Unitarian Universalists (UUs) are diverse in faith, ethnicity, history and spirituality, but aligned in the desire to make a difference for the good. We have a track record of standing on the side of love, justice, and peace. Unitarian Universalists do not subscribe to a common creed and have no single holy book. Our inspiration derives from the humanistic teachings of the world’s religions, scripture and science, nature and philosophy, personal experience and ancient traditions. No place, no book, no teacher is considered to offer final answers to religious questions. We agree that each of us is responsible for making and articulating what is sacred and the meanings life holds for us.
While our beliefs are diverse and inclusive, the heart of the various covenants (i.e., agreements) that have bound Unitarian and Universalist congregations together for over 400 years rests on the words: freedom, reason, tolerance, and unconditional love, and are reflected in our 7 Principles:
- First Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Second Principle: Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
- Third Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- Fourth Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- Fifth Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- Sixth Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; and
- Seventh Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The primary symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition is a flaming chalice. This symbol was adopted by the Unitarian Service Committee during its World War II relief efforts in Europe to signify helpfulness and sacrifice in service to others. It is common to light a chalice at the beginning of worship or other gatherings as a reminder of our shared principles and covenants.
Unitarians and Universalists grew out of progressive Protestant Christian culture. Unitarianism had its origins in 16th century Eastern Europe. Unitarians were originally liberal Christians who proclaimed the Oneness of God, disavowing the Trinity, and thus the idea of the atonement by blood. Jesus was seen as a human prophet. Confident in the powers of human reason Unitarians placed high value on education and social progress. Universalism arose as a progressive, grassroots movement in 18th century New England. Universalists historically stressed the benevolence of God, and derived their name from the doctrine of universal salvation, which held that a loving God would not condemn anyone to eternal punishment in hell. From its beginnings, Universalism challenged its members to reach out and embrace people whom society often marginalized. Both traditions placed high values on democratic process, non-hierarchical principles, personal freedom, and stressed the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Unitarian Universalism was born in 1961, with the consolidation of the Unitarian and the Universalist Associations of Free Congregations.
Customs and People
Unitarian Universalists have a legacy of “deeds not creeds,” in identifying with liberal and progressive social values and putting their faith into action. Unitarian Universalism was the first denomination to ordain women as well as openly gay and lesbian persons to the ministry. Our justice ministries focus on key priorities including: economic justice; environmental justice; immigrant justice; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer justice; racial justice; reproductive justice; and voting rights. Our ministry includes service, education, advocacy, and public witness (the spiritual practice of taking a public position in support of justice). Our Standing on the Side of Love campaign harnesses the power of love to end oppression.
Unitarian Universalist congregations honor life transitions in various ways. Many have child dedication ceremonies for infants and children; hold a Coming of Age ceremony for youth (usually ages 13-15) after completing a period of learning and exploration; and/or conduct a bridging ceremony to mark high school-aged youth as they transition into adulthood. Because of their flexibility and willingness to be inclusive, UU ministers often host interfaith marriage ceremonies since both traditions will be honored freely.
Each UU congregation is democratic—congregational leaders set their own priorities and choose their own ministers and staff. Ministers lead most UU congregations, but they are always governed by elected lay people via an elected Board of Trustees or Standing Committee led by a president, moderator or chair. Some congregations are entirely lay-led as well as lay-governed, and these are often referred to as Fellowships. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is the central organization for the Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious movement in the United States. The UUA supports congregations in their work by training ministers, publishing books, and the UU World magazine, providing youth and adult religious education curricula, offering shared services and coordinating social justice activities. While the UUA provides valuable support and coordination, it does not have authority over congregations, since the relationship is one of a non-hierarchical freely entered association.
Unitarian Universalists celebrate holidays from multiple traditions. The holiday celebrations in Unitarian Universalist congregations vary among congregations. Religious and secular holidays that may be celebrated include Christmas, Easter, Passover, Ramadan, Holi, Winter Solstice, Earth Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Thanksgiving, and Buddha or Gandhi’s birthday. Our holiday services use the stories and traditions creatively, calling us to our deeper humanity.
Our worship styles vary by congregation, and even within congregations. Some elements of a typical Unitarian Universalist Sunday morning worship service include: lighting a flaming chalice; a multigenerational segment, such as a “story for all ages”; music in a variety of styles; silent meditation; readings; a sermon given by a professional minister, a guest speaker, or member of the congregation; an offering for financial donations; and a time for lifting up the joys and concerns of the congregation. Most congregations offer childcare and religious education programs for children and youth during the Sunday service.