Easter in a Unitarian Universalist Congregation

On Easter Sunday, churches all across the world will be filled with activity. Some will hold services of praise and worship as the sun rises, followed by a breakfast lovingly prepared by members of the congregation. Others will spend the first part of the morning in their homes, sharing readings from Scriptures regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ before they attend services at their church. Still others will have gathered with relatives where they attend an early morning service and then complete the day by sharing it with cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

All in all, these fine persons who accept traditional Christianity will gather to acknowledge and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Christian understanding of the triumph of Christ over death.

Then there are the Unitarian Universalists�

WHO ARE THE UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS?

Often erroneously described as a people who believe in nothing, the Unitarian Universalist Association is a non-creedal denomination that came about through the merger of two religious bodies in 1961. Both the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America had begun as Christian bodies and were at the time of the merger still considered by many to be liberal Christians. Modes of worship in many Unitarian Universalist congregations to this day retain elements that would be easily recognizable to any Protestant Christian. Frequently hymns are used during UU services; a message is given by an ordained minister or a guest speaker. An offering is usually taken at some time during the service, with either prefatory remarks or some sort of reading afterward. Honoring the Unitarian emergence from the Congregationalists of the early 19th century, UU congregations today are autonomous in both congregational polity and modes of worship.

While many Unitarian Universalists still identify themselves as Christians, adherents of many of the worlds great religions, as well as persons who identify more closely with non-religious philosophies, have made Unitarian Universalism their spiritual home.

UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS AND EASTER

Given the fact that Unitarian Universalists are mindful of and in many instances proud of their corporate religious heritage, it should come as no surprise that UU’s happily embrace the celebration of Easter. Coupled with UU’s desire to affirm truth wherever it may be found, it is little wonder the theme of new life that underscores the Easter celebration makes it almost mandatory for Unitarian Universalists to consider Easter to be important.

But how, in a church that is (a) non-creedal and (b) welcomes persons from every faith persuasion – and even no faith persuasion – celebrate what is so clearly a Christian holy day?

The answer is really very simple. UU’s celebrate Easter with the greatest of joy and expectation, in as many ways as they have members, and with much thought to feeding the mind and the spirit.

Placing a great deal of emphasis on action as a result of conviction, Unitarian Universalists honor Jesus for the clarity and straightforward nature of what he taught. They find relevance in the parables attributed to him in the New Testament, and much good in the text of the Sermon on the Mount. His treatment of those considered to be pariahs in his society speaks to UU’s today, who seek to make a place for all persons in their midst.

Easter for many Unitarian Universalists is an opportunity to reflect on the teachings of Jesus, and to remind oneself that even as all must come to an end, the potential for the good to live on and bring hope and peace to those who follow is ever present with us. To that end, all of us may experience an end (death) to that which holds us back, and embrace a future (resurrection) that will bring hope and happiness to ourselves and those around us.

UU’s who come from other religious backgrounds can also relate to the Easter, drawing on understandings from their core faiths to identify with the concept of new life and new beginnings. As an example, many pagan faiths and earth religions used this time of year to celebrate the awakening of the earth from her winter slumber. As the greens of spring began to emerge and planting seasons began, offerings of thankfulness and desires for a time of plenty marked their celebrations and worship. Hopes for well being and the future – a new beginning – led to joyous yet worshipful days as the cold faded and the warmth brought smiles to humanity. For many UU’s, Easter offers the perfect time to celebrate the wonders of creation and the emerging of new life after the season of cold and its dormancy.

Passover found a home in the spring of the year, acknowledging importance of the Exodus of the Hebrews from the land of Egypt. No longer bound in slavery, this devoted people would have the chance to be free to worship as they chose, to develop their culture and beliefs, the power to shape their own destines. For many UU’s, the Easter/Passover season is a time of reflection of what has been, where one has come from, and the boundless potential for the days to come.

WHAT IS AN EASTER SERVICE AT A UU CHURCH LIKE?

As a faith that holds to the autonomy of the local congregation, Unitarian Universalist congregations each determine how they will conduct their services. Drawing on elements that as a denomination UU’s have agreed upon, and taking into consideration the belief systems present in the local congregation, each church will develop a service that will have meaning to them.

When preparing to attend a UU congregation on Easter, it is important to remember that Unitarian Universalists tend to be an accepting people. No one will judge you based on the cut and quality of your clothing. You will most likely see people wearing everything from business attire to jeans and sweatsuits. In like manner, no one is going to look askance if you do not put something in the collection plate. Most congregations have a tradition of acknowledging visitors, but seek to do so in a way that does not embarrass anyone.

Participation in the service is strictly up to the visitor. Most UU services include time for persons to share a joy or a concern with the congregation. Visitors as well as members and regular attendees are free to share. Most typically, a visitor will have the chance to participate in the service by singing hymns, giving an offering when the collection plate is passed, and reciting along with the other congregants during a responsive reading.

It is a safe bet that the theme for the Easter service will revolve around the concepts of new life, freedom, and looking to the future. Often readings from the sacred works of various faiths or from UU and other religious authors may be shared with the congregation. Sermon remarks that call attention to the various ways different faiths celebrate new life may be given. Inclusion of traditions that have to do with the season, such as the Passover tradition of dipping spring vegetables into salt water (the vegetable representing new life and the salt water the tears of the slaves) may be observed. A darkened sanctuary may be illuminated with candles. Spring flowers may be brought by each member of the congregation and combined into a single vase, acknowledging the season of new life and opportunity in all its beauty.

Along with celebrating new beginnings, UU’s will also be mindful of what has gone before and will often acknowledge the foundations upon which today exists and tomorrow will be built. Often this acknowledgement will come in the form of passages from various scriptural works, shared remarks or testimonies from members of the congregation, or gifts of song or other forms of music.

AFTER THE SERVICE

Most Unitarian Universalist congregations observe what is referred to as Coffee Fellowship after the service. On Easter, the Coffee Fellowship may be broadened to include a buffet or even a potluck meal. Visitors are encouraged to stay and chat, and to partake of the meal. The atmosphere at a Coffee Fellowship or a potluck is similar to that of a family gathering, where people laugh, discuss, debate and eat for as long as they choose.

Seeking to be a place of refuge, challenge, and stability for all people is part of what the Unitarian Universalist faith is all about. For persons who are wish to remember where they have been even as they celebrate hope for times to come, attending an Easter service at a UU congregation may be ideal.

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