‘We preach love over fear’

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 21, 2012

Many church options exist in Salisbury and Rowan County. Still, for those who aren’t drawn to the credal nature of traditional churches, choices are few.
Now, a Unitarian Universalist Church has emerged to flll that void and offer people in Salisbury a different kind of faith community.
The church grew out of Charlotte’s Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, which meets on Sunday mornings. The recently formed Salisbury branch meets at Temple Israel on Brenner Avenue Sunday afternoons.
Among the church’s founding members are Shakeisha and Jason Gray, who had been members of the the Charlotte branch.
They had visited some churches in Salisbury with their three sons, but none felt like a good fit. Shakeisha grew up as a Southern Baptist; Jason was a Lutheran.
“We’re very liberal,” Shakeisha said. “We wanted a place with like-minded individuals, to show our kids we aren’t the only ones who believe like we do.”
The Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church (PUUC) is a very welcoming and diverse congregation, she said.
Along with a few friends, they began to discuss the possibility of a Salisbury congregation earlier this year. They loved the Charlotte PUUC but were frustrated that the drive there prevented them from taking advantage of church activities outside of the Sunday service.
A group began to meet in Salisbury homes; as the numbers grew, they decided it was time to seek a venue.
They reached out to several churches in Salisbury, but Temple Israel was the only one amenable to allowing their facility to be used.
The new church has been meeting at its new site for the past five or six weeks. It’s being led by the Rev. Robin Tanner, who also heads up the PUUC in Charlotte. She travels to Salisbury every Sunday afternoon to lead the 4:30 p.m. service.
“For us, it makes sense to be a satellite or a branch of the larger church,” Gray says. Eventually, though, she says that she’d love to see the church grow enough to get its own space.
Tanner notes that the main branch of PUUC in Charlotte has gown rapidly since she arrived three years ago, burgeoning to almost 230 members from 114.
And now she’s happy to help bring what she calls a “progressive faith” to Salisbury, one that speaks of love and universal salvation.
Last Sunday, nine new members joined the Salisbury branch, almost doubling the number to 20. Tanner said about 15-20 children attend every week, sometimes outnumbering the adults.
“Families are looking for a place to bring their kids …where their kids won’t be taught a gospel of fear but a … gospel of love.”
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, Tanner’s message was about doing the right thing.
“One thing I dare say to you this evening….Friends, love each other, hold each other. Life is fragile. Love each other now.”
Tanner has a master’s degree in divinity from Harvard University. Initially, she had plans to become a community minister or a trauma therapist. She served a year-long residence as a chaplain in a hospital and also did internship work with a church congregation in Boston. Her thoughts about her future began to change.
At the Boston church, Tanner says she was “sort of amazed” and “filled with grace to see what can happen in communities, how communities can heal and offer transformation.
“I saw a potential for people’s lives to be changed, for hearts to be opened,” she says. “That changed everything for me.”
The child of a Buddhist father and liberal Christian mother, with grandmothers who were Catholic and Presbyterian, Tanner’s world view was influenced by the emphasis on social justice at her Catholic school, by her grandmother’s sense of ritual, and by the Buddhist practice of her father.
“I myself identify as a theist, but I have a lot of Buddhist practice still. I understand the importance of ritual.”
The Unitarian Universalist Church, Tanner says, preaches the good news in its oldest form, “that we are all connected by a love beyond our knowing, and in our belief, we come from this place of immense love, and that’s where we’re returning.
“We don’t need to be led by fear, and actually we believe that people can live good lives and be led by love.
“I think that’s good news in these times. You have lot of religion that still is using fear. We preach love over fear.
“We’re not a credal faith; we’re a covenantal faith,” she explained. Many of the world’s religions, including Judiasm, are covenantal, she noted, with “covenant” simply meaning a sacred agreement to be in a relationship. “Together we believe we can be held by that covenant and lead lives by compassion and come closer to creating paradise on earth,” she said.
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote the following seven principles:
“The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The church’s service tomorrow will feature three lessons of Christmas and offer carols, cocoa and cookies.
Tanner says sometimes people are “a little afraid” of what a Unitarian Universalist service will be like.
“In some ways we’re just average — with hot cocoa and cookies and carols,” she said.
There is, of course, a difference in belief.
“We celebrate the teachings of Jesus as a wise teacher,” she said.
“We affirm that every night a child is born is a holy night and a wonderful possibility born into the world of hope and beauty.”

Tomorrow’s service at the Salisbury branch of the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church will be at 4:30 p.m. at Temple Israel, at 1600 Brenner Ave. across from the Hefner VA Medical Center.
On Saturday, Jan. 12, there will be a newcomer orientation. For details, email salisbury@puuc.org