off a vibe of ‘don’t talk to me’.

I was a little hung-over.

I enjoyed the warmth of the room for one minute more, and then I slipped out into the coldness of the world with the sense that I had just witnessed MY GENERATION doing something great.

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4 Responses to “No excuses: Every UU church can learn from 2nd U of Chicago”

  1. UUBri Says:

    Sounds wonderful. Wish I could have been there…

  2. davidium Says:

    Aaron,

    I wish you had told me you were going to be in Chicago… we would have had lunch or something. Next time you visit your sister, let me know.

    Yours in Faith,

    David

  3. Second Unitarian Church Chicago: Chicago, IL » Reflections Says:

    […] Seeing almost no one on the streets in the freezing sleet falling from the gray skies, I expected little turn-out. But as I neared the church, families were pouring out from the early service and twenty-somethings were wandering in for the late one. Oh, there were elderly people as well, but they comprised less than half of those I saw that morning.  Read more… […]

  4. Melanie Says:

    I am a member of the 2U on Barry and I am quite surprised no one approached you and said Hello. Usually people are very friendly at 2U. You probably slipped out too quickly. Or, possibly it was because people were busy running off to their group meetings after the service. I am glad you did not take it personally that no one approached you and can back to 2U. I bet someone talked to you the second time you came back.

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