The Unitarian Universalists are a small sect in the religious world, but they are actively trying to change that.
The group has about 220,000 members in all 50 states, including a local congregation in Dahlonega called the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church.
“I think one of the things we have always hesitated with the UU church is not proselytizing,” said Sue Mattison, a Dahlonega resident and former congressional president. “But I think there are so many people out there that are probably Unitarians and don’t know it or have no idea of what we are about.”
The president of the national organization, William Sinkford, unveiled a plan Sept. 12 to get the Unitarian Universalist name out to possible new members. Look for their upcoming ads in Time magazine and on the magazine’s Web site, www.time.com.
“(This is the) first advertising campaign in 50 years,” said Janet Hayes, director of information and public witness for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations in Boston. “The association president, William Sinkford, felt that it was very important to reach a broad mainstream audience and, he likes to say, ‘We’ve been keeping ourselves secret and it’s time that we share the good news with the world.'”
Hayes added that church members nationwide contributed money for the national marketing campaign that will kick off Oct. 5, when the new Time magazine hits stores.
“We are growing, but we would like to grow faster,” she said. “We have new energy from new members and we’d like to share that with others.”
The church in Dahlonega had their first official service in 1993, but the national association was formed in 1961 after Universalists and Unitarians merged.
“Their missions had become very similar and they had grown theologically extremely close,” Hayes said. “They thought they could be more effective if they combined their energies.”
Theologically the Unitarian Universalist church is based on seven principles. The principles vary but guide members to morality, justice, equality, peace and respect for others.
“The first principle is the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” Hayes said. “Which, in other words, this is something we believe. We feel that everyone has access to spiritual truth, their own personal experiences are worthwhile and it means that we need to fight for equal justice under the law for all people, and that includes people of different abilities and people of different sexual and gender orientations.”
People of all faiths are welcome to the 37-member Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church, including Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics, but the faith is made up largely of humanists, according to the religious group’s national Web site www.uua.org.
Followers of humanism combine individualism with social responsibility, and their life goals come from human needs rather than theological or ideological beliefs.
“I call (the Dahlonega congregation) more Christian-oriented than I am, but other people say it’s more Humanistic oriented,” said Nancy Fuchs, former congressional president and Gainesville resident. “I would say we are half and half. There are a lot of Christian Unitarians and there a lot of Buddhist Unitarians, fallen Catholics and all kinds of people.
“I think our principles lend us to being open and receptive to all religious beliefs.”
Fuchs, a charter member of the church, also described the Sunday services as very traditional.
“But not all Unitarian churches are,” she said. “We start with a prelude, we start with opening words and people are welcomed. One thing we probably do that is different from more mainline churches is we always have ‘candles of community’ and people can come up and light a candle for a concern, or joy.
“We sing hymns, we have an offering, we have a sermon, we have readings, meditations, closing words and closing hymns. Not all Unitarian churches are like that.”
The church currently does not have a minister, so they have guest speakers on a weekly basis. Last Sunday, Sautee-Nachoochee yoga instructor and chiropractor Deana Guadagno spoke to the church about the “Nexxus between body and spirit.”
“The thing I wanted them to take home was the message how it’s really useful and good to be active out in the public and do things proactively,” she said. “As far as helping other people and service, peacemaking, all the things they do. But what I wanted them to kind of contemplate or be aware of a lot of what happens out there has a certain depth when it happens to you first.
“So the conversation was about looking at your physical body and how to create more peace inside that.”
While Guadagno is not a member of the Georgia Mountains church, she said practicing yoga can take anyone to a special spiritual place.
“I think the important distinctions for this area is that yoga is not a religion, it is a spiritual practice,” she said. “So anybody can practice it regardless of their orientation. For me, it gave me tools to utilize the space in my body so that I could then acknowledge and honor spirit.”
Honoring your personal spirit and thoughts is what the church stands for locally and nationally.
“I think for it not to have a specified dogma (makes it attractive),” said Mattison. “A lot of people have their own set of beliefs of what God is … and you can come into a UU church without having to declare anything — freedom of thought and belief is the most appealing.”
The freedom of the church is why Hayes thinks the marketing effort will increase awareness and membership.
“They (the members) are very excited and are preparing to welcome visitors and to answer questions that people may have,” Hayes said. “All of our local folks are eager to actually have some help in sharing what they do with their congregations.”