Unitarian Universalism

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File:Flaming Chalice.svg
The flaming chalice is a widely used symbol for Unitarian Universalism.
Unitarian Universalism (UUism) is a liberal religion religious movement characterized by its support of a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." This principle permits Unitarian Universalists a wide range of beliefs and practices. Unitarian Universalist congregations and fellowships tend to retain some Christian traditions such as Sunday worship that includes a sermon and singing of hymns, but do not necessarily identify themselves as Christians.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), founded in 1961 as a consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church in America, is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves churches in North America. The UUA represents more than 1,000 member congregations that collectively include more than 217,000 members. Unitarian Universalists follow a Congregationalist polity model of church governance, in which power resides at the local level; individual congregations call ministers and make other decisions involving worship, theology and day-to-day church management. The denominational headquarters in Boston in turn provides services for congregations that can more effectively be handled through joint efforts.

A separate organization from the UUA is the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), founded in 1995, which coordinates national Unitarian and Universalist associations of churches throughout the world.

Both Unitarianism and Universalism trace their roots to Christian Protestantism. Many UUs appreciate and value aspects of Christian and Jewish spirituality, but the extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into one's personal spiritual practices is a matter of personal choice in keeping with UU's creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development. Even before the Unitarian and Universalist movements combined their efforts at the continental level, the theological significance of Unitarianism and Universalism expanded beyond the traditional understanding of these terms.


Unitarian Universalism is a faith with no creedal requirements imposed on its members. It values religious pluralism and respects diverse traditions within the movement and often within the same congregation. Many see it as a syncretism religion, as personal beliefs and religious services draw from more than one faith tradition. Even when one faith tradition is primary within a particular setting, Unitarian Universalists are unlikely to assert that theirs is the "only" or even the "best" way possible to discern meaning or theological truths. There is even a popular adult UU course called "Building Your Own Theology".

Many Unitarian Universalists consider themselves humanism, while others hold to Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Paganism, atheist, agnostic, pantheist, or other beliefs. Some choose to attach no particular theological label to their own idiosyncratic combination of beliefs. This diversity of views is usually considered a strength by those in the Unitarian Universalist movement, since the emphasis is on the common search for meaning among its members rather than adherence to any particular doctrine. Many UU congregations have study groups that examine the traditions and spiritual practices of Neopaganism, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Pantheism, and other faiths. At least one UU minister, the Reverend James Ishmael Ford, has been acknowledged as a Zen master. There are Buddhist meditation teachers, Sufi teachers, as well as gnostic and episcopi vagantes clerics. Some view their Jewish heritage as primary, and others see the concept of God as unhelpful in their personal spiritual journeys. While Sunday services in most congregations tend to espouse a Christian-derived Humanism, it is not unusual for a part of a church's membership to attend pagan, Buddhist, or other spiritual study or worship groups as an alternative means of worship.

In a survey,[1] Unitarian Universalists in the United States were asked which provided term or set of terms best describe their belief. Many respondents chose more than one term to describe their beliefs. The top choices were:

  • Humanism - 54%
  • Agnostic - 33%
  • Earth-centered religion - 31%
  • Atheism - 18%
  • Buddhist - 16.5%
  • Christian - 13.1%
  • Paganism - 13.1%

There is great variety among Unitarian Universalist congregations, with some favoring particular religious beliefs or forms of worship over others, with many more home to an eclectic mix of beliefs. Regardless of their orientation, most congregations are fairly open to differing beliefs, though not always with various faith traditions represented to the same degree.

There is also a wide variety in how congregations conceive of themselves. Congregations call themselves "churches," "societies," "fellowships," "congregations," or eschew the use of any particular descriptor (e.g. "Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists"). Many use the name "Unitarian Universalist," (and a few "Universalist Unitarian"), having gradually adopted this formulation since consolidation in 1961. Others use names that reflect their historic roots by keeping simply the designation "Unitarian" or "Universalist." A few congregations use neither (e.g. "Community Church of White Plains"). For some congregations, the name can be a clue to their theological orientation. For others, avoidance of the word "church" indicates a desire to distance itself from traditional Christian theology. Sometimes the use of another term may simply indicate a congregation's lay-led or relatively new status. However, some UU congregations have grown to appreciate alternate terms such as fellowship and retained them even though they have grown much larger or lost features sometimes associated with their use (such as, in the case of fellowships, a traditionally lay-led worship model).[2]

A current trend within Unitarian Universalism is to re-embrace forms of theism, both in worship and as a focus of intellectual inquiry. This has led to a shift away from secular humanism, agnosticism and atheism, and towards natural theism, liberal Christianity and other forms of engaged spirituality. The trend is particularly visible in the overall demographics, with nontheists better represented in the over-50 age group. Nontheism is also overrepresented in the under-18 group, but does not generally translate into greater numbers of nontheists among adults as these youth are more likely than their peers to leave UU congregations upon reaching adulthood. This is related to the gap between the under-18 and the over-30 groups, reflecting a lack of childless adults among those of child-bearing age. Also of note is that there are many more people who identify as UU on surveys than those who attend UU churches (by a factor of four in a recent survey),[3] reflecting lapsed members who nonetheless consider themselves part of the UU movement.


General beliefs of UUs

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) believe in complete but responsible freedom of freedom of speech, Freedom of thought, Freedom of religion, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues like the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any heritage, have any sexual orientation, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions.

Concepts about deity are diverse among UUs. Some believe that there is no god; others believe in many gods. Some believe that God is a metaphor for a transcendant reality. Some believe in a female god (goddess), a passive god (Deism), a Christian god, or a god manifested in nature or one which is the "Paul Tillich#Theology". Some UUs reject the idea of deities and instead speak of "universal spirit" or "reverence of life". Unitarian Universalists support each person's search for truth and meaning in concepts of deity.

Principles and purposes

Although lacking an official creed or dogma, Unitarian Universalist congregations typically respect the Unitarian Universalist Association#Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association. As with most actions in Unitarian Universalism, these were created in committee, and affirmed democratically by a vote of member congregations, proportional to their membership, taken at an annual General Assembly (a meeting of delegates from member congregations). The full Unitarian Universalist Association#Principles and Purposes can be found in the article on the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Principles are as follows:

"We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."[4]

Unitarian Universalism is often referred to by its members as a living tradition, and the principles and purposes have been modified over time to reflect changes in spiritual beliefs among the membership. Most recently, the last principle, adopted in 1985 and generally known as the Seventh Principle, "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part", and a sixth source (adopted in 1995), "Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature" were added to explicitly include members with Neopagan, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and other natural environment spiritualities.[5]

Unitarian Universalists promote unique beliefs of a person that are based on their individual thoughts, and can go anywhere from a strict monotheistic belief to more of a philosophical view of things.

Approach to sacred writings

A Unitarian Universalist approach to the Christian Bible and other sacred works is given in Our Unitarian Universalist Faith: Frequently Asked Questions, published by the UUA:

We do not, however, hold the Bible - or any other account of human experience - to be either an infallible guide or the exclusive source of truth. Much biblical material is mythical or legendary. Not that it should be discarded for that reason! Rather, it should be treasured for what it is. We believe that we should read the Bible as we read other books - with imagination and a critical eye. We also respect the sacred literature of other religions. Contemporary works of science, art, and social commentary are valued as well. We hold, in the words of an old liberal formulation, that "revelation is not sealed." Unitarian Universalists aspire to truth as wide as the world - we look to find truth anywhere, universally.

Elevator speeches

Recently, UU World magazine asked for contributions of "elevator pitch" explaining UUism. These are short speeches that could be made in the course of an elevator ride to those who knew nothing of the religion. Here are examples of the speeches submitted:

In Unitarian Universalist congregations, we gather in community to support our individual spiritual journeys. We trust that openness to one another's experiences will enhance our understanding of our own links with the divine, with our history, and with one another. — Rev. Jonalu Johnstone, Oklahoma City, OK[6]
Most Unitarian Universalists believe that nobody has a monopoly on all truth, or ultimate proof of the truth of everything in any one belief. Therefore, one's own truth is unprovable, as is that of others. Consequently, we should respect the beliefs of others, as well as their right to hold those beliefs. Conversely, we expect that others should respect our right to our own beliefs. Several UU's then, would likely hold as many different beliefs. Other beliefs they may hold in common are a respect for others, for nature, and for common decency, leading to a particular caring for the poor, the weak and the downtrodden. As a result, issues of justice, including social justice are held in common among most. — Gene Douglas, Harrah, OK[7]


Traditionally, Unitarianism was a form of Christianity. The term may refer to any belief about the nature of Jesus Christ that affirms God as a singular entity and rejects the doctrine of the Trinity.

As the early Christian Churches emerged in late antiquity, one by one they cut themselves off from the Unitarian Mosaic Clergy. The first to do so was Sylvester the Bishop of Rome in 318CE followed by Emperor Constantine when Unitarianism was rebuffed by orthodox Christianity at the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Constantine passed such harsh legislation against them in 333CE that in 345CE many were forced to emigrate to Kerala. The others established their base in Nisibis. The Nestorian Church first distinguished the Unitarian Mosaic Clergy as Apostates (Hunefa) during the reign of Khosrau II Parviz (22nd Sassanid King of Persia 590-628CE) for rejecting the election of Nestorian Catholicos Gregorius of Seleucia in 604CE. Gregory responded against the Unitarian Mosaic Clergy by sending Babai the Great who evicted them from the Monastery of mount Izla in Nisibis driving them into the Arabian desert.

In the desert they found refuge with Nestorian converts among the Quraish (the most famous of whom at this time being Waraka ibn Naufal and his cousin Khadijah and her husband) who also rejected the election of Gregory as Catholicos. Here, in 610CE Abu Qasim at age 40 was established over them as His Grace "Mahomed" ("Most Graceful") Bishop Mustapha ibn Abdullah, and many other Nestorians like Salmān e Pārsī joined the protest movement in the desert.

Unitarian churches were formally established in Transylvania and Poland among the Khavars (by the Socinianism) in the 16th Century. Michael Servetus, a Spanish proto-Unitarian, was burned at the stake in Geneva, in 1553, on the orders of John Calvin.

Universal reconciliation started as a separate Christian "Christian heresy," with its own long history. It also can be traced deep into Christian past, beginning with the earliest Church scholars. Both Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa preached its essentials. Universalism denies the doctrine of eternal damnation; instead, it proclaims a loving god who will redeem all souls. In 1793, Universalism emerged as a particular denomination in the United States, eventually called the Universalist Church of America.

In the United States, the Unitarian movement began primarily in the Congregational church parish churches of New England. These churches, which may still be seen today in nearly every New England town square, trace their roots to the division of the Puritan colonies into parishes for the administration of their religious needs. Beginning in the late 18th century, a Unitarian movement began within some of these churches. As conflict grew between Unitarian and Trinitarian factions, Unitarians gained a key faculty position at Harvard University in 1805. The dispute culminated in the foundation of the American Unitarian Association as a separate denomination in 1825.

After the schism, some of those churches remained within the Congregational fold, while others voted to become Unitarian. In the aftermath of their various historical circumstances, some of these churches became member congregations of the Congregational organization (later the United Church of Christ), others became Unitarian and eventually became part of the UUA. Universalist churches in contrast followed a different path, having begun as independent congregations beyond the bounds of the established Puritan churches entirely. Today, the UUA and the United Church of Christ cooperate jointly on quite a number of projects and social justice initiatives. In the 19th century, under the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson (who had been a Unitarian minister) and other Transcendentalists, Unitarianism began its long journey from liberal Protestantism to its present more pluralist form.

Unitarians and Universalists often have had a great deal of common interests and communication between them; they have often been associated in the public's mind. That said, one observation made years ago about Unitarianism and Universalism to distinguish them, long before their consolidation, was that "Universalists believe that God is too good to condemn man, while Unitarians believe that man is too good to be condemned by God." Both Unitarianism and Universalism evolved over time into inclusive, tolerant religions. In 1961, the American Unitarian Association (AUA) was consolidated with the Universalist Church of America (UCA), thus forming the Unitarian Universalist Association. In the same year, the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) formed and became an arm of the UUA to service the needs and interest of Unitarian Universalists in Canada. The Unitarian Universalist Association was also given corporate status in May 1961 under special acts of legislature of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of New York. In 2002, the CUC split off from the UUA, although the two denominations maintain a close working relationship.

In 1995 the UUA helped establish the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) to connect unitarian and universalist faith traditions around the world.

Worship and ritual

As in theology, Unitarian Universalist worship and ritual are often a combination of elements derived from other faith traditions alongside original practices and symbols. In form, church services might be difficult to distinguish from a liberal Protestant church. In content, given the broad constituency of some UU congregations, those of more traditional faiths may be hard-pressed to find more than superficial commonalities with Unitarian Universalists.


File:UUA Logo.svg
The new version of the flaming chalice, symbol of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The most common symbol of Unitarian Universalism is the flaming chalice, often framed by two overlapping rings that many interpret as representing Unitarianism and Universalism (the symbol has no official interpretation). The chalice itself has long been a symbol of liberal religion, and indeed liberal Christianity (the Disciples of Christ also use a chalice as their denomination symbol). The flaming chalice was initially the logo of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee during the Second World War. It was created by Austrian artist Hans Deutsch, inspired by "the kind of chalice which the Greeks and Romans put on their altars. The holy oil burning in it is a symbol of helpfulness and sacrifice."[8]

Nevertheless, other interpretations have been suggested, such as the chalice used by the followers of Czech heretic Jan Hus, or its vague resemblance to a cross in some stylized representations. Most UU congregations light a chalice at the beginning of worship services. Other symbols include a slightly off-center cross within a circle (a Universalist symbol associated with the Humiliati movement in the 1950s, a group of reformist, liturgically minded clergy seeking to revive Universalism).

Other symbols include a pair of open hands releasing a dove.

Worship services

Religious services are usually held on Sundays and most closely resemble the form and format of Protestant worship in the Reformed tradition. The vast majority of congregations have a lightly structured service centered on a sermon by a minister or lay leader of the congregation.[9] Sermons may be on a wide range of topics, drawing from religious or cultural texts or from the personal experiences of the preacher.

The service also includes hymn-singing, accompanied by organ or piano, and possibly led by a song leader or choir. The most recent worship songbook published by the denomination, Singing the Journey[10] contains 75 songs and is a supplement to the older Singing the Living Tradition which contains readings as well.[11] Hymns typically sung in UU services come from a variety of sources - traditional hymn tunes with new or adapted lyrics, spirituals, folk songs from various cultures, or original compositions by Unitarian Universalist musicians are just a few. Instrumental music is also a common feature of the typical worship service, including preludes, offertory music, postludes, or music for contemplation.

Pastoral elements of the service may include a time for sharing Joys and Sorrows/Concerns, where individuals in the congregation are invited to light a candle (similar to the Catholic practice of lighting a votive candle) and/or say a few words about important events in their personal lives. Many UU services also include a time of meditation or prayer, led by the minister or service leader, both spoken and silent. Responsive readings and stories for children are also typical.

Many UU congregations no longer observe the Christian sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, or confirmation, at least in their traditional forms or under their traditional names. Congregations that continue these practices under their more traditional names are often federated churches or members of the Council of Christian Churches Within the Unitarian Universalist Association (CCCUUA), or may have active chapters associated with the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship or similar covenant groups.[12] "Child dedications" often replace more traditional infant baptisms (though it should be noted that such "dedications" are sometimes practiced even in "orthodox" Christian communities that do not baptize infants for theological reasons). Annual celebrations of Water Communion and Flower Communion may replace or supplement Christian-style communion (though many pluralist and Christian-oriented congregations may celebrate or otherwise make provisions for communion on Christian holy days).[13] Confirmation may be replaced by a "Coming of Age" program, in which teenagers explore their individual religious identity often developing their own credo.


File:Civil marriage is a civil right.JPG
A Unitarian Assembly located in Louisville, Kentucky.

Historically, Unitarian Universalists have often been active in political causes, notably the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the social justice movement, and the feminist movement. In the 19th century, Unitarians and Universalists were active in abolitionism, the women's movement, the temperance movement and other social reform movements.

Susan B. Anthony, a Unitarian and Quaker, was extremely influential in the women's suffrage movement. Unitarian Universalists and Quakers still share many principles, notably that they are creedless religions with a long-standing commitment to social justice. It is therefore common to see Unitarian Universalists and Quakers working together.

UUs were and are still very involved in the fight to end racism in the United States. John Haynes Holmes, a minister and social activist at The Community Church of New York - Unitarian Universalist was among the founders of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), chairing the latter for a time. James J. Reeb, a minister at All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C. and a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was clubbed in Selma, Alabama on March 8, 1965, and died two days later of massive head trauma. Two weeks after his death, Viola Liuzzo,a Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist, was murdered by white supremacists after her participation in the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Reeb and approximately 20% of UU ministers marched with Martin Luther King in the three marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery. The Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights are best known as Bloody Sunday (1965), although technically that refers only to March 7, the most violent day of the three.

The current head of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. William G. Sinkford, is African-American, making Unitarian Universalism one of the first traditionally white denominations to be headed by a member of a racial minority.

While Modern liberalism in the United States make up a clear majority of Unitarian Universalists, the UU movement aspires to diversity, and officially welcomes congregants regardless of their political views. Conservative Forum for Unitarian Universalists point out that neither religious liberalism nor the Principles and Purposes of the UUA require liberal politics. Like the beliefs of Unitarian Universalists, politics are decided by individuals, not by congregations or the denomination.

Many congregations have undertaken a series of organizational and practical steps to be acknowledged as a "Welcoming Congregation," a congregation which has taken specific steps to welcome and integrate gay and lesbian members. UU ministers have been performing same-sex unions since at least the late 1960s, and now same-sex marriages where legal (and sometimes when not, as a form of civil protest.). Unitarian Universalists have been in the forefront of the civil rights work to make same-sex marriages legal in their local states and provinces, as well as on the national level. Gay men and lesbians are also regularly ordained as ministers. In May 2004, Arlington Street Church (Boston) was the site of the first state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in the United States. The official stance of the UUA is for the legalization of same-sex marriage - "Standing on the Side of Love".

Many congregations are heavily involved in projects and efforts aimed at supporting environmental causes and sustainability. These are often termed "seventh principle" activities because of the seventh principle quoted above.


Lack of formal creed

The lack of formal creed has been a cause for criticism among some who argue that Unitarian Universalism is thus without religious content. In May 2004, Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn ruled that Unitarian Universalism was not a "religion" because it "does not have one system of belief," and stripped the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church in Denison, Texas of its tax-exempt status. However, within weeks, Strayhorn reversed her decision.[14]

Language of reverence

During the presidency of the Rev. William Sinkford, debate within the UU movement has roiled over his call to return to or create an authentic UU "language of reverence."[15] Sinkford has suggested that UUs have abandoned traditional religious language, thereby abandoning words with potential power to others who will then dictate their meanings in the public square. He has suggested that Unitarian Universalist regain their proper seat at the interfaith table by making this language their own. Others have reacted to this call by believing it to be part of an effort to return UU congregations to more orthodox Christian worship patterns. Sinkford has denied this, citing the words of UU humanists as examples of what he means by the "language of reverence." The debate seems part and parcel of an attendant effort at increasing biblical literacy amongst Unitarian Univeralists, including the publication of a book by the UUA's Beacon Press written by former UUA President John Buehrens.[16] The book is titled Understanding the Bible: a Guide for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals,[17] and is meant as a kind of handbook to be read alongside the Bible itself. It provides interpretative strategies, so that UUs (among others) might be able to engage in public debate about what the Bible says from a liberal religious perspective, rather than relinquishing to religious conservatives, and other more literal interpretations, all control over the book's contents and significance in matters of public and civic import. Also an important work by Rev. Buehrens, along with Forrest Church, is A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism,[18] in which, the authors explore the many sources of the living tradition of their chosen faith.

Borrowing from other religions

Template:Unreferenced Recently, the "borrowing" of religious rituals from other faith traditions by Unitarian Univeralists has come under closer scrutiny.[19] Many UUs have asked whether the indiscriminate taking of the words and rites from the religions of others, and their incorporation into pluralist UU religious services, would be seen as a form of unwelcomed cultural appropriation by those from whom such borrowing is undertaken. In many congregations, the question has not yet been directly posed such that a coherent answer can be provided. In other congregations, the questions have prompted inquiry into what it might be about "Western" religious traditions that encourages taking from other faith traditions about which there may only be a superficial understanding. Although these questions go to the heart of the UU tradition, facing these difficult questions has helped many UUs and many UU congregations strengthen their faith and their faith practices. Some UUs argue that many religions find the roots to their traditions and rituals based in other religions as well. However, a historical relationship to other faiths is different than the conscious inclusion of rituals from separate or unrelated belief systems.

Unitarian Universalist organizations

  • The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations is the largest association of Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist congregations in the world, and the most well-known. It operated within the United States and Mexico, for lack of a formal association of Unitarian Universalist congregations in Mexico.
  • The Canadian Unitarian Council split off from the Unitarian Universalist Association in 2001 and serves Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist congregations in Canada.
  • Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) is the youth organization within the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Canadian Unitarian Council. It was created in 1981 and 1982, at two conferences, Common Ground 1 & 2. Common Ground was called after the collapse of Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the youth organization that preceded YRUU. LRY had drifted away from the Unitarian Universalist Association, and had severe internal problems that led to its collapse.
  • Unitarian Universalist Young Adult Network (UUYAN) is the young adult (psychology) organization within the Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is an associate member organization of the UUA. It was founded in 1939 from an effort to rescue Jews and other victims of Nazi persecution. A privately funded, nonsectarian organization, UUSC works to advance human rights and social justice in the United States and around the world.
  • Unitarian Universalist churches worldwide are represented in the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU).
  • Promise the Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Promise the Children's mission is to help Unitarian Universalists advocate for and with children and youth. Promise the Children is also an Independent Affiliate of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • CUUPS Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans
  • The Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) exists to serve UUs remote from any physical congregation.
  • List of Unitarian Universalist Independent Affiliate organizations

Number of members

As with all religions and religious groups, estimates of exact membership vary.

At the time of the merger between Universalists and Unitarians, membership was perhaps half a million. Membership rose after the merger but then fell in the 1970s.

In 1956, Sam Wells wrote that "Unitarians and Universalists are considering merger which would have total U.S. membership of 160,000 (500,000 in world)".[20] In 1965 Conkin wrote that "In 1961, at the time of the merger, membership [in the United States] was 104,821 in 651 congregations, and the joint membership soared to its historically highest level in the mid-1960s (an estimated 250,000) before falling sharply back in the 1970s...".[21]

The most recent estimates, from the 1990s, put world membership between 120,000 and 600,000.[22]

In the United States, the American Religious Identification Survey reported 629,000 members describing themselves as Unitarian Universalist in 2001, an increase from 502,000 reported in a similar survey in 1990.[23] The highest concentrations are in New England and around Seattle, Washington.[24]

Notable Unitarian Universalists

Template:See details

Notable congregations

Template:Unreferenced Certain Unitarian, Universalist, or Unitarian Universalist congregations (churches, societies, fellowships, etc.) have particular historic or other significance.

  • Unitarian Church of All Souls Founded in 1819 following an inspiring sermon by William Ellery Channing during a visit to New York City, All Souls' is one of the largest and most influential churches in the denomination. Herman Melville and Peter Cooper were members of All Souls, and minister Henry Whitney Bellows led the congregation for 43 years. Forrester Church, author and theologian, served as senior Minister for almost 30 years and is currently Minister of Public Theology.
  • All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa, OK, founded in 1921, has one of the largest member congregations of the UUA.
  • All Souls Church in Braintree, Massachusetts was one of the first Unified (Unitarian and Universalist) churches.
  • All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, DC, was founded in 1821 by (among others) John Quincy Adams.
  • Arlington Street Church (Boston) in Boston was the congregation of William Ellery Channing and Dana McLean Greeley 1729).
  • Community Church of New York is the congregation that was headed by John Haynes Holmes. It is significantly progressive and diverse.
  • Church of the Larger Fellowship is a worldwide congregation.
  • The First Church in Boston is the oldest church in Boston; the current building was designed by Paul Rudolph.
  • The First Unitarian Society in Madison, Wisconsin is the largest UU congregation; its building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • King's Chapel in Boston is one of the oldest New England churches of any denomination (1688), and is on the Freedom Trail.
  • United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts, is the burial place of U.S. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams and their wives.
  • Unity Temple Oak Park, Illinois, had its building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • First Unitarian Church of Rochester was the Unitarian congregation of Susan B. Anthony; the building was designed by Louis Kahn.
  • First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, California, had Thomas Starr King as minister from 1860 to 1864.
  • Channing Memorial Church of Newport, Rhode Island, was the congregation of Julia Ward Howe during her time in Newport.
  • The Univeralist National Memorial Church is a church built by the former Universalist Church of America to commemorate Universalist soldiers and sailors who served in World War I, and to serve as the "cathedral" of Universalism in the US capital.
  • Third Unitarian Church in Chicago was founded in 1868; landmark status was given in 1960 to the current location. Its minister, Dr. Rowena Morse, (1911-1919) was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from a European university.[citation needed]
  • Follen Church Society-Unitarian Universalist of Lexington, Massachusetts, was, from 1836 to 1838, the last pulpit of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Its unique octagonal sanctuary was designed by first minister Charles Follen, a noted abolitionist.
  • Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville founded in 1906, significantly by Duncan Fletcher, who served as Mayor of Jacksonville, and became one of Florida's U.S. Senators.
  • First Parish of Concord, Massachusetts, was founded in 1636 and was a frequent gathering place for many Transcendentalists, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott.
  • Gaia Community one of the few Earth based Pagan UU non-CUUPS congregations in the US.
  • Unitarian Universalist Church in Charleston (S.C.), established in 1772, is "the oldest Unitarian church in the South".[25]
  • First Parish Church in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is the oldest continuous church in New England. It traces its history back to the English religious separatists, better known as the Pilgrims, who came to Plymouth in 1620. http://cms.plymouthuu.org/joomla/


  1. http://www.uua.org/news/011205.html "Surveys: 'UUism' unique Churchgoers from elsewhere" by John Dart, News Editor, Christian Century
  2. See for examples: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester and Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens
  3. "Largest Religious Groups in the United States of America" (on adherents.com)
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  10. ISBN 1-55896-499-1
  11. ISBN 1-55896-260-3
  12. http://www.liveoakuu.org/christian04.htm
  13. {{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}
  14. http://www.window.state.tx.us/news/40524church.html
  15. http://www.uua.org/president/030112.html
  16. http://www.beliefnet.com/story/132/story_13272_1.html
  17. ISBN 0-8070-1053-7
  18. ISBN 0-8070-1617-9
  19. http://www.uua.org/ga/ga01/2038.html
  20. [[{{{authorlink}}}|{{{last}}}, {{{first}}}]], The World's Great Religions V.3 Glories of Christiandom Wells, Sam, ed., The World's Great Religions V.3 Glories of Christiandom, Time Incorporated, Time Incorporated, 1957, {{{id}}}.
  21. [[{{{authorlink}}}|{{{last}}}, {{{first}}}]], American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity Conkin, Paul K., American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity, The University of North Carolina Press, The University of North Carolina Press, 1997, {{{id}}}. ISBN 080784649X
  22. http://www.adherents.com/Na/Na_642.html
  23. http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris/key_findings.htm
  24. Concentration of Unitarians by U.S. county http://www.valpo.edu/geomet/pics/geo200/religion/unitarian.gif
  25. http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/charleston/uni.htm

The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, Louisianahttp://unitarianchurchbr.com/home/home.php?linkId=1

Further reading

  • A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism by John A. Buehrens ISBN 0-8070-1617-9

See also


  • List of Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists
  • List of Unitarian Universalist Independent Affiliate organizations
  • Congregationalist polity
  • Liberal Christianity
  • American Unitarian Conference
  • Our Whole Lives
  • Unitarian Universalism and LGBTQ persons
  • Young Religious Unitarian Universalists
  • Unitarian Universalist Young Adult Network
  • Canadian Unitarian Council
  • Unitarian Universalist Youth Conferences

External links