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Learn about Unitarian Church at Sept. 19 meeting

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Dave Seale (centre), Rev. Linda Thomson and Michael McAteer hope you will take some time to learn more about the Unitarian Church at an information meeting in Cobourg on Sept. 19.
CECILIA NASMITH/Northumberland Today

Dave Seale (centre), Rev. Linda Thomson and Michael McAteer hope you will take some time to learn more about the Unitarian Church at an information meeting in Cobourg on Sept. 19. CECILIA NASMITH/Northumberland Today

A liberal church without rigid rules and dogma, one that believes each person should be free to search for his or her own spiritual path and embraces people from all religious backgrounds (including those with none).

That’s the Unitarian Church, and Cobourg resident Michael McAteer said the nearest one is in Peterborough.

In the hopes that a more local one might be feasible, he is joining his friend Dave Seale in helping to organize a Sept. 19 information meeting in Cobourg.

Earlier this summer, the men were joined by Rev. Linda Thomson for a discussion of this particular church.

Its origins were in Germany, McAteer said. Members were persecuted there, and spread out to Europe and North America. It found favour in England with those who rejected the Church of England, he added.

In the modern day, McAteer said, Rev. James Reeb (originally a Presbyterian minister) put the church on the map as one of two white supporters murdered while taking part in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 Civil Rights protest in Selma, Ala. But Thomson said it’s a tradition almost as old as Christianity itself.

It unites those who question the concept of the Trinity to believe that God is One — and that, as a loving Father, He could never condemn His children to eternal punishment.

These are very liberal and off-the-beaten-track traditions that have had varying degrees of support over the years. During Reeb’s time, the schools of thought merged under the name Unitarian Universalist Church.

Thomson said that individual congregations take their own shape. Some may hold beliefs more similar than others to mainstream churches, some may even identify with Eastern or Buddhist traditions.

“I think the thing that makes us unique is we can come together and not fuss about our theological differences,” she stated.

Though it’s called a church, McAteer noted, it may not seem a church experience to someone in attendance.

“The people who attend are free thinkers, a lot of lapsed Catholics or Christians who decided they didn’t agree with dogma,” he said.

“Over the years, it has evolved into a very liberal, accepting, tolerant church. You can believe anything if you want to, or nothing at all.”

The seven covenants it espouses are: the inherent worth and dignity of everyone; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement for each other’s spiritual growth; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; reverence for the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process; the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are part.

Any local resident who wants to attend a Unitarian service must go to Brooklin, Peterborough or Kingston. But Seale said he has been surprised by how many local residents have told him they would consider attending a Unitarian congregation if one were closer to home.

“People want to have a faith community where they live,” he said.

McAteer first encountered the Unitarian Church while working in Chatham, joining a little group that met in a schoolroom in a format that was more discussion group than church service.

Thomson found it as a young mother wanting to be sure her children grew up with some exposure to religion, but not quite satisfied with the United Church.

Seale discovered it as a young man, and felt simultaneously happy and angry — happy that he had found it, but angry that it had taken him until the age of 30 to discover it.

“I think we are called to be curious about that, but not to make judgment on a path that makes sense to someone else,” Thomson said.

“To me, that’s a powerful model for the way we need to be in the world — it’s not about bashing people over the head and saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ but about learning from one another what it is to live a life of meaning and to build a path that feels responsible.

“In some very conservative parts of the world, it feels like a sanctuary to some people,” she stated.

“We are more comfortable with questions than some religions,” Seale said.

“We do better with being open to questions and, sometimes not knowing the answers but being able to discuss it.”

Members will welcome any questions you may have at the Sept. 19 open house, which will run from 7 to 9 p.m. at the in the HTM Insurance room at the Cobourg Community Centre (750 D’Arcy St.).

For more information, call Seale at 289-675-5666.

cnasmith@postmedia.com