Archive for February, 2008

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

February 6, 2008

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.


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.

Part 2 of 2: “Oh, I went there!”

February 3, 2008

“Oh, I went there!” is Part 2 of a two part posting. Click here for Part 1: “What have we done?”

Aaron Sawyer


Today I am asking you to help realize the DiscoverUU vision by donating to our promotional fund.

Our goals are far from the dirtied term ‘evangelism’.  We must remember that UU is an outside-the-box religion with a misleading name and a confusing creedless format. It is our duty to inform people about the UU option. I hold that most people likely to associate themselves with UU do not even know it exists.

Liberal political blogs are the best place to find our key demographic.

Promotions by liberal groups within the liberal blogosphere have proven to be VERY effective because the reach their key demographic inside their trusted communities where they are hungrily browsing available links and feeding off each other’s ideas.

These internet promotions can be placed on the top web sites for one week at a cost of about $4,000 and represent almost 3 million viewings. Three million viewings.

That’s about 15,000 views in the key demographic for every tax-deductible donation of $20. It can’t be beat.

$20 lets you present Unitarian Universalism to more people than you will probably ever speak to for the rest of your life.

$20 to feed a young living community comprised of some of the best ministers and leaders UU has to offer

$20 that provides the spiritual food that could grow America’s next Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alexander Graham Bell, or Susan B Anthony.

$20 is a bargain, folks.

Those that can offer more, should offer more. I would like to run internet ads year-round, but we’ll need $208,000 for that. I know it sounds like a lot, but IT CAN BE DONE.

And I’m going to throw down the gauntlet here:

I dare say that if UU’s had a different message, an ignorant, hateful, and fear-mongering message, WE WOULD HAVE OUR MONEY.

“Oh, I went there!”

Our principles matter. Period.

So in the spirit of Unitarian Universalists’ great leaders, if you’re serious about advancing the liberal perspective on the multitude of issues Unitarian Universalism has advanced throughout time- grass roots issues like global warming, and environmental protection… like women’s rights, homosexual rights, civil rights… Fair trade and labor rights.

If you long for the kinds of leaders Unitarian Universalism has offered in the past,

THIS is how you plant those seeds, THIS is how you strengthen those roots, and THIS is how you provide the spiritual food that is required to fight the poisons of hatred, bigotry, and corporate greed.

The spiritual aspect of these issues provides the strength, the backbone, and the right frame of mind to heal this divided world.


Ultimately, DiscoverUU is not about policies or politics; it’s about the living spiritual journey of Unitarian Universalism and its collective and responsible search for truth and meaning

Please visit regularly. Tell a friend. Listen to sermons. Comment on blog postings, and become a part of a word-wide living community of Unitarian Universalists.