Have you given up on your religion, but still hunger for a spiritual community?
Are you unsure if there is a God, and wonder where to find people who feel the same way?
Or maybe you’re an atheist—you don’t believe in God at all. But you still want to be with others to debate and discuss the big issues facing the world today.
If you said yes to any of those scenarios, then Winnipeg’s Unitarian Universalist Church would like to welcome you.
“We’re a place where people are encouraged to believe what they want to believe, or not believe at all,” says Reverend Meaghann Robern, minister at the church.
“There’s a mix of beliefs here—no God, one God, a mix of gods,” she adds, noting that member’s beliefs also change over time.
“You don’t have to believe in the same thing the whole of your life,” she says.
Unitarian Universalism—or UU, as adherents refer to it—is a liberal religious tradition that began in 1961 with the merger of the Unitarian and Universalist churches.
Instead of creeds of doctrines, UUs are united by a shared set of seven principles: A belief in human worth and dignity; a commitment to justice and compassion; the acceptance of others; a free search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience; the promotion of peace and justice; and respect for all existence.
In Manitoba, the UU movement traces its origin back to Christian freethinkers in the late 19th century who wanted a more liberal form of religious expression.
The church itself was founded in 1904. They moved into their current building on Wellington Crescent in 1997.
Canada-wide, there are about 3,800 UUs in 46 congregations. In Winnipeg, about 200 people call the local UU church home.
I met three of them a couple of weeks ago.
Lorie Battershill is a retired teacher who has been attending the church for 3 ½ years.
Unlike churches she attended before, Battershill likes how the UU church allows people to “develop their own theology and beliefs and come to whatever conclusions they want in life.”
She became attracted to UU when traditional Christian views about things like heaven and hell didn’t make sense to her anymore.
She likes that the church is a “place where you can ask questions” about God, yet still feel welcome and accepted.
Mya James, a high school student, has been attending the church for much of her life.
“I like the youth group, I feel connected to them,” she says of her decision to attend the church. “This is the most important group in my life. We’re very close.”
As for her own beliefs, she is still figuring out what they are and who she is. “I think I have time,” she says.
Jim Gardiner works for the city of Winnipeg. He has been a member for 12 years.
“This is a safe place, with healthy relationships where people are accepting of others,” he says.
Gardiner grew up in the United Church, but has no hard feelings about it.
“There are people here who felt pushed away by their churches, but not me,” he says.
What he likes about the church is that it is allows people to believe different things.
“There are four people in my family, and we all think differently spiritually,” he says.
“The community embraces that, and blesses that. It gives us a gift of being able to explore our spirituality.”
When I ask what they call themselves, Battershill says “Christ-follower.”
Gardiner feels his belief system is a mix of Christianity, Buddhism and Indigenous spirituality.
Mya prefers being known simply as a UU.
“People here can have multiple identities,” says Robern, noting that while UU came from Christianity, it’s important for her to also share teachings from other religions.
“We’re a community where we practice what it is to be human, to be better human beings, and to heal the world,” she says.
Or, as Gardiner puts it, “the longer I have been here the more my need to put my finger on what exactly I need to believe has decreased, and the more my need to take care of this world and others has increased.”