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By Kieran Slattery

This year, members of more than 570 congregations came together to honor our movement’s shared history and values as part of the fourth annual Association Sunday and the 50th Anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

The theme of Association Sunday this year was Celebrating 50 Years and the Future of Our Faith and was officially held on October 3, 2010.

Congregations all over the country chose innovative ways to honor our faith’s rich past, while celebrating our faith community’s promising future.

In York, PA, the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation of York welcomed roughly 500 people from surrounding congregations including York, Gettysburg, Lancaster, and State College for a collaborative Association Sunday service that included congregational songs, prayers, a children's story about the need to let love replace negative feelings, and featured UUA President Peter Morales as the keynote speaker. He addressed the importance of dreams, and how in our past and present, people have stood together and dreamed of strengthening our faith.

"Religion begins with the heart," he said. "Just look at how much stronger we are together."

Members of the North Parish of North Andover, MA also wanted to celebrate and recognize the importance of connections among our many congregations. During their Association Sunday service, the Rev. Lee Bluemel asked congregants to shout out names of other congregations that have inspired them or that they have connected with in some way.

“People got very enthusiastic about calling out the names of those cities and congregations!” said Carolyn Zimmer, Membership Coordinator. “That helped field a personal connection.” Attendees recognized congregations as far south as Plano, TX, as far north as Victoria, British Columbia, and everywhere in between.

In addition, as part of a congregation-wide push to make Sunday services more inclusive for children, church leaders held a special youth activity where children sent “postcard blessings” to congregations with which they felt a strong connection.

Each card read:

Dear UUs: We're so glad that, like us, you are Unitarian Universalists! We're so glad that we're connected! Your congregation was named, remembered and blessed during our services on Association Sunday 2010 because you had a profound impact on someone among us. Thank you for keeping our faith alive where you are!”

The children personalized the postcards with hand-crafted messages and drawings, and distributed them to more than 30 congregations across the country and Canada.

Rev. Bluemel explained to the children that as they grow up and move to other parts of the world, they will likely find another congregation that is as familiar and welcoming as theirs.

“The congregation might look different, it might be bigger or smaller, but the people there will sing a lot of the same songs, and they’ll light a chalice, and they’ll like to think and talk about religion in the same way that we do,” she said.

Several of the postcard recipients have already called North Parish to thank them for their kindness and generosity.

“I think that the postcard activity helped create an awareness of a connection amongst all the members in the helped make it more tangible and more real,” Zimmer said.

In another state, at another congregation, members were recognizing the connection between us at a more theological and fundamental level.

As part of their Association Sunday celebration and in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Association, the Unitarian Church of Davenport, IA’s Bylaws Committee moved to include “Universalist” in the church’s name. The church was originally founded in June 1868 as the First Unitarian Church in Davenport; 142 years later, it will now be referred to as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities (UUCQC).

The decision, a reconstruction of the congregation’s bylaws, marked the culmination of more than a year’s worth of sermons, education, and Town Hall Meetings about Universalism and its history.

Interim Minster at UUCQC, the Rev. Mary Moore, said she felt it was appropriate that the decision was made on Association Sunday, in time for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the UUA which recognizes the successful consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America that took place in 1961.

The pivotal decision honored Association Sunday by marking the historic merging of two faith communities to become one, and celebrating the common bonds and purposes that bring us together.

At the local and national level, our modern faith honors the gifts of both traditions and brings them into an effective balance of head and heart, social action and spirituality, and individual freedom and community responsibility.

Visit our website to read additional Association Sunday sermons and stories from congregations across the country.

Each year, congregations like UUCQC , North Parish, the UU Congregation of York, and many more exemplify the meaning of Association Sunday by deepening their connections and affirming their faith, and by raising funds that help us grow and flourish as a movement.

To date, congregations have raised more than $220,000 during their Association Sunday services, which will go support the Leap of Faith pilot program and 50th anniversary celebrations at General Assembly. Leap of Faith aims to encourage and support growth in UU congregations wherein congregations that aspire to grow are matched with “mentoring” congregations that have experienced similar issues and challenges.

If you missed your congregation’s Association Sunday service, you can make a secure, tax-deductible gift online now and credit your gift to your congregation’s total!

The Rev. Stephan Papa, Special Assistant to the President for Growth Funding, writes, “The UUA connects us to each other and we hope that everyone takes one Sunday a year to celebrate that connection…it can be a spiritually fulfilling, empowering experience to know we’re not alone.”

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