Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions about Unitarian Universalism
We welcome guests and visitors of all faiths or no faith. If you are thinking about visiting us for the first time, we hope these questions and answers will help. Feel free to send e-mail if you have other questions.
- When and where do you meet for worship servicers?
- Why do you have your services on Sunday evenings?
- What do adults wear at your services?
- What do children wear?
- Is your church accessible to people in wheelchairs?
- Do you accommodate physical disabilities?
- What do children do during the service?
- May our child stay with us during the service?
- How large is your congregation?
- How do I find you?
- I’m a little different – will I be welcome?
- Will I be pressured to join or to be “saved”?
- What can I expect to see and do when entering the building?
- What goes on during the worship services?
- How can a religious congregation have diverse beliefs?
- How can an agnostic go to church?
- Why do you have such a long name?
- How do I become a member?
When and where do you meet for worship services?
Our Fellowship services are held every Sunday evening at 5PM except Easter and our Annual Congregational Meeting each spring. Note: No Worship Service wil be held on May 18, 2008 – we are having our Annual Congregational Meeting instead. We meet at theVisalia Friends Meeting House, a place surrounded by beautiful trees just east of Visalia. Here are the location, directions and a map that you can print out.
Why do you have your services on Sunday evenings?
Our Fellowship services are held every Sunday evening at 5 PM. We meet at the Visalia Friends Meeting House, a place surrounded by beautiful trees just east of Visalia. It’s a beautiful location, close to nature, so we like meeting there! If we met in the morning, we’d be a bit crowded with the Friends Meeting folks who meet at that time. Besides, we’ve found that meeting in the evening has three major benefits:
- It is a very pleasant, inspiring way to end the weekend;
- It doesn’t break up your day like ordinary church services do; and
- It allows us to gather for fellowship after the worship service with a potluck dinner!
What do adults wear to services?
Dress is casual. You are welcome just as you are!
What do children wear?
Children will be fine in casual clothes – yes, even sneakers and jeans. They will probably sit on the carpet on the floor during the “Inter-Generational Sharing” portion of our service, and may spend part of the Religious Education class working with paste, glue, paint or crayons. They may go outside to see the trees, flowers, and peacocks in the back yard. Have them dress accordingly.
Is your church accessible to people in wheelchairs?
Yes. Handicap parking is available and the meeting place and restrooms are wheelchair accessible.
Do you accommodate other physical disabilities?
Yes. We have installed an amplifier on our pulpit to help people with hearing loss. A large print hymnal is also available. Let us know in advance if you will need printed materials in large print format, a ride to or from the meeting or other accommodations we can provide.
What do children do during the service?
We provide childcare for children under five. Children five and older usually stay for the first part of the service, including a story during the “Intergenerational Sharing” portion of the service, then go to their Religious Education classes, or child care for younger ones. Please see our Religious Education page for more details.
May our child stay with us during the service?
How large is your congregation?
Average Sunday attendance ranges from 20 to 30 people. We encourage visitors!
How do I find you?
We’re 15 – 20 minutes from most of Visalia, north of Farmersville just off Hwy 198. The Location page has a map and complete details.
Will I be welcome?
Yes. We really mean it! Male or female, young or old, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight, you are welcome here. Whether temporarily-abled or disabled; whatever your skin color, cultural background or nation of origin; whatever your political persuasion or day-to-day occupation, you are welcome here. Yes – theist, atheist or agnostic; pantheist, Pagan, Jewish, Humanist, Christian or Buddhist, whatever ways you name sacred things, you are welcome here, just as you are.
Will I be pressured to join or to be “saved”?
No. In fact, people sometimes think we are being aloof because we don’t approach our visitors as if we were selling used cars. This is because we do not require our adherents to adhere to specific beliefs. Instead, Unitarian Universalism strives for unity of some universal values, not unity of belief! We’ll invite you to introduce yourself, and sign our guestbook. We’ll e-mail you our newsletter for a while, if you ask for it. That’s it.
Our religious philosophy is inclusive, grounded in an affirmation of the worth and dignity of all human beings and a belief that life should be celebrated as a sacred gift. We’d be happy to have you join us, but we won’t try to push ourselves onto you. We will never ask you to join on a first visit; we recommend you visit for at least a couple of months, and take an orientation class, before you consider joining.
We’ll never pressure you to be “saved,” either. We don’t believe in salvation by grace. That is where the “Universalist” part of “Unitarian Universalist” comes in. You can read more about what we believe. We do, however, welcome and encourage you to become a member if you embrace our inclusive approach to faith.
What can I expect to see and do when entering the building?
- Well, before entering, please enjoy the trees, flowers, and the beautiful garden patio! And if you look around and listen, you might see or hear the peacocks which roam the grounds!
- As you enter the building, restrooms are straight ahead down the hallway on the left hand side.
- At the doorway of the sanctuary, you will find a rack with a wide variety of leaflets about Unitarian Universalism. Please feel free to browse the rack and take a copy of what interests you.
- We will ask you to fill out an information card so we can make a name tag for your next visit, to get an idea of your family’s needs for religious education, and to e-mail you our newsletter. Of course, you don’t have to give us any information if you don’t want to.
- To attend our service, turn left into the sanctuary. By the door is a bulletin board with name tags; please make a name tag and sign a green guest card if you’d lke. If this is your first visit, please ask for a visitor orientation packet.
- Along the counter on the left you will (typically) find hymnals, this week’s Order of Service (which includes general informaion and readings, including the text of our Affirmation and the Song of Praise (UU Doxology), as well as this week’s program). Visitors are welcome to take the Order of Service home; regulars return it for future re-use.
- We have a small lending library. Ask any lay leader for assistance on how to borrow a book.
- During the worship service, we will pass a basket to take up a financial collection. If this is your first visit, please do not feel required to donate anything.
- After the service, go down the hallway to the kitchen and to the right, the social hall, for our evening potluck dinner. Please join us even if you forget to bring a dish; we always have plenty to share.
What goes on during the worship services?
- There is quite a bit of variation from service to service. Typically twice a month our choir is present. Substantive topics vary widely from week to week – we have a huge variety!
- Services begin with the Call to Worship and the Lighting of the Flaming Chalice. The chalice is the symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith, and it burns for the length of the service. Although there are many beautiful expressions of this light of our faith, there is no one official meaning of the flaming chalice. Like our faith, it stands open to new and ongoing interpretation and significance. You may read more about the Flaming Chalice.
- There might be a story for all ages, usually touching on the theme of the service. Afterwards, the children will be sung out to their Religious Education classes.
- In most services, the congregation has an opportunity to share Joys and Concerns. This is an opportunity to share the happy, worrying, or sad events in your life. It is not a time for political or social commentary. Rather than lighting candles, we honor our expressions of sharing by moving a stone or shell from our “hummingbird chalice” to a community basket. This is followed by a brief period of silent meditation, hymns and responsive readings.
- Our sermons, too, vary widely from service to service. Some are formal sermons prepared by professional UU ministers, who either are visiting us or whose sermon is read by one of our congregation. Others are specially prepared by members, guests, or friends of our Fellowship, from a wide variety of sources. Unlike some churches you may have visited, these are often followed by discussion. (Yes, often the presenter will ask, “Any disagreements?” and a little polite debate is enjoyed by all! We never demand unquestioning acceptance of what is said from the pulpit! Yet, most of our members find our sermons to be inspiring and uplifting.) Future and past topics are listed in our Newsletters.
- We take up an offering of money to support our Fellowship, but guests are not expected to contribute.
- Our services typically close with the Benediction and Extinguishing of the Chalice, and the closing circle where we all join hands and sing the brief hymn “Go From Here in Peace.”
- Before or after the service, please fill out a guest card to record your visit, let us know your interests, and to get on our newsletter mailing list. After you have attended a couple of times, we will prepare a regular name tag for you. (Please note: Ask for the UU green guest card; the formal guestbook in the entry-way is not ours, but for the Quaker congregation who owns the building.)
- Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions, odd questions, boring questions – lots of questions! The Unitarian Universalist tradition is one of discussion and inquiry. Ask anything you like, and decide for yourself whether you would like to have Unitarian Universalism as a part of your life.
- Join us in the social hall after Sunday services for a light potluck dinner. Guests are not expected to bring anything for the potluck. There is always plenty of food to go around, so even those who who forget to bring a dish are encourage to join us anyway. One of our lay leaders or guest minister would be glad to sit with you and talk more about our Fellowship and Unitarian Universalism in general.
- You may enroll your children in religious education classes, which offers an age-appropriate lesson, and sometimes in nice weather a short walk around our beautiful grounds. At times religious education may be informal, but child care is available. You may, of course, keep your children with you during the service if you prefer.
How can a religious congregation have diverse beliefs?
“We don’t have to believe together to love together.”
— Francis David.
The “glue” that holds us together is not a shared theological belief system, as it is in many (but not all!) other religious groups. Instead, among UU’s the most important factors are our shared values and principles, and acceptance, respect and support for each other as individuals. Our approach is unity without giving up diversity – an essential attitude if people are to survive in this diverse world and in the pluralistic America of today!
We trust people’s ability to determine their own faith and we believe people should be encouraged to think for themselves. This freedom of belief is a basic principle of Unitarian Universalism. We do not require assent to any creed or statement of faith before a person can join us.
In the spirit of freedom, we cherish honest dialogue and persuasion, not coercion. Reason takes the place of dogma among us. We embrace democratic method as a central principle. Our local members unite to engage in and to support ministries of their own choosing.
Although in practice some traditional denominations inaccurately suggest otherwise, the root word “religion” is defined not as acceptance of dogma, but as “binding together” – ie., that which unites human beings and gives meaning to our lives. We honor the importance of community and celebrate the redeeming power of a relationships. Indeed it is in the midst of relationships with each other and the wonders of the natural world that we experience “The Sacred.” What brings us together is our commitment to community, to the church and the planet. We call ours a “covenantal tradition.” When we covenant with one another, we promise to walk together on our journey. A covenant is a promise to be faithful.
One does not hear the word “God” in our midst as often as in other religious communities because our opinions about theology radically differ. Some believe in a supreme being or power. Others take an agnostic or non-theist perspective of existence. Some of us are Buddhist, Christian, Pagan, Pantheist, Atheist, or Humanist in our spiritual outlook. Further, these beliefs are not mutually exclusive – it’s possible to hold more than one. Yet all of us find common ground in our free and responsible search for meaning, beauty, justice, and joy. It is this search that unites us and motivates our journey together.
The very pluralism of belief that may seem a weakness to some is actually our great strength. In a world where racial, cultural, and religious diversity is a reality, Unitarian Universalists know, because we live it every week, that our differences need not divide us, that they are blessings rather than curses. Such an approach to religion might even be seen as an important way to help achieve the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all (Our 6th Principle).
Our local bylaws state our common purpose:
We support the principles of individual freedom of belief, respect for the differences of others, promotion of universal peace and understanding, and recognition of the basic worth and dignity of all people.
Our mission is to promote, extend, and to apply the Principles and the Living Tradition of the Unitarian Universalist Association, in support of spiritual growth and a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace.
If you would like more information about Unitarian Universalism, learn more on our About Us page and see About Unitarian Universalism: Frequently Asked Questions, or read the UU World Magazine online.
How can an atheist or an agnostic go to church?
This is one of the things about us that puzzles some people. Why would an agnostic (atheist, humanist, free-thinker…) go to church? Simple. We give people a place to explore and grow spiritually, even if they grow in different directions. We provide religious education for their children, so that they can make an informed choice when it comes time for them to choose a religion. We offer adult religious education too, in our worship services and in small groups. And in our faith, science and humanism have a place in our search for truth and meaning. In the churches of our forebears, new scientific and social ideas – from Newtonian physics, to evolution, to psychology, to relativity – found ready acceptance. Indeed, some of the greatest scientists and social reformers of history were either privately or publicly Unitarian or Universalist: Joseph Priestley (an Unitarian theologian and chemist who discovered eight distinct gases, including oxygen, disproving the commonly held view that there was just one ‘air’); Charles Darwin (theory of natural selection in evolution), Maria Mitchell (Astronomer and first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science); Linus Pauling (Noble Prize-winning chemist and founder of the discipline of molecular biology); Clyde Tombaugh (discover of Pluto); and Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the World Wide Web) for example. In continuity with our forebears, today Unitarian Universalists expect new scientific disclosures to cohere, not conflict, with our religious faith.
Why do you have such a long name?
We are a merger of two much older religious traditions. Early Christians actually held an Unitarian belief system until church councils adopted the doctrine of the Trinity. In the sixteenth century, Christian humanists in Central Europe – in Poland and Transylvania – studied the Bible closely. They could not find the orthodox dogma of the Trinity in the texts. Therefore, they affirmed – as did Jesus, according to the Gospels – the unity, or oneness, of God. Hence they acquired the name Unitarian. Likewise, European and American reformers of the 17th & 18th centuries found, both in the Bible and in their own hearts, an unconditionally loving God. They believed that God would not deem any human being unworthy of divine love, and that salvation was for all. Because of this emphasis on universal salvation, they called themselvesUniversalists. In North America, Unitarianism and Universalism developed separately. Universalist congregations began to be established in the 1770s. Other congregations, many established earlier, began to take the Unitarian name in the 1820s. Over the decades the two groups evolved and grew spiritually. They eventually converged in their philosophy, emphasis, and style. In 1961 these two streams merged to become the Unitarian Universalist Association(UUA). The UUA’s membership is composed of congregations like ours. Many members of our local Fellowship often simplify the language by referring to ourselves just as “UUs.”
How do I become a member?
If you are interested in exploring membership, please review our Pathways to Membership page.
Feel free to contact our Membership Chair, who will be glad to sit down with you over coffee to answer any questions you may have, or just to get to know you better. You can reach the Membership Chair at firstname.lastname@example.org.