If my visit to the to was heading to familiar ground, my latest visit to was a trip to, well, somewhat familiar ground.
During my time in a small Maine town, I started alternating my Sunday mornings between the Congregational and Unitarian churches. Both had their pluses, but I eventually went with regular attendance at the former. It was nothing against the Unitarian services; I just couldn’t get used to heading into church at 11:30 a.m., a time at which I'd grown accustomed to leaving a service.
All Souls has a similarly late start, although there’s a second service for the early birds. Heading into the lobby of the newer, more modern building—the home of the congregation for only the past five years or so, after a move from the older Huntington Street building—members have a table set up to greet new visitors right off. After getting a name tag, program, and newsletter, I was led past several offices and classrooms to the main sanctuary.
This is an inviting space, lit mostly by large windows and a pyramid-shaped skylight (which has an Earth flag and chains of paper cranes hanging beneath it). The front is more of a musical stage than a pulpit, and the wall behind it has a colorful mural that is open to interpretation. To me, it kind of looks like a sunset.
The service I chose to attend was somewhat atypical. Entitled “Earth in Song: A Celebration of Earth Day,” it consisted almost entirely Earth-themed music. One song replicated a thunderstorm, complete with rain sticks and flashing lights. Another, the “All Souls Earth Cantata,” put together a song based on verses offered by the congregation during the collection.
Nory Oakes, a member since 2009, told me that services usually consist of a more traditional set of songs, readings, and a sermon. The reading at this service steered clear of any traditional religious text, focusing instead on a passage by transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. This exemplifies the All Souls mission, which is to encourage spiritual development by creating “a welcoming, caring, justice-seeking community within and beyond these walls.”
“I like that I can be here as a Unitarian Universalist Christian and worship alongside Buddhists and humanists and pagans,” said Oakes.
Dave Opperman, Oakes’ husband and a member since 2010, said he also considered the church to be very open-minded.
“As long as you’re respectful, you’re welcome,” he said.
Andy Derr, a member since 1990, said he grew up as the son of an Episcopalian minister but was dissatisfied with that church’s theology. He said he considers the Unitarian church to have the same sense of common purpose, goals, and spiritual inquisitiveness without the theology.
“I’m constantly being challenged, spiritually and intellectually,” said Derr.
The All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation has services at 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. on Sundays.