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UU church combines many faiths and arrives at liberty

Published February 23, 2007


Drawing upon many faith-based traditions, Unitarian Universalists welcome and encourage open dialogue.

That's what attracted consulting pastor Alec Craig, a onetime Congregational church member who drifted away from organized religion in his late teens, and joined the Unitarian Universalist church at 30.

It's what attracted Tobi Weisbond of New Port Richey, who was raised Jewish and still considers herself culturally Jewish but attends the Spirit of Life church.

Tolerance, personal exploration and individual choice are hallmarks of the Unitarian Universalist faith, and this Sunday will be no different, as Spirit of Life devotes the morning to a discussion about Islam.

The guest speaker at the 11 a.m. service will be Ahmed Bedeir, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations in Tampa.

The church invited Bedeir to provide a Muslim's perspective on the intolerance endured by many Muslims in the United States today, and because many Americans are ignorant about Islam, Craig said.

"This is an excellent opportunity for all of us to ask questions, to be informed," Craig said.

"It's important for us to not only bring everyone to the table, but also to sit with them and listen."

Such exchanges reflect the Unitarian Universalists' principles of faith, which emphasize humanistic concepts such as justice, equality, compassion and peace.

Those principles extend to same-sex marriages, which Craig has performed and which are common in Unitarian Universalist churches. "We believe if one person has the right to chose who to marry, so should the next," he said.

Unitarian Universalist teachings come from many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism.

While the Bible is revered, it is not the basis for the religion. "It's a marvelous collection of writings, but it's not the absolute authority for us," said Craig, 70.

Weisbond is one of the original members of Spirit of Life, having helped form the church nine years ago. The 58-year-old claims adjuster joined the UU church almost 40 years ago, after being raised Jewish.

"I'm still a Jew," Weisbond said. "I consider myself a cultural and an ethnic Jew, but my spirituality is in Unitarian Universalism."

Weisbond said she felt constricted within the Judaism she learned, whereas in the UU church she has been able to explore all kinds of beliefs without anyone telling her what might be acceptable or unacceptable.

Each member of the church, she said, is pursuing an individual search for spiritual meaning, and nothing is cast in concrete.

"My spirituality is a living thing," she said. "It changes as I change and learn more."

A typical service is not altogether different than some Christian services, in that it includes hymns, meditations, a children's story and a sermon.

One noticeable difference comes at the beginning of the service, with the lighting of a chalice.

"It's the symbol for the Unitarian Universalists," Craig said. "Faith is to provide light and warmth for the people, and that is what we see and feel in the lighting of the chalice."

Send religion news to Sheryl Kay at or call 813 230-8788.

Fast Facts:


Spirit of Life

Services are held at Spirit of Life, at 18412 Burrell Road in Odessa, from 11 a.m. to noon Sundays. Ahmed Bedeir's presentation is free and open to the public. For more information, call the church at (813) 792-1622.


[Last modified February 22, 2007, 08:16:48]

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