Stories of Courageous Action and Soulful Connection

UUCA is a community rich with passionate groups, inspiring congregants, and ever-evolving initiatives. The Phoenix Feature is our congregant blog, designed to share the special projects and narratives that capture our community. A new post will be shared every other Tuesday. Look for the link in your Weekly Update newsletter, or check back here!

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Education in Action: ARE Inspiration

How can deepening your knowledge of our faith inspire you? How does education motivate action in our community? Congregant and lay leader Serethiel Freeman shares their experience in Adult Religious Education. 

After just a month of consistently coming to UUCA, I could tell you exactly what made UUCA different from other churches I have attended. I love this community’s dedication to art and social justice. This space holds inspiration and education, room for rest, and dedication to growth.

After over a year of attending services, however, I’m not sure I could have told you what makes Unitarian Universalism different from other religions. I have appreciated that I don’t feel out of place even though my knowledge of our faith and its history has been quite limited. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been learning more about UU history from the Adult Religious Education Team’s latest series.

Did you know that both Unitarianism and Universalism were originally Christian sects? Each faith group experienced its own transformation from an offshoot of Christianity to a non-doctrinal faith group.

Early in the Protestant Reformation, Unitarianism began to develop. Michael Servetus was an anti-Trinitarian in Spain at that time and was killed by the church for speaking his convictions about Unitarian theology. I was called to wonder how my conscience impacts my choices and what beliefs are important enough to speak up for, no matter the cost.

I learned about a prominent Universalist figure living in America in the mid-1700s: George de Benneville. He consistently lived out his beliefs in action, and he coined the phrase “deeds, not creeds” to talk about this action-centered faith. He displayed care and love even to his enemies. I was called to wonder how often my beliefs remain intangible for me. How can I transform my beliefs into tangible love and action?

As Unitarianism developed, the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century started to shift the faith from its doctrinal roots. Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalist thinkers started to consider how our direct experiences in the world should impact our faith. The influence of scripture was balanced with the influence of what we experience day to day.

Continuing the shift towards real-world impact in the 19th century, we learned about Olympia Brown, a Universalist who worked for women’s rights, and Theodore Parker, a Unitarian who worked for the abolition of slavery. Brown and Parker were called by their faith to social justice and pushed through intimidating obstacles to bring their beliefs to life in the real world. I felt called to continue the work of living out my faith to create a more just society.

While Unitarianism and Universalism were different theological traditions (and still are), they joined together in 1961 in hopes that becoming a larger community would broaden the impact of their work. While we are an action-centered community, striving to live out our principles, we are also a spiritual community. The last session in this series highlighted how Unitarian Universalism holds space for many theological traditions.

This series called me to a deeper theological understanding that might fuel my actions in the world. What overflowing source of love do I turn to when my cup is empty? What passionate energy do I find to power my social justice work? Where do I find my sense of self?

I have been inspired by how UUism is a living tradition that is impacted by my participation. I have been educated about my faith and called to new action and a deeper understanding of what I believe.

This is the part where I say that I’m actually on the Adult Religious Education Team. Please do not feel like you missed out if you could not attend this awesome series! We meet almost every Sunday at 10 am. Each series will challenge you to grow in your knowledge, faith, and self-awareness while getting you connected with other members of UUCA. All of our sessions are drop-in friendly, so I hope to see you there even if you can’t attend a full series. I’m almost always in class, and I’d love to meet and grow with you.

Our upcoming series starts on Sunday, February 25th, and will cover the history of UUCA. I call you to meet us just as you are, and I know this space will be here for you whenever you arrive.

The Payoff of Persistence: One Member’s Journey to Belonging

Showing up is a Courageous Action! What is possible when you diligently invest your presence? Congregant and Lay Leader Jon Reese chronicles his experience of evolving alongside the UUCA community.

 

I began attending services at UUCA over 16 years ago. Prior to that, I had followed my family upbringing and had been active with the progressive congregation at Trinity United Methodist Church downtown. Although I had a beautiful relationship with my father, a long-serving Methodist pastor and district superintendent, I can’t say the same with Christian theology. Like many, I am drawn to the “social gospel” and find wisdom in the teachings of Jesus, but I am repelled by the exclusivity and intolerance that characterize some of the most vocal Christian movements. Discovering UUism offered an inclusive and non-creedal path that spoke to me.

 

Although the principles and the preaching felt right, my experience at the church did not. I attended services fairly regularly for years, from 2009-2018, but I never felt “right at home.” The coffee hour scene in the social hall found me squeezing through pockets of small groups (who clearly knew each other well) to get to my safe space: the bookstore tables. I tried out Wonderful Wednesday and, once again, found myself feeling alone in a group of regulars who acted polite but seemed benignly indifferent. Fortunately, a worship format that felt rich and familiar, friendly hugs from my college classmate Sonya Tinsley-Hook, and the occasional sighting of members who were also my neighbors kept me from dropping out. I continued attending services – and little else – and invested myself in community elsewhere.  

 

A decade in, things began to shift. Something about the discernment process we followed in selling the Cliff Valley property excited me. I don’t know if I could have named this at the time, but now I see that the transition offered the hope of a new beginning for the congregation and for me – a real phoenix-rising experience. The dramatic timing of the departure of the senior minister also portended a fresh start. Rev. Taryn Strauss was a decidedly different, refreshing new leader, called at a precarious time for the church. All this led me to bring my satellite self into a closer orbit with the church and to jettison the history of awkwardness and disconnection that marked my initial decade.

 

2024 Climate Action Quarterly Retreat

I drummed up the courage during the pandemic to join a Zoom meeting with the Climate Action Team. The group’s regulars were excited to embrace me, and that was a truly welcome experience. Those individuals provided friendly faces when we resumed in-person worship at the Treehouse and gave me a taste of the community I had hoped might be possible within a congregation whose beliefs seemed so aligned with mine. The CAT’s shared commitment to Earth care and environmental action gave us plenty in common, and relationships began to grow. Whether they knew it or not, those CAT members were early ambassadors of radical welcome. I’m now honored to co-lead the group, which has more than doubled in size and serves the congregation through the Carbon Offset Fund, the lending library, weekly blog posts, quarterly mini-retreats, and initiatives like Green Sanctuary and an upcoming permaculture design plan. 

 

Liebs Honeycutt, leader of the Radical Welcome team, ushering in cars on our Grand Opening in 2022

Church leaders have recognized the pitfalls of seeming insulated, cliquey, and benignly indifferent to both visitors and less-engaged members. The launch of the Radical Welcome Team and the evolving efforts of the Belonging Team are helping to change the culture of our community. The payoff can be seen in new faces, innovative initiatives, growing engagement, energizing worship, diverse lay leadership, and an intentional focus on soulful connection. It’s what I hungered for in 2009, and it’s what nourishes me now at 2650 N. Druid Hills Rd.

 

Over the past 18 months, my participation has expanded to serving as a small group ministry facilitator, a congregational retreat organizer, a member of both the Social Justice Coordinating Team and Belonging Team, and a participant in the pilot Wellspring program. I’ve cultivated strong working relationships with the church staff and can now greet dozens of folks by name during social hour. And you’ll often find me giving quick tours of the building to newcomers after a service. 

UUCA Members on a Hike at the 2023 Congregational Retreat, photo by Jon Reese

I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t have bet money that my experience with UUCA could have evolved like it has. It’s a credit to all who saw the potential, articulated a different vision of radical welcome,  and implemented institutional changes that are helping grow this beloved community. And God knows we need it. All of us.

Like everyone who walks through our church’s doors, I have experienced loss, pain, rejection, and self-doubt. I persisted, though, and found my way to those with generous hearts who are providing a deepening sense of belonging. That’s what I strive to promote in this congregation.

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Education in Action: ARE Inspiration

How can deepening your knowledge of our faith inspire you? How does education motivate action in our community? Congregant and lay leader Serethiel Freeman shares their experience in Adult Religious Education.  After just a month of consistently coming to UUCA, I...

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