For the first nineteen years of my life, I attended three religious services a week as part of a fundamentalist organization. It’s a rare Sunday now that finds me inside a church, but Melani assured me the First Unitarian in Ottawa would be worth the visit. Since Trev and I were spending the night after the truck rally at the home of a friend who is a UU member, we decided to tag along with her on Sunday morning.
The religious buildings of my youth were nondescript (read: ugly) square boxes with no windows. The Ottawa UU does it right. Designed in the late ’60s, the church is built high, up a long flight of shallow stairs to a concrete terrace. One can see directly into the sanctuary, through two walls of red-cedar-framed windows. There is no vestibule; rather, one steps from the bright, tree-sheltered terrace directly into the worship hall.
The ceiling stretches into the sky, following the line of the steeple. It is filled with aged cedar and sunlight streams onto the platform, illuminating the speaker and pianist.
If he were the type to feel comfortable at a Unitarian service, God would fit in here. The sanctuary is designed for higher thoughts. The long, cushioned pews are just soft enough that one may relax and just hard enough that one won’t fall asleep. Not that falling asleep is a danger: The service is designed to keep you moving, singing, greeting those around you. I’m not a fan of saying hello to strangers, but it somehow works in this space.
The service was bittersweet, being the congregation’s last day with a highly respected interim minister.
“As an interim, I don’t think I’m supposed to fall in love,” he told the almost-packed hall. More than two-thirds of the people there were wearing bow ties, his signature accessory. He smiled and told them: “I have fallen in love with you.”
Apparently the congregation has gone through some very big changes in the past year or so, but whatever shadow had hung over them seems to have passed. It was the warmest, most pleasant Sunday morning I have experienced in a long time.
This is one UU group that has truly earned the designation of a Welcoming Congregation.