A new year, a new location

Saturday, March 10, 2007
The flaming chalice is a Unitarian symbol that has become a focal point for worship. It is lighted at the beginning of the service.

Two years ago, a small group gathered at Pat Reagan Briggs' home to talk about starting a Unitarian church. Cape Girardeau had a Unitarian church in the 1950s and 1960s, but its membership dwindled.

Sunday about 25 church members will celebrate not only the church's second anniversary, but its new location in the former First General Baptist Church at 200 Broadway. The church is renting a few rooms at the rear of the building. Members are excited about the possibility of growing into the space, which they didn't have before when they met at the Johnson Faculty Center at Southeast Missouri State University.

"We did not even have bookshelves," said Joan Lepchenske of Dexter, Mo., a member of the church board of directors. "Now we're going to start a library."

They have the space now to worship in a main meeting area and hold discussions in three small classrooms. There's a storage area and a small kitchen for fellowship potluck dinners.

"Now we have more space and access to the facility 24/7," added board member Bruce R. Domazlicky, a professor at the university. "This is ours."

Members of the Cape Girardeau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship sang an opening hymn Sunday evening in their new location at the rear of the church building at 200 Broadway. (Fred Lynch)

Prominent in the fellowship area is an electric organ donated by Kathi Mechum and her son, Kiefer Cortez-Mechum, who will provide music during the dedication service.

Owen Hill, son of Mr. and Mrs. Hamner Hill, and Jack Smoot will play during the open house. Dr. Gordon Nunnelly, one of the original members of the first Unitarian church, donated a wall hanging he created that hung in the original church.

The small space previously available to the church limited its growth. Members are now hopeful that others in the community will come explore the church.

Prophet, but not Trinity

The Unitarian Universalist Church grew from a merger between the Unitarian church, which acknowledges Jesus as a prophet but does not accept the concept of the Trinity, and the Universalist movement, which believes in universal salvation, that everyone will go to heaven.

The church members sang Hymn No. 123, "Spirit of Life," from the hymnal Singing the Living Tradition. (Fred Lynch)

The church appeals to liberal thinkers and those who like to explore various beliefs about spirituality and religious matters. Some people who attend regularly also attend other churches in the area, Lepchenske said.

"We also appeal to married families where partners are of different faiths because we're very accepting of each person's individual personal beliefs," she added. "The tenet of our faith is that we respect religious values and beliefs of everyone. We have no desire to take anyone away from the church they're committed to."

Anyone is welcome, and all are encouraged to visit. The church is too small to have a regular minister, but ministers from other churches have led the services. Mostly members lead the services, which tend to be not so much sermons as discussions that are often spiritual.

"We don't always agree with each other," Domazlicky said.

Most of the church's members come from other faiths "or their thinking or beliefs have changed and evolved," Domazlicky said. "We feel that everyone needs to find his own truth and we try to help people in that process develop their own spiritual beliefs."

The local church collects offerings to help support local charities and frequently invites someone from the charities to speak.

Unitarians have been around since the origin of the country and are more active in New England. Most of the presidents of Harvard University in the 19th century were Unitarian, said board member Harlan Fiehler.

Notable Unitarians include second U.S. President John Adams, and Clara Barton, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Susan B. Anthony, Adlai Stevenson and Christopher Reeve.

The church is supported financially through its members, and from a Chalice Lighters Grant from the Central Midwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. It is also sponsored by the Carbondale, Ill., fellowship, whose leader, the Rev. Dr. William Sasso, will officiate at the dedication service.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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