UU’s should consider a name change- Pt 2

There were some great responses to my last blog post (click here), so I thought I’d continue the discussion.

Among the comments I thought most constructive were suggestions to make the CHURCH name descriptive of the congregation, followed by “a Unitarian Universalist congregation”.

At least two of our very successful churches have informally adopted branding like this- All Soul’s Church in NYC and Neighborhood Church in Pasadena

By and large, our congregations are named First Parish this or First Unitarian that. IT’s a heady and unattractive way to start a names. What’s more, it gives the public an inaccurate perception of the importance of theological obedience within the church.

On the lighter side, those names are still LESS intimidating than the MOUTHFUL provided by the First Universalist Church of Hardwick Preservation Trust, or even my home church, the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society, or “The Onion”. The emerging congregation, Utah Valley UU Fellowship, is also in need of something a little more inviting than the whole back end of the alphabet. Com on you guys at UVUUF !!!


I say this with love. Really!

I KNOW these are kind people with an important message. That’s why I care. But we need to do better people. We’ve got a message that people need to hear. A message that American and world heroes espouse. A message that people have been killed for saying, when it’s spoke well. Comparatively, we’re falling all over ourselves.

Fun names like Old Ship Church and The Onion are cute and great when spoken from the lips of the membership, but they certainly make us seem like a fringe religion when printed on letterhead.

Attending a bake sale at The Onion? A Halloween service at the Old Ship Church? I’m having some fun here.

The point.

The point is that I have a hard time believing that a liberal, smart, young couple looking for the right environment to raise their new child…

-an environment free of the theology and bigotry they grew up with…

-that the FIRST place they will turn to will be some place called The First Parish Church of Unitarian Univeralists or some ridiculous place called The Onion. I love that I ended up there, but never would have if my wife had not grown up UU.

Side note: (I love the kind folks at The Onion! REALLY! I kid because I love. Oh, I love!)

With the UUA determined to remove their focus from the individual level and focus on congregations, I feel congregations should ALSO focus on themselves. What are they putting out into the world? How are they affecting people as a unit? What

Part of my fear about why this hasn’t been an issue in the past, is that it’s NOT an issue. People AREN’T encountering this. They’re NOT talking about their church to others, so it’s a non-issue.

What’s in a name?


What reaction do you get when you tell people the name of your church? Do their eyes glaze over? Does it suck the wind out of them? Do they lose the ability to speak?


Finally, I’ll keep banging my drum for the adoption of a UU Creed.

A creed is defined as a “a statement or confession of belief ” or a “a brief authoritative formula of religious belief”. There’s nothing inherently wrong with declaring one’s beliefs. And finding common ground is essential for UU’s to thrive. My vision of a UU creed is an authoritative declaration of spiritual freedom and open-mindedness.

Our congregations are already operating under the principles of this creed in the form of the Seven Principles.

I’m trying to make the move toward a universally accepted statement of personal belief UU’s can share in a declarative and affirmational way. I’ve made a couple of small changes below from previous posts.



I believe in my duty to find the sacred, to chose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.

I affirm this right in you as well.

Together we can share the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the burden of freedom.

This is the creed of my heart, extended to you, and expressed through this loving institution.

4 Responses to “UU’s should consider a name change- Pt 2”

  1. serenityhome Says:

    Aaron: Many people are living our priniciples as if they were our creed. I think you stated that somewhere in this discussion as well. The difficulty with creeds is that there will be people who say ‘yeah, but…’ or ‘absolutely not.’ While your statement of a creed, I can assent to, I know many people within our denomination who would have trouble with the phrases “Power of reverence” and “loving institution.” There may be other phrases they would cringe at as well, but these stand out to me.

    Why? Some of our more atheistic leaning folk hear reverence as a euphemism for god. Combine it with the word power and bingo, we have a phrase that refers to the holy spirit. This seems beyond the realm of reason to them and they could not say yes to this part of a creed. And if they had to assent to this creed for membership like many of our Christian denominations require, then they would opt out.

    The phrase “loving institution” could be considered an oxymoron for some folk within our faith who believe that institutions are evil in nature. I have heard many people say they belong to a Unitarian Universalist congregation because they do not like institutionalized religion. I think they are referring to the creeds and dogma’s that are passed down and appear to be out of touch with living in the 21st century. But many are also opposed to the structure of the institutionalized church. This has been one of the biggest barriers within fellowships to growth. They like being lay-led, being small, being unstructured and therefore uninstitutional. Even when they do grow and call ministers to serve them, they insist that they remain a fellowship rather than become a congregation or church because these words mean institution.

    My point is there are major pluses to being a covenantal faith versus a creedal faith. Covenants can be renegotiated as the people of faith develop new understandings and new awarenesses of their living a life of faith. It is the reason why we were able to change our principles in the 1980’s because the original ones were not creedal but covenanted in formation. The commission on appraisal is re-viewing our principles again to see if they still hold true to where we are in the beginnings of this new century. We ask people to be in sympathy with our principles, and to strive to live up to them in their personal belief constructs. Their theological construct to living those principles can remain grounded in Christianity, Buddhism, Paganism, or any of the other spiritual paths.

  2. Aaron Sawyer Says:

    Great response, serenityhome.

    I feel your comment represents a lot of emotional baggage from other religions and experiences. This pain is very real and very valid. I continue to process this pain as well and feel it is common in UU’s and in the larger community. It is something which requires our utmost care and attention.

    Ultimately, however, this pain must be healed in order to allow for the possibility of a healthy community for which anarchy is a destructive, and unnecessary force.

    Would you accept ‘respect and appreciation’ in the place of reverence? (admittedly a more loaded word?)
    Would you accept ‘community’ in the place of ‘institution’?

    It ruins the poetry a bit- maybe community is better actually.
    I’ll keep thinking on it.

    The purpose of the Creed is to personalize the Seven Principles of UUism. The stated principles of an institution do not offer the individual strength and affirmation in their daily lives.

  3. serenityhome Says:

    I whole heartedly agree with your assessment. I am discovering part of my ministry to congregants is to help offer a balm to heal these wounds that exist in our movement.

    Today, was the first full day of Passover and I decided to host a Seder for our sunday morning service. The response I received from our Jewish UU members was that this was the first time in their 10 to 15 years of membership (I heard from several people) that the congregation ever even recognized their heritage. It was an affirming moment for them. Many of them still attend the local synagogue to fulfill their need of connection to their heritage.

    I hope to continue to find ways to offer healing to our wounded members and be able to offer sustanence to those who have the integral strength to excercise and stretch their spiritual muscles now that they are healed.

    “the power of respect and appreciation” I think would work but as I said, I can easily assent to the creed as you originally wrote it; it would be in recognition that not everyone in our congregations are on the same page. Would you want to have the word “community” used twice? Perhaps yes, for emphasis.

  4. Chris Bovington Says:

    I am loving this debate for its tone and deeper meaning. I see a number of people showing each other mutual respect and approaching their disagreements in a passionate, yet compassionate way. To me, that is what UU’ism is all about. I love that we can discuss these powerful topics without forgetting that inherent worth and dignity we so fearlessly claim to see.

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