This morning I went to the University Unitarian church, near the U-District in Seattle.
My girlfriend, who has been wonderful and supportive and patient for putting up with this project I’m doing, came with me.
The Unitarian church is arranged like a large community center, and from the outside, doesn’t really look very church-like. Inside is a lobby area with a greeter, who was handing out name-badge stickers. We filled ours out and since we were early, stood around and talked with her for a few minutes, and I explained what I was doing. She seemed to think it was an interesting idea.
We went into the adjoining area, outside the chapel room, where some tables had been set up and some coffee had been put out. There we struck up a conversation with a man who was helpful and directed us to some literature on the nature of Unitarian Universalism. After a few minutes, we went in to the chapel.
The chapel room is quite large, with a very high ceiling on one half of the room, and lower on the other. There was a loft for a choir with a big impressive pipe organ in it, but no choir was sitting today. Up front was a sort of stage with a podium. To the right was a table with votive candles set out, and a few folks were walking by it lighting candles. There was a helpful sign warning people to light the candles from back to front, so as not to cause a fire and burn the church down.
To the left of the stage was a baby grand piano.
The room was comfortably “lived in.” By that I mean it wasn’t sparkly brand-new, but it wasn’t shabby and old either. Somewhere in between. There was a piece of modern art, multicolored cloth put together to make a sort of banner hanging near the piano, and children’s drawings along a wall.
There was a religious symbol, a large stylized chalice with a flame over it, the Unitarian symbol, behind the podium, and a cherry wood chalice sculpture in front of the podium. Other than that, the room was fairly plain.
If I was to give points for seating comfort, or acoustics, I’m afraid this church would be on the bottom for both scores. The pews looked like a line of seats from a 1960’s era bowling alley, but weren’t quite as comfortable. And the room was loud. All the sharp angles everywhere created a room where a even a small chatty crowd would seem loud and cacophonous.
We settled in the front row. Someone rang a bell, and the service started.
A woman fired up the baby grand, and played a little Chopin. She was quite good. Pity the acoustics were so bad.
The minister came out, we had a brief prayer, and then a “welcome offering” where we all repeated a quote about giving that was printed in the program, and the offering plate was passed around.
While the plate was being passed around, an older man got up and with his saxophone, played the “offeratory” song, with some assistance form the woman at the piano. He was incredible. His song was part smooth jazz, part easy listening, and part classical. It was melancholy, and weeping, and wonderful. He played his heart out.
Why aren’t you allowed to clap in church? I really wanted to clap for this guy. It’s is by far, hands down, the best music I’ve ever heard in a church, and that song alone made the trip worthwhile. After the service was over, I went over to him and told him how much I enjoyed his song.
There was a guest minister there, a seminary student from Seattle University, who was helping with the lesson. The regular minister read a poem and the guest minister read a little story, there was a hymn, and then the sermon was given by the guest minister.
The poem was interesting, and about a woman who was coming to terms with her father. Very topical, considering that today is Father’s day. It was nice.
The story that was read was about “being saved” in the Christian sense. sort of. It gave advice about not “saving your soul” but rather “spending it.” There gist of it was this: Go out and do things and enjoy life. It was witty and funny and had a nice message. It also hit one of my criteria: Be good to yourself.
Then the sermon. The sermon was the best I’ve heard so far. It was titled “An Ode To Fatherhood” and was couched in terms of fathers and fatherly advice, but it really hit on a lot of areas. It encouraged people to be forgiving, to allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them, and to be a good member of the community.
He talked statistics from a number of sources, about how reading to your kids makes them more likely to do well in school and be less likely to engage in “risky behaviors,” the more involved in their lives the parents are. He talked about improving society by raising a generation of children who were loved and felt secure. It was filled with personal anecdotes and a few jokes, and entertained as well as enlightened.
If I’m gushing a little, it’s because I wasn’t expecting a talk that hit on my criteria as well as this guy did.
My scale for “Be good to yourself” only goes to 2, and that’s not enough, so I’m having some of that spill over into “Good and timely advice.”
After his talk, there was a closing prayer, and then the lady on the baby grand piano closed things down with a little Beethoven.
So, the score:
Being good to your fellow human: 1 (mentioned during fatherhood sermon)
Help your community: 2 (volunteerism, raising healthy happy family benefits society)
Be good to yourself: 2 (multiple mentions)
Good and timely advice: 1 (spill-over from “be good to yourself”)
This score’s going to be tough to beat.