By CHRISTINA LAMBERT
What do Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony and Ralph Waldo Emerson have in common? And how does it relate to UMW?
They were all Unitarian Universalists, members of a faith that studies different world religions while drawing parallels and stressing acceptance, just like many in the UMW community.
Unitarian Universalism organized as a religious group in 1961 with the establishment of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). In 2009, the UUA comprised of 1,041 congregations with 164,656 certified members, according to their website.
Sophomore Katherine Casey decided to start a UMW Unitarian Universalist club on campus this semester after running into trouble finding rides to a local Unitarian Universalist church.
She turned to English professor Steve Watkins, who has been a Unitarian Universalist for 20 years and has served as a Religious Education director and a member of the Board of Directors at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fredericksburg.
Watkins helped arrange rides for students wanting to go church, encouraged Casey to start the club and volunteered to be the faculty advisor. He has helped the club by providing Unitarian Universalist-specific readings for discussions, as well as food for meetings.
The Unitarian Universalist club is currently drafting their constitution and hopes to become an official club next semester. During the first few meetings members discussed their religious backgrounds and shared stories about their experiences exploring other faiths.
“You see how [religions] are different, but you see how they’re similar too,” said senior Michelle Cole.
“That’s the great part of Unitarian Universalism; you study all these different perspectives. And these perspectives matter,” said senior Max Samsky.
Members also shared what it was like growing up Unitarian Universalist and some traditions they practice.
Casey described her experience attending water communion, when people save water from places they went over the summer and combine it into a bowl to bring everyone together, and flower communion, when people give and receive flowers.
Another member said that her Unitarian Universalist church does a canned food drive over Easter, and cans are hidden in the church playground for children to find. Rather than being observed as a religious holiday, Easter is seen as a celebration of spring and life.
While Unitarian Universalists draw a lot of their beliefs from Christianity, they also are free to form their own beliefs from their study of other religions. One member said she appreciates the morals that Greek and Roman mythology taught, and another said that she wants to learn more about the beliefs of Judaism and Hinduism.
Not only does Unitarian Universalism promote tolerance, but it also encourages members to grow based on what they have learned.
“It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong,” said Samsky. “It’s about tolerance.”
Or, as put by the club’s vice president, sophomore Lena Yegneswaran, “My philosophy is that everyone should just get along. If God turns out to be a giant chicken, we’re all equally wrong.”
Because the club has only had four meetings this semester, they have not been very active on campus, aside from discussions about what it means to be Unitarian Universalist.
They did, however, recently write an editorial to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star in reaction to a homophobic Halloween fright house put on by an Evangelical church in Spotsylvania. A few members went to the church for a Halloween event and were faced with a haunted house that showed the gruesome fate of sinners.
Unitarian Universalism is an accepting faith, so the club wanted to write the local newspaper to protest the intolerance of the church.
The Unitarian Universalist club meets every other Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the Creative Writing house on the corner of William St. and College Ave. On Sunday mornings the club offers weekly carpools to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fredericksburg, and all are welcome to come.