Happy Earth Day! The thermometer hit 72 degrees, making it our warmest day of the year so far. Warm and sunny weekend days feel almost magical in Seattle. Everywhere you go, people are smiling and looking around like they can’t believe their great luck.
On this gorgeous morning, Kidlet and I continued our exploration of Seattle-area UU communities and set out for Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Church (SUUC), which is a 20-minute drive north of us. Circumstances have kept us from getting to another congregation since our visit to University Unitarian Church almost a month ago, and I was itching to go. I know a few young adults (18-35 year olds in UU parlance) who attend SUUC, and one of them suggested attending today because the new minister they were hoping to call to the church would be preaching in the pulpit.
We arrived ten minutes early, and found parking easily in the lot. The church grounds have several buildings on them. The main building houses the sanctuary, offices, kitchen, and nursery. The grounds include a fountain, orchard, play structure, and picnic tables. Coming from a large downtown church in Portland that had no outdoor space apart from two stone courtyards, this felt like a wonderful indulgence to me.
The front hall was buzzing with cheerful people, and I ran into one of my pals just inside the sanctuary. I hadn’t seen him in a year, so we embraced. I was happy to see his face. We aren’t close, but he is one of the best people I know. Kidlet and I took a seat near the front of the stage because I knew this church practiced “Together Time,” which is where the minister (or children’s religious education director) tells a story “for all ages” in the first part of the service. We were soon joined by my friend and his wife, and a few other young adults. I noticed at the back of the sanctuary there were a few small folding tables set up with chairs – several teens and older adults occupied some of those seats. I have never before seen tables set up in a sanctuary, and found this intriguing (and ingenious, actually).
After the piano prelude, the service was opened with a greeting from a member of the search committee (the committee responsible for bringing a ministerial candidate to the congregation). The service was led by ministerial candidate Kate Landis. Kate looks young for a minister – I’m guessing she’s about my age, not quite a young adult anymore, but still youthful in spirit and energy. After guiding us through the welcome song (“Enter, Rejoice and Come In”), responsive reading, chalice lighting, and another song (“When Our Heart is in a Holy Place”), Kate told the story of “The Mountain That Loved a Bird.” I usually zone out on these storytellings two minutes in because they are often convoluted or seem precious and politically correct. This time I paid attention, and the story was a good one. Kate had learned it by heart, so when she retold it, it was natural. She was able to be demonstrative because she wasn’t holding a book in her hands. The children pantomimed bits of it along with her. The story was so good I actually remember it, and retold it to Kidlet later. I usually forget those stories immediately.
Meanwhile, Kidlet was having a great time. At one point she started singing “When Our Heart is in a Holy Place” along with us, which made me tearful. I enjoyed having her present for some part of the service; that’s important to me. She liked participating with us – standing when we stood, singing when we sang, and “ooh”ing when the chalice was lit. When the story for all ages began, she ran and was the first to the front. When Together Time was over and we sang the children out to “This Little Light of Mine,” she followed the others out the sanctuary doors without any thought to me. I had to go find her and get her into the proper classroom for the rest of the service.
All in all, the worship service was good. It felt a bit choppy at times with its many short components, but it never felt dull. I have a tough time with transitions, but I have a tougher time staying focused, so the program kept my mind from wandering. The music was nice, though it cannot be compared to the stellar musical program at University Unitarian or at my prior congregation in Portland (which has at least three choirs). That seems to be a typical trade-off with smaller and/or suburban congregations. But the congregants got to sing four songs, which I liked, because learning the songs in the hymnal is important to me. SUUC also does a silent meditation in the Sunday service, which I appreciate.
Kate’s sermon had that familiar UU flavor, humor, and delivery. She tied in the themes of some of the songs we sang, the story she shared in Together Time, and the readings. She told us a bit about herself – where she’s from, and how she found UUism, and why she became a UU. There wasn’t much direct theology in it, but it had a mindful message about welcoming and honoring each other. It felt fitting for this congregation, which embodied those things today.
After the service, Kidlet and I were greeted by many people, and it was never awkward. I found people to be sincere, genuinely glad to meet us. Honestly, folks seemed downright extroverted compared to any other UU congregation I’ve ever been to. I didn’t feel like anyone was walking on eggshells with me or talking to me because they were responding to reports of poor “visitor return rates.” People made eye contact and smiled with teeth showing, yeah that was kind of amazing. The food in Coffee Hour was very nice – cookies, fruit, gluten free crackers, pretzels, cheese, artisan bread, carrots. After 15 minutes, I retired with Kidlet to the orchard while the congregation went on with the process of voting to select Kate as their new minister.
While we sat out on a picnic bench in the sun, resting, a little girl wearing a member name tag came out and joined us. Katherine is seven years old and resembles one of my best friends. She quietly talked with me and Kidlet about what she did in RE today (something to do with Beatrix Potter), and made dandelion food with Kidlet in the grass. Little Katherine was like the icing on the cake – a fabulous ambassador of her church. The three of us spent about half an hour outside together.
My initial impression of SUUC is that it is down-to-earth, a good balance of intellect and heart, youth friendly (youth have voting rights, and some actually attend services, adults spoke of them as fellow congregants), and possesses a strong spirit of fellowship. There seems to be a tight-knit community, but it didn’t feel exclusive. There was a prevailing sense of expansion and openness. As I looked around the sanctuary and the grounds I thought about the work needed to maintain and further beautify the church (not just physically), and it felt like there was space for me and Kidlet there.
Who knows, maybe everyone was so warm and on their best behavior because it was a blissfully lovely day and the start of a new chapter of congregational life with Kate Landis being brought on. We moved to Seattle just as my old church had completed the process of bringing on a new minister; I left before he ever took the pulpit, so visiting SUUC was a bit like going through one magician’s hat and popping out of another.
I guess we’ll have to go back again soon to make sure today wasn’t a fluke!