A Short History of Unitarian Universalism

How did we come to have this mouth-full of a name, Unitarian Universalism? We have such a long name because we are the result of a merger between the Unitarians and the Universalists in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Unitarianism has a long history in the United States that includes being at the forefront of the movement for the separation of church and state in the 1700s. Unitarianism got its name from the assertion that God is one being, not three beings. Their rational approach to religion was highly influential among American intellectuals in the 1800s and early 1900’s. Unitarian roots in Europe and England can be traced back to the 1500’s. Universalism began in England and was brought to America by the Rev. John Murray in 1770. The Universalist theology, which claimed that all would be saved by God and go to heaven, was very popular in the US in more rural and working class communities. Both denominations changed a great deal over time and finally came together because of the similarity of their commitment to freedom, reason, and tolerance in matters of religion. A Very Brief Description of the UU Faith The Unitarian Universalist faith is hard to sum up, especially if you try to use traditional religious categories. “Do UUs believe in God?” someone will ask. And the proper answer is: some do, some don’t, and some would say, well, that depends how you define God. “Do UUs believe in Heaven and Hell?” Some do, some do not, many simply don’t know or have decided that isn’t the critical question. What sort of a religion is this that has no unifying answers to such basic questions? Here is my working definition of Unitarian Universalism: UUs are people who gather in religious community to support and encourage one another on the human journey. We use the tools of freedom, reason, and respect to support the internal and contemplative search for truth and meaning; and, the external and prophetic embodiment of love and compassion for the world. There are four major components in that definition: community, method, beliefs, and action. Each of these is important and together they create the distinct though hard-to-define thing that is Unitarian Universalism.

~ by Rev. Jill Terwilliger, Interim Minister, UUCEL, 2002-2004