Unitarian church starts in Cape Girardeau

Saturday, February 26, 2005

For years Allen Gathman and Pat Reagan Briggs have been talking about a need for the spiritual in their lives. But neither found what they'd been longing for in the traditional houses of worship in Southeast Missouri.

"I'd never attended any Unitarian church but always said when people asked my religion that if there was a Unitarian church in town that's what I'd be," Gathman said. "Off and on we've kicked around the idea of starting some kind of group."

So they finally quit talking and decided to form a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

The group has been meeting for two weeks with an average attendance of 20 people each time. The meetings are at 7 p.m. each Sunday at the Johnson Faculty Center on Pacific Street in Cape Girardeau.

Until the group began meeting in Cape Girardeau, the closest church was in St. Louis and the nearest fellowship group in Carbondale, Ill. Reagan used to drive to St. Louis for worship but got tired of the commute.

And she wanted what the Unitarians offered to be available in her own community.

"It's a spiritual organization that asks questions and explores ideas," she said. "As its name suggests there's a universal curiosity and interest."

Unitarian Universalist churches are common among the New England states but are scarcer in the Midwest where mainline Protestant churches took hold.

The Unitarians accept Jesus as a prophet but don't adhere to the concept of the Trinity, which acknowledges God as father, son and spirit.

But it's the openness and tolerance of the Unitarian faith that drew Gathman.

It's the kind of place where people can talk and share ideas about their faith, Gathman said.

Gathman teaches a science and religion class at Southeast Missouri State University, where students often encounter beliefs different from those they found in their family's church. Class discussions often turn to conversations where students talk about how their ideas don't always fit into the mold of what they've been taught over the years, he said.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship allows people who have "some sort of concern about their spiritual life" to come and talk about their views.

Discussions are informal. Last week's meeting focused on the concept of spirituality in the workplace and what that means to different people.

The group encompasses university faculty and students as well as people from the community.

"That's been a healthy sign," Gathman said.


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