University Unitarian Church


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.

chaliceAfter that, they lit the grail-shaped beacon.  I mean the chalice. The cherry wood  sculpture in front of the podium had an oil lamp in it, and once lit, we were ready to go.

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”)

Total: 6

This score’s going to be tough to beat.


13 thoughts on “University Unitarian Church

  1. I just found your blog and I find your quest to be quite fascinating. I like the approach you are taking of visiting each one and aligning them to your own criteria. I haven’t read all of your visits yet but will do so since it seems we are still near the beginning.

    I do have a personal curiosity. Outside of your stated criteria, does belief in a supreme being have to align with your own personal belief? So many religions vary on their idea of what God is or is not and the stories relating to him. If for some reason a church fell into alignment with your criteria but you didn’t quite agree with the Jesus part, would you be willing to attend that church anyway?

    I’m enjoying your experiences, please carry on.

    • That really depends. I liked the Mormon church’s lesson, but I doubt they would allow me to be a member because I don’t believe in God. Generally speaking, that’s kind of a requirement to be a member of most churches.

      Having said that, it’s easy for me to ignore the God and Jesus parts, so I could, in theory, join any church that aligns with my criteria.

      So far, I haven’t gotten the urge to join any of them.

      • Thank you for your honesty.

        Have you considered checking out the Free Masons? Though they aren’t a church they may fit some of your criteria. I really have no specific knowledge of the group but they have been around for a long time and I have always been curious about them. If you do check them out, I’d love to hear your feedback.

      • The Masons require you to believe in God to be a member, and at this stage in my life, I no longer qualify. Also, the majority of the things I would put in my review are things that the Masons wouldn’t want me to talk about.

        I can speak with some authority on this matter because I used to be one.

  2. Glad it seemed to up the average for your project! If you ever visiti us here in SF, e’ll show you Glide Memorial Chirch. It hits on all your criteria and you have to clap along with the music. ^_^

  3. I’m glad you liked UU! I thought you would. I’ve been listening to our UU services from your criteria every week since I found your blog, and thought we would have scored high every time. The church you described sounds just like our church in Cincinnati, except we have great acoustics. And the music is always amazing. Our Father’s Day sermon was similar, with a reading from the Gospel of Bill Cosby, from his book Fatherhood.

    One thing to know – UU churches often kind of go on haitus in the summer. Years ago they would close entirely – lock the doors from june to September. Now they continue services, but often with lay or guest speakers as the minister is on sabbatical, the choir takes a break, etc. You should still hear the same messages every week – tolerance, inclusion, social justice, equality, – but if you get a chance go back in the fall. You’ll see a lot more people and a more typical service.

  4. Darn! They beat us! (I’m a Mormon.)

    Actually, I was surprised the Unitarians hadn’t beaten us on an atheist’s score sheet until I caught up and realized that the Mormons had been reviewed *before* the Unitarians. (That may have sounded a bit snarky, but it wasn’t meant to be.)

    Now I’m afraid that on top of sounding-snarky-without-snarky-intentions, I’m about to offer up a knee-jerk reaction. I kind of tried not to, but this is a big one and important to me and therefore difficult to repress. Also, it’s not bad.

    It’s about the importance of parents reading to their children, and I’m afraid that after all this lead-in, may be a bit reminiscent of your Methodist experience with all the singing and praying and the seven-minute sermon.

    My father was a professor of education. One of his grad students once did a study on predictors of reading success in children. The biggest predictor they found was whether or not the children saw their parents reading on a daily basis. (My dad used this bit to sell newspaper subscriptions at one point.) (In other words, if it’s important to parents, it will be important to their kids.)

    As an elementary teacher myself, the biggest gains I’ve seen in reading ability in my own students who were struggling have come when their parents agree to spend time each day reading and discussing books with their kids.

    Way more than enough said, I’m afraid. Thank you for your patience if you actually made it through.

  5. Heh, this is my church. 🙂 I’m glad you liked it! I’ll admit, after I found out about your site (reading your analyses of Mars Hill), I went to see if you had visited my church yet and what you’d thought. If nothing else, I figured it would serve as a good litmus test for me to use in evaluating your evaluations, heh.

    Like Ms Schuster said above, University Unitarian definitely goes on a semi-hiatus during the summer — that’s one reason the loft choir wasn’t there, for example. (Third Sundays during the regular church year, the Intergenerational Choir performs instead.) They’re definitely worth hearing, if you feel like coming back sometime; there are a lot of excellent musicians and vocalists at University Unitarian!

    I think UU churches in general might have a bit of an unfair advantage for your reviews, though; we tend towards a lot of secular humanists. 🙂

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