UU congregations interact with other faith communities in ways that go beyond social justice.
Unitarian Universalists put a lot of value on interfaith partnerships, particularly when it comes to the commitment to social justice they share with other faith communities. But asking UUs to come up with fun or creative ways to engage in interfaith activities sometimes leaves them scratching their heads. Nevertheless, there are examples of UU congregations interacting with other faith communities in ways that go beyond social justice, and many of them reflect the unique character of their communities—both in and beyond their congregations.
Members of many different faith communities in Fremont, California, gather to discuss their religions during the annual Interfaith Harmony Day.
Mission Peak UU Congregation in Fremont, California, is part of one of the most diverse communities in the United States. Estimates are that more than 200 different languages are spoken in the city’s homes. “This city is the face of America,” said the Rev. Jeremy Nickel, minister at Mission Peak.
In 2015, Nickel worked with other clergy in the community to create an Interfaith Harmony Day, when different faith communities gather together to talk about and display artifacts of their religion. As many as 200 people from eighteen faith communities are expected to participate in the third Interfaith Harmony Day, scheduled for February 4 (after this issue goes to print).
Rural Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has a population of 38,000, with more than fifty faith communities. Most are quite small and struggle to create meaningful youth programs on their own, said UU Fellowship at Easton minister the Rev. Sue Browning, who is also chair of the Talbot Association for Clergy and Laity.
With the help of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, the association is organizing an environmental project this spring in which middle school and high school students from multiple faith communities will work together to clean up the many rivers in the area via kayak. “We want to find a way that includes environmental work and helps kids meet other kids who might be different from themselves,” Browning said.
The Rev. Patty C. Willis, minister of South Valley UU Society near Salt Lake City, Utah, got the idea for a combined Latter-day Saints-UU choir after her church’s choir was invited to perform in a choral festival at the Mormon Tabernacle in downtown Salt Lake City three years ago. Many of Willis’s congregants are former Mormons and, for some, she said, “it was the first time they had returned to these places since they left the LDS church.” She said it was “a real healing experience for our community.”
Inspired, she and her spouse, Mary Lou Prince, South Valley’s music director, contacted a local LDS church with a strong music program and arranged the first concert by the Valley Singers, a choir made up of as many as seventy UUs and Mormons. Over the last three years, they have performed at special events throughout the area.
“In every community, there’s a divide . . . but when you’re sitting next to someone, being together, singing together is a deep human connection,” she said.
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Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who is also a member of the UU Church of Studio City, California.