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'Worth and dignity'

  • DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "We all feel it, but everybody calls it something different," says Barbara Poncelet, Schuylkill Haven, a proponent of establishing a Unitarian Universalist Church in Schuylkill County.
    DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "We all feel it, but everybody calls it something different," says Barbara Poncelet, Schuylkill Haven, a proponent of establishing a Unitarian Universalist Church in Schuylkill County.
Published September 16. 2011 05:01PM

Imagine a church that embraces the principle of a world community of peace, liberty and justice people who recognize that wholesome, good-hearted human beings reside in every corner of the globe and share a common sense of spirituality.

Imagine a church that recognizes the goodness in all, and opens its arms to everybody, including all faiths and all individuals, even those who might happen to be atheist or agnostic.

That kind of church one that focuses on what we have in common, not what separates us is becoming a reality in our area. In many ways, Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a concept that breaks the mold in terms of traditional ideas of spirituality, because it recognizes the uniqueness of each person's spiritual journey in ways that are non-judgmental.

"We all feel it, but everybody calls it something different," says Barbara Poncelet, Schuylkill Haven. A home health care nurse supervisor by profession, Poncelet is joining with others in establishing a UU Church based in Cressona, about 18 miles southwest of Tamaqua.

"It's a group of like-minded people who want to put their beliefs into action," says Poncelet, 36, the former Barbara Worchick of Minersville.

The effort is in the very early stages and organizers will soon form a steering committee.

The UU concept emphasizes spirituality and universal values of goodness, acclaiming that every person has inherent worth and dignity.

That's one main principle of members of the Unitarian Universalist Church, and the one forming locally is believed to be the first church of its kind in Schuylkill or Carbon counties.

For starters, it's a church where good people of all faiths are welcome to gather, a church that welcomes wisdom from the world's religions. The UU church's membership includes not only believers, but also nonbelievers. In fact, at least one ordained minister in the UU national roster reportedly is an atheist.

Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth.

The small group of UU enthusiasts received a big boost when Deborah Miller of the Schuylkill Haven area stepped forward and offered use of the former 1852 Methodist Church building, Second and Ash streets, Cressona, a building she happens to own.

"She's a very spiritual person," says Poncelet, who credits Miller for being a driving force behind the new congregation.

The UU concept draws from Jewish and Christian teachings and other world religions. For that reason, some of it might be familiar to people of traditional faith backgrounds. The UU concept isn't new; it originated with the 1961 merger of two denominations, Universalism and Unitarianism, which date back to 1793 and 1825, respectively.

But the UU movement is gaining a foothold in an era where people are becoming more aware of the global community and the responsibility shared by each human for his fellow man and the Earth we inhabit.

Among other UU principles are: an acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within congregations and in society at large; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are part.

The UU movement draws from sources including wisdom of various religions; "direct experience of the transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;" humanist teachings, spiritual teachings and "words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love," according to the UU statement of principles.

Many UU members come from backgrounds in traditional faith communities.

Poncelet said she was born into a Roman Catholic environment but drifted away at an early age. She experienced her first touch of UU through friends while attending the University of Pennsylvania Nursing School.

When she returned to Schuylkill County, Poncelet attended UU services in the Reading area, but felt that others in her home region might welcome the idea of such a church to serve the local population. There is a UU Fellowship of the Poconos in the Stroudsburg area, and a UU church in Bethlehem, but none in Schuylkill or Carbon counties, until now.

While many of the details still need to be hammered out, the group expects to hold services on Sundays in Cressona. Eventually, they hope to address social justice issues and perhaps even tackle important areas that people confront on a daily basis, such as good health and ethical eating.

According to information provided by the Unitarian Universalism Association of Congregations, day-to-day life is the glue that holds the spiritual community together. UU approaches the more 'secular' aspects of congregational life with the same religious intent as its worship. There are religious classes, community activities, and youth and young adult groups and activities.

"We believe it is our deeds, not our creeds, that are most important," states the Association.

Poncelet admires the UU view of the world and its people because it offers a more universal approach to spirituality. For that reason, she says, it seems to be a good fit for our time.

"This just makes sense to me," says Poncelet.

"If you would like to join in the formation of a congregation of people who will support you in your search for meaning and truth with respect for all, please contact me at," she says. "Your input and interest are welcome."

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