Looking for a House of non-Worship
February 10, 2011 6:53 AM   Subscribe

I would like to belong to a church. Except, you know, without all that annoying God stuff. Where do I find one?

I really admire the things that some/many Churches do. Not so much the Westboro Baptist shit or the anti-abortion protests or other hateful or intolerant activities, but the stuff that's more affirming.

A couple of things recently have really brought home the value of churches as a community:

I was at a meeting about my new condo building, which took place in a church, and a member of the church asked to speak to us about the church, in hopes that we'd consider joining when we moved. She went on to list about 20 different things that the church was involved in -- afterschool programs for kids, job seeker support, ESL classes, all sorts of things. She also talked about their worship community and social activities and community. And it all sounded really ... nice. I would like to go somewhere on a regular basis to meet with nice people, and get involved with their nice projects.

My aunt is very sick, and her congregation is keeping her family fed with regular drop-offs of frozen dinners that they've prepared, and her pastor will either drive her husband to the hospital or get someone else in the congregation to do it at any time. The idea of being a part of a community that will step up to support you, that will make the offer of help without waiting to be asked, is all pretty compelling.

I find the structure of church really appealling. I use to wrap my social life up in my job -- I donated money through the employee charitable fund, I sat on the employee social committee, I joined the employee curling league. And then I left that job and I wrapped my life up in Meetup -- running groups, joining groups, making friends there. But while Meetup has been awesome, and I love my friends, it doesn't have quite the element of stability of community (since every meetup group is different) or long term activities (since they're general one-off events) or personal service that attracts me to church. I mean, I could go out and volunteer on my own, but I don't ever get around to it, whereas I feel like there'd be enough social pressure and easy opportunities to contribute in a church-like setting to overcome my inertia. I also like the actual rituals of churches -- the combination of music, personal reflection, that thing they do where you turn to greet each person around you and wish them well, even the idea of a weekly lecture that offers wisdom to help you live your life.

The problem for me, though, is that I don't believe in God. I don't particularly want to believe in God, and I don't think I could believe in God even if I did want to -- I'm just not wired for believing in things. I actually think believing in God is pretty silly and irrational, though I do try not to make that point to my friends who do believe.

I've looked at the websites for the Unitarian Universalists and the Secular Humanists, and I'm not sure if either is right for what I'm looking for. But maybe you've been involved with either group and can tell me more?

The UU website mentions religion an awful, awful lot. They're explicit about accepting athiest members, but it still feels like the framework is all *very* God-oriented and based in spirituality and religion, and that's just not me. That said, they seem to offer all the other community structure, social action and such that I'm interested in.

The Humanists on the other hand, seem a little lacking in community structure and good works. Maybe there's more of that than it looks like initially, but the overarching impression I get from the website is that they mostly just talk about stuff once a week, but don't necessarily actually do anything.

I looked into HAT once before, and it seemed like they spent a lot of time congratulating themselves for not believing in God, which seems even more tedious and silly than actually believing in God. There seems to be less of that, and more of a focus on the world around them in the more recent stuff on their website which is a plus. I'm not opposed to the occasional anti-God wank, but it's not much to build a lifestyle around.

Are there other options in Toronto? Have you attended UU or Humanist events/churches in Toronto and can tell me more about them and how they fit with what I've described above? Are different UU congregations different? Are there other Humanist groups besides HAT?

What about service organizations? I've always admired Rotary, for example, but you can't just join a Rotary club because you want to, and I find the exclusivity of it a little off-putting. Plus, you know, they haven't asked me to join. Are there organizations like that which are more broadly welcoming?
posted by jacquilynne to Religion & Philosophy (40 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you have identified a bunch of great options - why don't you go check them out?

I know for a fact that the UU and Humanists do not enforce a lifetime membership if you were curious and just attending a service and/or meeting, and spoke to some leaders and community members.
posted by RajahKing at 6:58 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe you're looking for something like the Religious Society of Friends, aka Quakers.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:59 AM on February 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

If it's the service/community stuff you're after, what about Kiwanis International or the Lions Club?
posted by jquinby at 7:03 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It sounds like you have identified a bunch of great options - why don't you go check them out?

I get anxious about new social situations. I will eventually check things out in person, but I would prefer to know more about them before I do. If I can get a rundown on how they'd fit my needs from the safety of teh innartubes, that would help.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:05 AM on February 10, 2011

I'm atheist and went to a UU church for a time. Nothing about God was ever mentioned in the services.
posted by something something at 7:06 AM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

You might check out the Lions or Kiwanis. I'm not a member of either, but a number of friends in my community are in the Kiwanis and they do good work.

(I didn't realize until looking up links that the Kiwanis apparently have an emphasis on helping children/youth.)
posted by usonian at 7:06 AM on February 10, 2011

I'm afraid that most churches* are pretty much theistic by definition. Theism is kind of the raison d'être for organizations that call themselves churches. Now you can certainly find groups, like the Unitarian Universalists, who won't give you a hard time about not being theistic, but you aren't likely to find any non-theistic churches as such, though it is possible to find some that don't talk about it much. That's going to be a pretty case-by-case basis though. Unitarian Universalism does contain theism within its broader tradition--atheism and agnosticism too, to be sure--and the extent to which each is present in your local UU community probably has to be figured out by trial and error.

I wouldn't discount service organizations just yet. Rotary is "invitation only" in theory, but as long as you meet the relevant criteria you can ask for an invitation. Lions Clubs and Kiwanis, as mentioned above, don't even have that high a barrier. But I'm not given to understand that these groups have the same kind of internal community structure that you seem to be looking for. Rotaract/Lions/Kiwanis groups do a lot of service in the community, but I don't hear much about them going out of their way to take care of their own. It's just not that kind of thing, as far as I can tell. The groups are pretty self-consciously not intended to be a replacement for a church, as many of the members actually have their own church communities. Which is something else you may have to deal with; people generally only belong to a maximum of one church, but service organizations and the like are viewed as being "stackable," as it were. Still, YMMV, particularly across regions, different Rotary/Lions/Kiwanis chapters are probably just as varied as different congregations in the same tradition. Worth a look, anyway.

You might consider looking into other religions too. Buddhists, for example, tend not to be all that excited about theism one way or the other. You might consider looking up a local temple and seeing what's up. Then again, as a distinct religious minority, a lot of Buddhist communities may operate on the basis of shared culture/language/ethnicity at least as much as any kind of ideological foundation, so that might present its own kind of de facto barrier to entry. Still worth looking into.

Lastly, and I hesitate to mention this, but might it not be worth asking yourself whether or not the thing you like about churches might actually have something to do with the fact that most church members are theistic? Particularly if you're having a hard time finding what you're looking for anywhere else? It needn't even necessarily mean that theism is true; it could just be that you happen to like the practical consequences of theistic belief. I'm not going to argue this point here, just throwing it out there.

*If we are using "church" in its traditional sense, i.e. organizations that self-describe as "Christian" in some sense.
posted by valkyryn at 7:17 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

UU churches vary quite widely in how much God talk they use. Some never use any, and some aren't far off Episcopalian. You just need to go see for yourself. (FWIW, I think that the heavy emphasis on God/spirituality/religion from the UUA organization is something of a reaction to the 70's and 80's when people in the denomination were a lot more hostile towards Christianity on the whole. It's also an attempt to appeal to people who don't fall squarely in the white/upper-middle-class/intellectual demographic.)
posted by Daily Alice at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

UU churches tend to vary a lot in their approach to theism. Some are more Christian, some are more rationalist/atheist, some are more earth religion pagan. I'd assume that there are more than one UU church in Toronto, you might want to shop around a bit.

Personally, I'm an atheist UU but haven't been attending so many services in the last few years due to the Pagan/Wikkan stuff that I just can't cope with.
posted by octothorpe at 7:21 AM on February 10, 2011

Seconding the Quakers. Although many Quakers consider themselves Christians, many others also consider themselves atheists ("non-religious Friends") or identify with other religions (Jewish, Buddhist...). A Quaker meeting in a sufficiently liberal city will definitely have all of these and welcome you without expecting any religious beliefs. Plus, pretty much all Quakers are just really nice people with really welcoming, supportive communities :).
posted by anotherthink at 7:26 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

UU is very congregational, i.e., each church makes its own way, based on what its members want. Even between the two UU churches here in Pittsburgh, there are, I've heard, some pretty significant differences. Our church does a periodic "what we're about" meeting after service every so often to introduce not only UUism in general but the individual church and its members specifically; you may wish to find out if the church(es) near you do something similar. It looks like the two UUA congregations in the Toronto area are in Mississauga and Don Mills.

One note: UU is a predominately US phenomenon, and the systems which call themselves "Unitarian" and/or "Universalist" outside the US may be much closer to UUism's Christian heritage; as the UUA congregation-finder notes, "There are many congregations in Canada and elsewhere which are not UUA members. To find congregations which are located outside the United States, please visit: Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC), European Unitarian Universalists, or International Council of Unitarians & Universalists."
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:26 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you checked out the website for your local Unitarian Universalist congregation? From what I've heard, the tone and content vary widely between different local chapters. There might also be a contact e-mail, where you could ask them directly, "This is what I'm looking for. Are you all a good fit for me? Do you know of another local organization that might be?"

Just as a piece of anecdata, I've been to a few UU services. In terms of the format, it was pretty much like a traditional Protestant service--members of the congregation go up to the front to do readings, people sing hymns, the minister gives a "sermon", there's some call and response stuff. But the actual content was pretty different. For example, there was a reading of Kurt Vonnegut's writing about how religion didn't make sense to him. In general, though the vibe was pretty spiritual.

This past year, I went to a Christmas Eve service. It was pretty much all about how the Christmas Story isn't literally true but how it still has metaphoric value and spiritual truth. It was cute because they pretty much explicitly were like, "It's okay that we are still into these Christian hymns and stories, and we want to hear them on Christmas Eve, even though we don't actually literally believe in them" because that's exactly why I was at a UU Christmas Eve service. But I do want some amount of spirituality, and it sounds like you don't.
posted by overglow at 7:30 AM on February 10, 2011

I've had this same question about my area, and if I lived near you, I'd ask if you were interested in starting such a group. It seems like this is a need that exists everywhere; we're not the only atheists who would like the benefits of a church-like community without religion. Why not start one (maybe via meetup.com) and fill that gap yourself?
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:31 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's quite possible that there's a local community, interest group, or subculture that would fill those needs for you, at least some of them. I wasn't looking for it, but getting involved in the local Burner community has been a lot like being a member of a congregation in the ways you describe—people look after each other when they're sick or injured, collaborate on projects to benefit neighborhoods, run a non-profit that promotes art. They even have a weekly get-together called Church Night. I'm not saying that your local burners are necessarily the right group for you (though apparently their is an active community there), I'm just giving you a f'rinstance.
posted by adamrice at 7:32 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thirding the Quakers, especially because there are so many ways to be involved in their good works without even attending Meetings for Worship. Take a look at
this -- they're based in Toronto.
posted by argonauta at 7:35 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you should check out the Quakers. I'm atheist and I attend Quaker meetings (the mostly silent "unprogrammed" kinds -- "programmed" Quaker meetings are more like traditional church services.) I find that much of what Quakers believe (about morals, how to live our lives, and how to treat other people) resonates strongly with my own personal beliefs. All the Quakers I know are seriously good people, and I find it uplifting to be a part of that community. And, yes, the community itself is strong, in that church way -- it was a lifesaver for me when I moved to a new city.

The typical unprogrammed meeting is an hour of silence, with people occasionally standing and speaking briefly if they feel moved to do so. I find the experience of sitting silently in a loving environment to be deeply moving, and I find that the spoken bits very frequently feel very relevant to something that's been on my mind. I often have deep insights during these meetings. I sometimes cry. Afterwards, there's coffee.

A number of the Quakers I know are atheist, and another decent fraction of them do believe in god. But I feel that the space and the structure of the services works so well for me that I am actually surprised whenever somebody mentions god, or Jesus -- there's a momentary "what? Oh yes, this is a religious organization after all." The extent to which you get this might vary a lot from one group to the next. I have never felt the least bit uncomfortable there as an atheist even as an open one, but I would not feel like it was appropriate to try and convince others to be atheist, for example. Actually I've had more difficulty with people being new-agey spiritualist in a way that rankles my scientist heart.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like to know more.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:40 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you may be looking for the Society of Friends, as KokuRyu suggested.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:40 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Junior League of Toronto.

Huge variety of projects over time -- Junior Leagues serve as project incubators that identify I need, create a charitable program to fill it, turn it over to a community organization to manage long-term, and then move on to the next need/project. Generally they work on women's issues, children, arts, poverty, etc. They also make available a lot of member training, often at a high level that gets you experience in areas like professional fundraising, if that's something you want.

They also typically have "sunshine committees" or something similar where they organize to bring meals, etc., to members who are ill, have just had a baby, or are otherwise in need.

Junior Leagues used to be exclusive but are now open membership.

On a different note, some church communities are very welcoming to volunteers who don't actually want to join the church. One of our local Methodist congregations has a huge community outreach chock-full o' non-Methodists and non-Christians. As long as you don't mind a little praying at the beginning of the soup kitchen shift or whatever, that might be something to look around for. There's no conversion pressure with this group, beyond the fact of operating in a Christian environment.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:43 AM on February 10, 2011

There are actually many Jewish congregations that are humanist--so, you get the community and social aspect of Judaism without the God aspect. The Society for Humanistic Judiasm (www.shj.org) lists a congregation in Toronto, and that congregation's website is www.oraynu.com. It looks like they're a pretty active congregation.

Also, LSG represent!
posted by catwoman429 at 7:43 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Quakers are actually pretty religious and God-oriented, in a very interesting, thoughtful way. I think of myself as a Quaker; if I believed in God, I'd join a meeting. Unitarian-Universalists are sometimes less God-centered, or not at all, while still having all the structure and activities of a church.
posted by theora55 at 7:49 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

To confirm again what others have already said; Unitarian Universalist churches vary widely based on both congregation and the current minister. Overall, the theme is humanist and welcoming without a specific creed. That being said, I grew up in a Unitarian Universalist church and feel it was a wonderful experience.

Sermons usually consisted of some theme and possibly some ties to various religious traditions. For example, the Christmas specific sermon locally was on the origin of Christmas both as a religious tradition and the commercialized modern version. Coffee hour was really the important portion and a big source for socializing. However, currently this local church has no one in my age range so I do not consistently attend.

In comparison, there was a small church where I went to school at which only had a part time minister. I attended there about three times before I got sick of it; they had professors from the university lecture twice a month when the minister was not in session. I certainly didn't want to get up on Sunday mornings for another lecture.

In contrast, one of the Sunday school programs for teenagers required participants to attend several different religious services. One I choose was a catholic mass which was an extremely different experience for me.

So concluding, if you have an interest attend a service, it might be a bit odd but see if it does anything for you; Toronto should have a decent sized church. I've personally never met a Unitarian Universalist who I thought wasn't a great person; odd, yes, annoying at times, certainly, but overall a very nice bunch. And if it doesn't work out for you, try something else and see if you can find a good fit.

Best of luck.
posted by graxe at 8:09 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess there is one of the varieties of Buddhism floating around out there, but I find the North American approach pretty weird - it has many of the same issues and problems associated with "regular" churches.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 AM on February 10, 2011

Lots of people have said what I was going to say about the Quakers, so I'll just add that I did attend the Toronto Friends Meeting semi-regularly for some years, and that they are nice, welcoming people with a varied schedule of group activities. They're based in a lovely old house near St. George station, and if it will help you with your social anxiety I'd be happy to go to some meetings with you. Let me know if you'd like that.
posted by orange swan at 8:18 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the UU thing: I once attended a UU church where I didn't like the Sunday crowd, but the Wednesday Night group was totally my scene. So try a couple of events at a gathering before you give up on it.

Now I live on the other side of the country and the UU congregations I've been to are either, as Daily Alice observed, "one step from Episcopal" (complete with robes), or trigger my "wait, how many lefty progressives who steep themselves in the 'injustice' victim complex does a person need in their social circles?" reaction.

Nowadays I'm again looking for the right group, various members of the services organizations (ie: Lions, Kiwanis) get really excited about inviting me to their meetings when I tell them what projects I volunteer for, but I never see any of them at those projects.

Good luck on your search, I've got a similar quest.
posted by straw at 8:33 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another Quaker here, and I would describe myself perhaps best as an agnostic. I started going to meeting about 6 years ago when I moved to a new city (in the South, eek!) in which I knew no one. I've met some wonderful people and I enjoy the sense of community. Some members are more Christian than others, many are atheists, I guess we're united in our desire to make the world better.
posted by mareli at 8:34 AM on February 10, 2011

What about getting involved at your local community centre? Scadding court and st chris run a lot of these kinds of programs.
posted by girlpublisher at 8:46 AM on February 10, 2011

Looks like you have at least two UU congregations in town. Both have sunday services at 10:30. Part of the fun of a healthy UU community is the respectful interplay between people of all different spiritual ideas.
posted by rikschell at 9:35 AM on February 10, 2011

Hmm. Quakers tend to be more believing in God/religious/intense than UUs, by far. Some of the deepest religious believers I've ever met were Quakers. And less organized in terms of church structure, activities, etc (not to say inactive, not at all). But of course it varies by meeting.

UUs in my non-Toronto experience, talk about "spirituality" and vague stuff like that constantly. They always talk about God without coming right out and saying anything you can disagree with. As an atheist I find it maddening and my eyes roll often. However, the UU people I've met (from all around the country, as well as seminarians) tend to be welcoming, well-meaning, earnest, and kind.

Email the minister/leader/welcoming committee chair of the churches you're interested in--UU ministers are trained with a signifigant emphasis on diversity of belief and welcoming all and will not be thrown off by your question. Would that help the social anxiety?
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:36 AM on February 10, 2011

Nthing Lion's Club and at least trying the UU fellowship. I only have experience with the US versions of both, but they are as others have said. I've had nothing but a good experience with the Lion's Club (of which I'm a member) and one good and one "get me out of here" experience with the UU fellowship.

Good luck with your search.
posted by patheral at 9:38 AM on February 10, 2011

Wow, this thread is like street-fight between Unitarians and Quakers, which you don't often see.
For what it's worth, I'll cheer on the Quakers because they're awesome. This link proves that what people here are talking about is real.
posted by greytape at 9:39 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I should also note that I'm sure there are regional differences here--my partner's experience of two midwestern UU churches and a few friends from the southeastern US have stated that their UU churches were full of outspoken atheists, whereas the UU churches in NYC are full of vague theists. I imagine there is great difference between Quaker meetings as well so please take my impressions with a huge grain of salt.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:39 AM on February 10, 2011

I would UN-recommend looking to the Quakers for what you are interested in. They are very open theologically, but the bedrock of Quakerism is an intense, personal relationship with God. This is not a criticism; I have personally been drawn to Quakerism. But it is not what you are looking for.
posted by jb at 9:53 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was raised Unitarian Universalist in the U.S., and I think graxe's description is spot-on. Individual churches may have differing focuses, but the commonality among members is more a philosophical and political one than a matter of religious creed. You'd have a much bigger problem fitting in as a social conservative than you would as an atheist. I believe that both the services and the congregational community are pretty similar to Protestant denominations in North America. Active members do feel like part of a community, and social action is encouraged. Your description:
a combination of music, personal reflection, that thing they do where you turn to greet each person around you and wish them well, even the idea of a weekly lecture that offers wisdom to help you live your life.
agrees pretty well with my own experiences.

However, there are downsides. Because there is no specific creed, sermons can be annoyingly vague (trying to appeal to theists and atheists alike) and insubstantial. UU ministers have a huge amount of freedom in what they preach about, but not a lot of shared dogma to fall back on. It's a tough job.

But the biggest issue for me (and for graxe apparently) is that the demographic of UU congregants tends to be pretty old. Very few people in their 20s, and not many in their 30s either, unless they have kids. I think wanting to put kids through a religious education program is a big draw. Some churches will have active "young adult" groups, by which they mean post-college but under 35, but I can't say it's common.

Still, all U.U. churches I've attended have been super-welcoming and you will quickly get a sense of the minister's style, and the demographics of the congregation, and can decide if this is a problem for you. I know nothing about the Toronto church, and things vary too much between congregations to say for certain, but it sounds like it could well be what you're looking for.
posted by serathen at 10:03 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re UU and the god thing. I've been flirting with the idea of starting to go to UU services sometimes. My local UU church's website definitely seems more god-ish than the actual vibe of the community really is.

My understanding from my one visit so far is that they are more do-goody/folksy/"spiritual" than anything else. The people there looked a lot like the people at my neighborhood CSA, or my vaguely new agey yoga studio. That said, this is in brownstone Brooklyn where such people are thick on the ground. A UU church in Omaha or Birmingham would probably look different.
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

About the Quakers: the Religious Society of Friends was originally an orthodox if somewhat radical Christian tradition. They share some common features with the Amish and Mennonites but were a little more theologically... relaxed from the get-go, which explains their contemporary inclusion of non-theistic "believers" as well. Still, that took quite a while, and for the first few centuries of their existence they were a self-consciously and recognizably Christian group. There was actually a long-running split (1827-1955) in the tradition over the issue of universalism, ironically enough given the current discussion.

The Unitarian Universalists, on the other hand, were never really part of the Christian mainstream. Universalism is a minority position within traditional Christianity, i.e. you can believe in universal reconciliation and the Nicene Creed at the same time, but unitarianism is not. It is, from mainstream Christianity's perspective, heretical.

Just describing the historic positions and how they fit together here, bear with me.

The long and short of it is that Quakers and their groups are far more likely to be overtly theistic than Unitarian Universalists, as the former have a long tradition of existing within and having relations with more traditional Christian denominations, while the latter do not. So if you're looking for a group with the least amount of overt theism, the Unitarian Universalists are, on the whole, the way to go.

posted by valkyryn at 12:49 PM on February 10, 2011

I was raised Quaker and agree that Quakerism provides an absolutely wonderful humanist moral foundation. I love what they stand for.

BUT I think that it requires a certain personality type to find resonance with a silent meeting. That has never fit well with my own style of getting in touch with my spiritual side -- it pretty much left me cold. So Quakerism does require a knack for meditation.

After deciding that Quakerism wasn't for me, I also craved the kind of community that OP describes and have converted to Judaism as an adult. It was remarkably refreshing throughout the conversion process (with a Conservative rabbi) that there was never a requirement for the profession of belief in a God. Judaism is much more concerned with action than belief, which I find refreshing.

(Of course, we're talking about religion, so God is everywhere in ritual and worship. But I've found room in Judaism to conceive of God as a moral foundation, not a Creator or active participant in human affairs so that I don't wince whenever I hear the word.)
posted by queensb at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know I'm a little late, but I wanted to give a thumbs-up to the UU suggestions. I am a part of the "Forrest Church" style of UU. Forrest was a great man - died way too young. Think philosopher as minister; his church a big philosophy class versus a traditional church. But, he also believed that "God" (which could mean anything) was worth appreciating. It all goes to the "big discussion" - philosophy.

I found this which gives an incredible summation on life from Forrest Church and many UU members in general.

Just as a note, for those of you old enough to remember the late Senator Frank Church, Forrest was his son. Both great people.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:45 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Late to the party, sorry. I wanted to chime in about the UUs, as well :) I thought it might be relevant that you can belong to a "church" (or in our case "fellowship") without attending the Sunday Services, if that makes you more comfortable. While we manage to be a pretty non-Christian sort of group, there are others out there that are more about "God-stuff".
The activities our members are involved in sound just like what you're looking for: community gathering, social action work, education, etc. There are several members who come to the "Forum" every Sunday morning and leave before the official service. Forum is usually an informational presentation with a lot of Q&A from some local expert. The topics range from environmentalism to prisoner rights to philosophy.
My point is, there are a ton of ways to get involved in the community without having to do the religion part of it.
posted by purpletangerine at 5:39 PM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

All my fellow UUs have pretty much said everything I would say (each congregation is different, check them out, don't have to join, atheists welcome, etc.) so I'll just add two short things.

1. This info might help if you haven't seen it already: 100 Questions That Non-Members Ask About Unitarian Universalism. Keep in mind this is from one (more humanist-leaning) UU congregation, but it's still fairly accurate generally.

2. More congregations are podcasting their sermons - it might be a way to check out your local UU congregations without going. If they don't podcast, other congregations' podcasts can give you an idea of what to expect.

Good luck!
posted by booksherpa at 8:38 PM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

To second girlpublisher, I would suggest checking out your local settlement house or community centre. As they're about to get gutted when the budget goes into effect, they're dying for volunteers. Since they're locally based, you would see an overlap in people using the various programs, so it wouldn't be such a one-off like Meetup.

The settlement house near me has: nutrition classes, computer classes for youth and elderly, after-school programs, out of the cold, day care, gym activities, music classes, tai chi, language programs, etc etc etc (a mindboggling array of programs), plus they are the meeting place for many organizations like the local residents' association.

What I miss about church is the community, not the faith. I finally found community here in Toronto by joining my residents' association* which helped me meet my neighbours and realise all of the hyperlocal programming going on here. Suddenly this town has gone from cold and hard to break into to a place where I run into my neighbours or people who know them all the time. Hell, I even got invited to a party to meet the new priest in the local church — a party specifically aimed at neighbours who support the church's presence and its programs but who will never attend services because we're all non-religious.

*I joined because I'm a city nerd; the community benefits were a happy accident.

The Quakers here are a decent lot too, but weren't a great fit for me.
posted by heatherann at 6:53 AM on February 11, 2011

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