A First Timer’s Experience at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver

The Vancouver Unitarians subscribe to moral principles, not prophets, deities, or holy books

Unitarian attendees listen to service on Sunday January 11th. (Jayne Wright)

Until I visited the Unitarian Church of Vancouver on Sunday, Jan. 12, I had never been to church. I was not raised to believe in any religious practice or belief system. As I grew older, the concept of religion portrayed in the media was often negative — always committing horrific acts in the name of the church or other religious prophets — and I kept my distance. I believe that many young people feel the same way. We have turned our back to religion and all the negativity it seems to drag along with it.

But naturally, humans are spiritual. We can sense the connectedness that binds us together. We sense the grandness of the outdoors and the natural world, which doesn’t require any subscription to a particular belief system.

That’s why the concept of the Unitarian Church sparked my interest.

Upon entering the church for my first ever church service, I was greeted with warm smiles and introductions.

Before the service started, East Vancouver resident and regular Unitarian Church attendee Doug Ennenberg sat with his coffee in the cafeteria. Ennengberg began going to the church because his mother was a member, but as he started attending more as the service grew on him. Now, he comes every week.

“[Unitarians] don’t have a doctrine,” he says. “There’s no story that we have. It’s not a religion based on belief. It’s based on principle.”

The average service begins in an open concept church with natural light streaming in from large windows. Different works of art hang on the wall. The service begins with a welcome, a song, and an opportunity to shake hands and introduce yourself to the people around you. Some people hug me. Others offer a warm handshake. A candle is lit by minister Steven Epperson, symbolizing love and justice for all. A silent meditation takes place followed by a dialogue on art, creativity, and the influence it has on our lives.

“To worship is to sing with the singing beauty of life,” says Minister Epperson, standing at a podium to the left of an expansive stage.

After the sermon, attendees head to the cafeteria for homemade carrot soup and bread.

Unitarians believe in oneness and are driven by seven principles: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to a spiritual growth in our congregations; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and use if the democratic process within our congregation and in society at large; the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; [and] respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are part.”

The UCV supports the community by doing work in the name of social justice, the environment, refugee support, reconciliation work, and LGBTQ+ equality.

“Unitarians don’t believe in one god,” says Epperson. “Most Unitarians believe that … everything in the cosmos is one thing …. All the beings and things in the universe are one, interdependent and interrelated.”

Sheila Resels is Jewish. The only way for Resels to attend a church other than the synagogue she grew up attending was to find a Unitarian church. She now serves at the board of directors at the UCV.

“I feel honoured to be in such good company. It’s extremely dynamic. It’s very vibrant,” she says.

After my first visit to the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, I gained a new perspective on religion. Each one is diverse and complex. The intent of the UCV is to build a community where people can support each other, their loved ones, and the wider world, and hey — that’s pretty cool.