..The Intuitive Times
Spiritual Practices


Unitarians and Universalists: U.Us

by Bunty Albert

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The Unitarians and Universalists are a religious community that supports individuals in their search for truth and meaning.


The Unitarians and Universalists are a religious community that supports individuals in their search for truth and meaning. Our fellowships and congregations provide a haven for those who reject creeds and dogmas but seek an open exploration of religion and spirituality. Ours is a life-affirming religion with values validated in this life, not in some place of future reward or punishment.
Assent to a creed or statement of belief is not required by any person joining a Unitarian society. Members readily accept the obligation to seek out truth for themselves and to follow that truth. They trust people's ability to build their own faith and believe people should be encouraged to think for themselves.
Unitarians recognize that people will differ in their opinions and lifestyles. They hold that these differences should be not only accepted but genuinely supported, for each of us needs freedom to grow in ways that will encourage a similar freedom for all others to reach their own highest potentialities. ( UP Principles and Sources.)


Unitarians and Universalists have always been heretics. We are heretics because we want to choose our faith, not because we desire to be rebellious. "Heresy" in Greek means "choice." During the first three centuries of the Christian church, believers could choose from a variety of tenets about Jesus. Among these was a belief that Jesus was an entity sent by God on a divine mission. Thus the word "Unitarian" developed, meaning the oneness of God. Another religious choice in the first three centuries of the Common Era (CE) was universal salvation. This was the belief that no person would be condemned by God to eternal damnation in a fiery pit. Thus a Universalist believed that all people will be saved. Christianity lost its element of choice in 325 CE when the Nicene Creed established the Trinity as dogma. For centuries thereafter, people who professed Unitarian or Universalist beliefs were persecuted.

The origins of the "modern" Unitarian movement lie in 16th-century Europe. New patterns of thinking emerged in the Renaissance, beginning in Italy, while further north the Protestant Reformation affirmed the right of private judgement in matters of religion. But the established authorities, whether Catholic or Protestant, set boundaries beyond which thinking was not to venture.

A few independent thinkers became the founders of the Unitarian movement. Mostly Italians, they had to leave their homeland if they valued their lives. They took refuge in what were then the most tolerant countries in Europe: Poland and Transylvania. There they joined with indigenous fellow-thinkers to establish congregations. In Poland, the forces of reaction killed the movement after a century, but in Transylvania (now part of Romania) it has maintained its existence, usually under very adverse conditions, down to the present.

The first edict of religious toleration in history was declared in Transylvania in 1568 during the reign of the first and only Unitarian king, John Sigismund. The king's court preacher, Frances David, who had converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism to Calvinism and finally to Unitarianism because he could find no biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, argued that people should be allowed to choose among faiths. He said, "We need not think alike to love alike."

The freedom to make religious choices became central to both Unitarianism and Universalism. As early as the 1830s, both groups were studying and promulgating texts from world religions other than Christianity. By the beginning of the twentieth century, humanists within both traditions advocated that people could be religious without believing in God. No one person, no one religion, can embrace all religious truths.


Early Unitarians produced a literature which circulated widely throughout Europe. In England the works of influential thinkers like John Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, John Milton and many others resulted in the emergence of Unitarian congregations and national associations in England, Ireland and New England.
These eighteenth-century movements had a direct influence in Canada. Immigrants brought their Unitarian and Universalist views with them. In 1811, the earliest Unitarians in "Canada" settled in St. John's, Newfoundland. During the 1800's and into the first half of the 1900's the "nonconforming" church in the Maritimes was mainly Universalist. In 1832 the first Unitarian Congregation began in Montreal and in 1891 the First Icelandic Unitarian Church in Winnipeg was established.

By the middle of the twentieth century it became clear that Unitarians and Universalists in America could have a stronger liberal religious voice if they merged their efforts, and they did so in 1961, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). In the same year, pressure for a national association resulted in the establishment of the Canadian Unitarian Council -- Conseil Unitarien du Canada (CUC), with very strong ties to and dependency on the UUA. In 2002, the CUC severed almost all its ties to the UUA.


An inclusive theology was a lasting impetus to both Unitarians and Universalists to create a more just society. Many became active participants in social justice movements. In the U.S.A., UUs were abolitionists and defended fugitive slaves. One reformer was Clara Barton, the Civil War "angel of the battlefield," who founded the American Red Cross. Others became active in the civil rights movement. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, was murdered in Selma, Alabama, after responding to Martin Luther King's call to march for justice. UUs were, and are, vocal antiwar protesters.

Today, in Canada, CUC and its member congregations are actively involved in these issues: alternatives to drug prohibition, choice in dying, economic justice, environment, First Nations justice, gender and sexual diversity (previously gay and lesbian rights), globalization, peace and racism


If you are looking for a religious community in which to seek spiritual growth, if you are eager to consider religious questions with people who are not always sure they have the answers, if you seek the fellowship of others for celebration and worship, friendship and mutual support and if you want to preserve and extend the traditions of personal freedom and human dignity please contact us.

The Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC) is the umbrella organization of Unitarian, Universalist and UU religious communities in Canada. http://www.cuc.ca For more information about the Unitarian Fellowship of Prince Edward Island call Dave at 569-2265 or Bunty at 651-3612. Or e-mail ufpei@canada.com or bunty@isn.net

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