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Rooted and growing

The Unitarian Universalist Association celebrates its golden anniversary.
By Christopher L. Walton
Summer 2011 5.15.11

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UUA logo, c.2005 (Bob Delboy)

Unitarian Universalist Association logo, 2005 (Bob Delboy)

Our religious tradition was not planted yesterday. Its roots go deep: Forty-one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s congregations are at least 300 years old. Many of our denominational institutions were first set up in the nineteenth century, including our publishing enterprises, one of our seminaries, and the delegate assembly we know as the General Assembly. The Universalists first began organizing themselves into something like a denomination in 1793; the American Unitarian Association was established in 1825. Many of the core values and religious ideas championed throughout Unitarian and Universalist history have even older origins, in Christianity, Judaism, and classical antiquity, as well as in other ancient faith traditions from around the world. We have venerable roots.

For a tradition with old roots, we are also a young religious movement. This year marks the UUA’s golden anniversary—the fiftieth year since the consolidation of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America into the new Unitarian Universalist Association. In fifty years, a new religious identity has emerged: “We’re UUs,” most of us now say. We have developed distinctive rites—the water ceremony and flower communion, for example—and symbols, such as the flaming chalice. We’re new enough that we remain unsure of our relationship to our parent traditions, sometimes proudly invoking them, sometimes treating them like irrelevant anachronisms. We’re still finding our way.

As religious liberals, we Unitarian Universalists don’t treat our institutions as divine. Far from it. But they belong to us and are the product not only of the Universalist and Unitarian leaders who shaped the UUA fifty years, but also of choices you and I make today.

In the essays that follow, longtime UU leaders look back on a few of the key moments in the UUA’s first fifty years. New UU leaders share some of their hopes for the future. The General Assembly in June will mark the Association’s golden anniversary with celebrations, worship services, lectures, and exhibits. Learn more at UUA.org/50th.

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