What is UU?

A Faith for Our Times

Unitarian Universalism is a rich, historic, unfolding and inclusive approach to thoughtful religious living. It affirms the spiritual truth of all humanity’s varied sacred paths, and its adherents come from a wide variety of religious backgrounds. Rather than demand a common answer to the creedal question, “What do we all believe?”, Unitarian Universalists are brought together by covenantal questions such as “What hopes do we share? What spiritual resources shall we draw upon as we walk together toward the fulfillment of those shared hopes? And how shall we treat one another along the way?” The spirit of Unitarian Universalism is embodied in our Seven Principles and Six Sources.

Today Unitarian Universalism includes people who consider themselves agnostics, atheists, Jews, Catholics and protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, pagans, humanists, skeptics, seekers, and, ultimately, “just friends.” Together we form a diverse religious community that seeks to inspire everyone to transcend personal differences and to find common ground in the common good. We are liberals in both that sense and in keeping an open mind to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places. We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves.  A long history of social justice-seeking that spans abolition and civil rights continues to this day with causes like the freedom to marry movement, environmental justice, and immigration reform.

Voices of a Liberal Faith: A Video Intro to UU


Unitarianism, Universalism and the UUA

Although Unitarian Universalism draws on many religious traditions, it originated in the union of two faith traditions: Unitarianism and Universalism. Unitarianism’s roots go back to the mid-sixteenth century in areas of Poland, Hungary and Transylvania where religious thinkers independently developed the understanding of God as one entity rather than a trinity. Unitarians thus came to regard Jesus as a key spiritual model, but not as divine. Unitarianism gained popularity in England and Wales in the wake of the Enlightenment, and gained a strong foothold in New England in the 18th century as liberal religionists called for a reform of the religion that had prevailed in Puritan times. Over the next two centuries, Unitarianism expanded throughout the US.

The Universalists, on the other hand, believed in universal salvation. Like Unitarianism, Universalist ideas first came to America from England, leading to the founding of the Universalist Church of America in 1793. Universalism was more geographically diverse in its early years than was Unitarianism with early congregations in the South and mid-Atlantic, as well as New England. It was also the more evangelical of the two denominations, and over the years much of its growth came in rural areas of the growing nation’s heartland.

From early on Universalism and Unitarianism shared the basic values of liberal religion. By the 1830s both denominations were drawing on world religions in addition to Christianity. Both groups grew to include humanist voices that held that belief comes from within the person, rather than from some outside authority.  And both Unitarians and Universalists were deeply involved in many of the most important social justice movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. 

In 1961, the two denominations finally merged to form the Unitarian Universalist Association, of which First Parish is a member. Like all Unitarian Universalist congregations, First Parish is self-governed, with authority and responsibility — including the power to call and dismiss our ministers — invested in the membership of the congregation.

The Seven Principles and Six Sources

The spirit of Unitarian Universalism is embodied in seven principles, which we affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

As noted above, the living tradition of Unitarian Universalism draws from many sources. These include:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.