First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon: Breakthrough Congregation
Courter then introduced the leaders of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, OR, the third of four Breakthrough Congregations featured at this year's General Assembly. Rev. Marilyn Sewell, senior minister of the congregation, introduced the members of the congregation's ministry staff. She noted that "What sets us apart as a church is the spiritual dimension of inter-connected beings which the congregation nurtures. She said that the church is a place "where people grow spiritually, and then out of that give to the larger world." Sewell said that the congregation supports an invigorating worship program including a vibrant music ministry (the largest such program of any Unitarian Universalist church in the U.S.) which offers five handbell choirs; two children's choirs; and three adult choirs, and noted, "these programs get at the spiritual message differently than spoken word."
The Breakthrough video portrayed a congregation that is safe yet challenging; whose core mission has been to provide a liberal religious voice in Portland since 1867. The congregation is connected with a Social service agency and has been actively engaged in public witness for many years. When the congregation's members decided to put a yellow ribbon around the church to declare it a hate free zone, for instance, the church grew by 40% in one year, attracting many socially liberal people and a significant number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The church regularly participates in Gay pride marches, peace marches, and continues its strong commitment to justice.
The congregation also values its leaders, and allocates funding in its annual budget to train them. The church continues to grow: a new education and community building to serve generations that will follow those currently in the church is nearly complete. It will provide space for religious education programming, and other programs that bring the work of the church into the larger community through the physical space.
The church currently has 1650 members, and its leadership is committed to keeping the church "grounded in the spirit, [living as] a voice for justice."
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