My Church: Live Oak UU of Goleta

Lars Poulsen - 2020-06-16

(This is a work in progress.)

Every so often, I mention my church in passing, and I know that unless I add a lot of explanation, nobody will understand why it is so influential in my life, and how it is so different from what most people understand a church to be. So this is a page to try to add that context.

I was raised as a Lutheran

I was born in Denmark, where the Evangelical-Lutheran Church is the state church, to which 95% belonged when I was young, and about 85% still do. But on any given Sunday, less than 2% will be in church; most come there for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals and maybe Christmas Eve. After my confirmation, like everyone else there, I drifted away. I just found the dogma stupid. Luther famously said something like: "Lord I have doubts, help me to believe". I could never see any virtue in trying stubbornly to believe things that ran counter to all historical and scientific evidence.

Finding Unitarian Universalism in California

A few months after I arrived in Santa Barbara, California, I discovered the Sierra Club, and started hiking with them on the trails in the front range of the Santa Ynez mountains behind Santa Barbara on week-end mornings. On one of these mornings, a Jewish graduate student told me about a community seder she had attended, not at a synagogue, but "at a kind of church" called the Unitarian Society. The more she talked, the more I knew I had to see this place.

I looked up the address and the time of services, and dropped in the next Sunday. I found no objectionable dogma, and after the service, people gathered in the courtyard for coffee and conversation. I was amazed at the welcoming atmosphere and how everyone seemed to be thoughtful people engaging deeply with the issues of the day. So I came back.

I think it was on my second visit that the service included a responsive reading titled "Cherish your doubts" . This was the exact opposite of what I had previously understood as religion. I realized I was home - I had found "my people".

Cherish Your Doubts

by Robert T Weston

Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.

Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.

A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.

Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.

Let no one fear the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief.

The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing:

For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.

Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands.

But those who fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on rock.

They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.

Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:

It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.

Every Congregation is Different

Since Unitarian-Universalism (UU for short) is a non-creedal religion, it follows that no two UUs think the same. The counterpoint is "but they all think!"

The name is long and carries history.

The Unitarians are people that reject the Christian doctrine of the holy Trinity. This idea that there is only one God, and Jesus was a fully human prophet, has been around since the early Christian church, and was spearheaded by a bishop name Arius, who was killed as a heretic for preaching it. After being thoroughly purged from the Orthodox and Catholic churches, it surfaced in Transylvania (Hungary) in the 1500s.

The Universalists simply did not believe in Hell. If God is just, loving and all-powerful, how could he condemn his creation to eternal suffering for transgressions that in the doctrine of most denominations include just having been born in a place where the Gospel had never been preached?

Both streams ended up in America, where they finally merged in the later part of the 20th century.

Every UU congregation contains a mix of

The proportions vary a bit, so each congregation will have a different flavor. The oldest Unitarian congregation meets a King's Chapel in Boston, and conducts its services according to a slightly edited version of the (Anglican) Common Book of Prayer. They even serve communion occasionally. But a few blocks away, the Arlington Street church is a mostly Humanist congregation like the majority of UU congregations in the Western US.

My Congregation: Live Oak UU, Goleta, California

My congregation is small, around 120 members. On any given Sunday, 75% - 80% are in attendance; this holds true even during the Corona-virus period, when we are reduced to holding our service in a Zoom meeting.

The format of our service is similar to a protestant community church. Spoken words alternate with music / singing.

Children are the heart of our community. Every Sunday, we begin with the children in the service for the first part; then after a "message for all ages" (usually a reading of a short award-winning children's book) they go off to Sunday school ("religious exploration") while the adults sing "This little light of mine".

After a guided meditation and a song, we have a sermon/homily, we pass the collection plate, then sing a closing song and listen to a postlude - often a great song from a Broadway musical.

And then it is coffee hour on the patio outside the church. An hour of catching up with our community.

How is this different from other churches

While the short description above sounds like many other churches, there are some things that you will notice pretty soon. For one, we rarely mention God. Maybe "Spirit of Life" or "the Great Mystery", but always in a way that respects that not everyone believes in a God. In fact, our minister describes herself as an atheist.

So what do we believe? We believe in The Seven Principles of UU:

In short: We are a liberal religion.

More pages

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