Part of a Series: A Home of Our Own: The Need for Humanist Societies
This series offers practical advice about finding and starting Humanist communities.
If you’re interested in being part of an existing humanistic community, you might enjoy learning more about Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations.
These liberal, non-creedal communities bring together a diverse array of people, including atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, pantheists, Transcendentalists, Humanists, Pagans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, as well as those who are inter-religious or spiritual but not religious and interfaith couples. Accepting one another in their differences, members of these congregations affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people and seek truth and meaning in their own lives while being in community together.
Some UU congregations call themselves “churches” while some call themselves “societies” precisely because they do not think of themselves as churches. Services typically address universal human feelings and needs in conjunction with contemporary social issues, by drawing on the wisdom of world religions, philosophy, science, literature, the arts, and lived experiences.
Depending on the congregation, sermons are given by ministers who identify as theistic or nontheistic or by members of the community. Speakers might invoke the Great Spirit, God, Allah, The Goddess, the universe, or a higher power, or they might use only secular language. Whoever is speaking will endeavor to be inclusive and sensitive to the diverse perspectives in the community.
Some UU congregations are led by Humanist ministers and/or are primarily made up of Humanists.
Larger congregations sometimes have focus groups for Humanists (and other focus groups for Buddhists, Christians, and Pagans, etc.).
After the Sunday morning services at my church, the Humanist group meets for an hour to inquire into the human experience in secular terms. Each week, there is a new topic regarding human development, capabilities, and flourishing; what the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, or sociology indicates about our nature and the way we are with one another; contemporary social problems and solutions; atheist and Humanist books; or other topics of interest. Participants often prepare for meetings by reading recommended texts. Newcomers who haven’t had an opportunity to do so are always welcome as well.
Following the Humanist group’s discussion hour, there is an opportunity to enjoy one another’s company socially through the Humanist Fellowship. All are invited to continue chatting informally over lunch at a local restaurant for another two hours or so, and folks who weren’t able to make it to the discussion are welcome to join for the communal meal.
Whether or not they have a focus group for Humanists, most UU churches have other social and spiritual groups that have no religious affiliation. The most common are Small Group Ministries, sometimes called Covenant Groups or by other names. These are groups of 6-12 people who come together every other week to share the ups and downs of life and share their perspectives on timeless topics such as friendship, fear, change, failure, generosity, and forgiveness, among many other subjects. Group members listen deeply to one another and make meaning together in supportive, caring community.
Some UU churches have other kinds of groups, too. At my congregation, there is a Men’s Group and a Women’s Group for people to share experiences, feelings, and concerns with peers. The Inspiration Group shares poetry, music, and silent meditation. The members of the Roundtable discussion group talk about articles in the latest issue of Newsweek. There is a writing group that uses journaling as a form of reflection and self-discovery. There are also groups for young adults in their 20s and 30s, LGBT folks, new parents, and seniors. Other UU congregations have book clubs, poetry circles, walking groups, and community service groups.
If these opportunities for discussion and fellowship within Unitarian Universalist congregations are appealing but the more spiritual or traditional elements of Sunday morning services don’t resonate with you, feel free to drop in and participate in these activities without feeling obligated to hear the sermons. Many of the Humanists at my church skip the service and go straight to the Humanist group’s discussion hour followed by the Humanist Fellowship social hour and lunch.
There are a lot of ways to participate in the life of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. What’s more is that the members of these communities are explicitly committed to supporting each other’s personal growth as they search for truth and meaning in the ways that make the most sense to them.