Having grown up in a predominantly white, republican town during the 90’s, Christianity was pretty much an expected belief system. My mother brought me up in the Episcopalian faith, attending Saint Stephen’s Episcopal church in Waretown every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. However, I began a lifelong struggle with religion at the age of 9 when my Sunday School teacher told me my father was going to hell for being an Atheist. This declaration was the catalyst for my initial rejection of religion.
Although I don’t personally believe in any specific religion, I’ve always recognized the pros of being involved with a church. Generally, houses of worship provide a sense of community, activities and events, support and aid, and perhaps foremost; hope. So, when I recently discovered the Unitarian Universalist community right here in Ocean County, I was immediately intrigued. As a self-proclaimed agnostic atheist, I did not think there would ever be a church that welcomed me to openly philosophize on religion and spirituality.
The Unitarian Universalist Ocean County Congregation’s cite that their mission is to: Embrace the Soul, Embolden the Spirit, Enrich the Community. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Barbara Antolick, the acting President of the UUOCC, to learn more about the religion.
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According to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s website, their beliefs are “diverse and inclusive. We have no shared creed. Our shared covenant (our seven Principles) supports the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Unitarian Universalists believe more than one thing. We think for ourselves, and reflect together, about important questions.” Antolick expanded, “Everyone is welcome at UUOCC. We don’t discriminate. Everyone has their own spiritual journey that they are on and we are here to support them in any way that we can.”
The Unitarian Universalist Ocean County Congregation (UUOCC) has been in existence for 34 years. The group first met at Murray Grove in Lanoka Harbor, which is the birthplace of Universalism in the United States, starting in 1983. “Our services offer a variety of opinions and practices that reflect our tradition of a free pulpit. We’ve had service topics include: Baseball, Autism, Tattoos, Gardening, a Sunrise service, a Labyrinth service, Flower Communion, Water Communion, Fire Communion, and Poetry Sunday, just to name a few,” Barbara commented.
As President of the Board of Trustees, Barbara oversees the congregation. Every Sunday the UUOCC holds services every at 10:30AM. During this time, the church holds a “Religious Education” for children. Barbara expands, “Each Sunday a member of the congregation works/plays with the children while promoting our Seven Principles:
1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The UUOCC also offers a wide array of events and programs including: Dream Circle, Meditation, Wrangle Brook Community Garden, and Book Club. Additionally, the church is very involved in activism. “We have a very active Social Justice Committee that seems to work around the clock. Our congregation supports the Interfaith Hospitality Network, all local food banks, the Community Garden, and Homeless concerns, again just to name a few”
The Wrangle Brook Community Garden is the church’s newest enterprise, and is available to all local residents. Residents are offered the opportunity to cultivate their own vegetables and flowers. There will also be a common area to grow produce that will be donated to local food banks.
With this religion being fairly new, (the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association consolidated in 196), I was curious as to how receptive the general public has been. “People often “disapprove” of our religion because they don’t understand it. Many of the skeptics usually join us for at least one Sunday to see what we’re all about. Many of them wind up becoming members. My advice to everyone reading this, if you don’t understand, just ask,” Barbara commented. For more information on the UUOCC, go to their website: http://www.uuocc.org.