The rule for Unitarian Universalists is that there are virtually no rules.
Yes, there are seven key principles — you can’t believe anything you want, which ministers say is a common misconception about the belief system.
But there is no creed. There is no set explanation for God or the afterlife. Instead, everyone has their own definition.
“It’s about how we live together,” said Eric Banner, associate minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden. “Not what we believe at this moment to be true.”
“Our spirituality is unbounded, drawing from scripture and science, nature and philosophy, personal experience and ancient tradition,” says the Unitarian Universalist Association website.
Banner, originally from Kansas, is a born-and-raised Unitarian Universalist. He said the lack of a creed can be confusing to outsiders, as it doesn’t follow the typical tradition of religions.
To help explain, he thinks back to growing up as a Unitarian Universalist. It was a challenge, he said. Society will tell you what’s valuable — money, nice things, a good job — but being Unitarian Universalist is about taking a step back.
“The story we teach is that it’s primarily first and foremost how we live and love the people around us,” he said.
It’s also about faithfully seeking the truth, although Unitarian Universalists don’t believe they will ever know all the answers.
“What you know about the ultimate, what you know about the essence of life, is a piece of the truth,” he said.
Dave Lukaszewski, of Parker, became a Unitarian Universalist three years ago. The Wisconsin native was raised Catholic, but became distant from religion following college.
“When you’re a kid, you just go along with what your parents do,” he said. “Until you get your own identity.”
Before finding Unitarianism, he explored like-minded faiths.
Lukaszewski, now retired, built a career as an aerospace engineer. In 1981, he and his family moved to Denver. Lukaszewski would eventually meet his second wife, who attended the Mile Hi Church, a spiritual community in Lakewood.
He then helped found the Center for Spiritual Living in Castle Rock, which teaches the Science of the Mind philosophy that religion and science support one another.
While Lukaszewski was still attending the Center for Spiritual Living, his wife attended a service at the Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church in Parker, and afterward convinced Lukaszewski to give it a try.
He loved that they played music and sang hymns, but what really got his attention was an open mic session called “Candles of Community” that allowed people to share with the congregation a joy or a sorrow.
“It’s really a good way to get to know people,” he said. “When I saw this ‘Candles of Community,’ it really inspired me that this may be a place where I can really be with a group of people and really get to know them more than on just a superficial level, just saying `hi’ on Sundays.”
Plus, he said, it was a progressive religion. Everyone had different beliefs, but to them that was fine.
“We learn from each other,” he said. “We can accept the different belief systems and still get along.”
A diverse community
Jann Halloran, minister at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church for 17 years, says the church’s progressive nature is what attracts many to the faith, but it can catch some by surprise.
“When people join our church I make sure they understand that since the 1970s we’ve been supporting gay and lesbian, transgender rights. We have a Black Lives Matter banner in our sanctuary,” she said.
If they’re uncomfortable with that, they may be uncomfortable with other aspects of the community.
“We honor people in their journeys and I know that sometimes we’re not the right fit,” she said.
The American Unitarian Association was founded in 1825, and the Universalist Church of America was founded in 1973. In 1961, the two consolidated, according to the Unitarian Universalist Association. Both churches had roots in Christianity.
Although all Unitarian churches are different, it is a space where different beliefs are respected, members say.
Some members are atheist. Some come from traditional Christian backgrounds, others Buddhism.
Halloran, for example, was raised Southern Baptist but today believes God is not a being or a trinity, but rather a spirit that means something different to each person.
On the political front, Halloran is pro-choice and believes in climate change. And while not all of those in her congregation agree, Unitarian Universalism is a way they can bond nonetheless.
Differences don’t divide Unitarian Universalists, but rather unite them, she said, and it allows progressives to stay connected with their faith.
“If you ever want the liberal religious perspective on something,” she said, “we are the people to contact.”