Newspaper Review of a Worship Service

Hair of the God: On Unitarian-Universalism

Posted by on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 at 4:00 PM


  • Phil van Hest

This is the first in a series of church reviews by Phil van Hest, monologuist and spiritual adventurer.

Being a new resident of Indianapolis and a Los Angeles refugee, I’ve noticed that folks around here are very religious. They’re religious about football, drinking, their lawns — and sometimes even God. My opinions on the first three are pretty solid, with only God remained “undecided.” My formative years were spent as an atheist, until I realized that what bothered me about “religions” was their claim to truth. Being an atheist seemed like committing the same error as those religions so confident in their belief; merely saying “Nuh-uh” to the faithful’s “Yuh-huh” feels less than constructive.

Behold! My commitment to agnosticism continues apace with Hair of the God, an ongoing series of church and sermon reviews. As with much of my life, this began as a joke and became a true truth investigation. I’m heading into the wilderness in search of peace and love, but mostly understanding. Starting with church seemed like a good a place as any. Hope to see you there.

Rev. Stephen Sinclair, Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (out of 5)

Have you always wanted the sense of belonging and shared faith that comes with belonging to a church, but without all the churchiness? Let the speed with which you beat a path to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis (615 W. 43rd St.) cause your route to erupt in flame, thereby lighting the way for others.

Full disclosure: As a child, my mother took me to a Unitarian Universalist church a few times. I remember being bored, resentful of missing Sunday morning cartoons and confused by the “Jesus Without the Jesus” message. One morning I locked myself in the bathroom and declared, “I’m not going, and you can’t make me!” A mere 20 years later I found myself pulling up a hand brake at the UUI and casting an eye at the significant volume of colorful bumper stickers in the parking lot.

Maybe it’s because “Unitarian” makes me think of “Librarian,” but I was not expecting this to be the noisiest and most vibrant group of people. Behold! They were! To kick off the service we had a band in full swing, a crowd alive in song, and a minister clapping and bouncing around like a child who is next in line for the big ride. The Parish Minister, Rev. Stephen Sinclair, is 58 years old, but he carries the eager enthusiasm of spirit outside time.

I loved this place. A lot of churches discuss the cultivation of diversity and acceptance as polite concepts, but this house of worship is in full flower. Lesbians in the front row, the gay minister with an admitted affinity for AA, a cabaret-style song break (“Is That All There Is?”), and “black drag queen wisdom” from a documentary (Paris is Burning) to highlight the week’s theme of personal acceptance. This place had it all — and a daycare to boot.

Here, the plate was not passed around at the end of the service like an afterthought. Giving happened right at the beginning and was framed by a palpable sense that these people were all truly building something together by choice. No pulpit, no pews, no pretense. From behind a music stand, Rev. Stephen laid forth his ecstatic exhortation for wild and precious understanding. His words came easily, naked and fun. The man is a natural comic. He owns his truth, without a need to possess yours. Sweet Lordee Geezus, did I appreciate the hell out of that.

I laughed in this church—out loud, frequently, and with a lot of company. We laughed together when an associate told us we could sit, and then said, “Whoops! Could you all stand again?” We cried together as Rev. Sinclair listed the names and ages of service people who died in the last week in Afghanistan, and reminded us of the unknown names of the dead Afghani men, women and children. The simple bravery of this remembrance pushed on my insides, and again I was not alone. This minister is a natural force, and the service he provides is quite a ride. One need not seek fellowship here, for it has been found.

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