What is Unitarianism

November 25, 2010

in 2010-2011, Faith Traditions, Speakers

On Thursday Nov. 25 2010, Rev. Karen Gitlitz gave a most interesting presentation at the Gabriola Commons 

The theme of her talk was " . . . in our work for peace and justice with compassion, we acknowledge our part in the interdependent web of all existence."

Karen Fraser Gitlitz is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister currently serving the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo.

Karen attended a Unitarian church with her family as a young child, then left to pursue sports and other opportunities.  She returned to the Unitarian church as a young adult, searching for community and a place where she could explore questions about life, suffering, meaning and belonging.

Before responding to the call to ministry, Karen worked in the fields of human resources, adult education and architectural history (she has a Masters in Art History from the University of East Anglia).  The arts, especially visual arts, continue to be an important part of her life.

Karen received her Masters of Divinity from Vancouver School of Theology in 2008.  Her ministry training included internships with Unitarian congregations in Kelowna, Kamloops and Hamilton, ON.  She also spent time in a mission church in Vancouver’s downtown eastside and completed a basic unit of hospital chaplaincy training.

Karen lives in Nanaimo with her husband, musician, composer and producer Paul Gitlitz.

Unitarianism
The background history of the church proved to be a very interesting one. It takes its origin from the Reformation and has deep roots in humanism and transcendentalism too. For the first couple of hundred years it was rooted in Christianity but with the increased search for truth in the 1800s many other religions were studied and their value realized so that nowadays believers can draw from a much wider spirituality. The church does not have a creed which everyone has to believe but rather there is a list of principles and a list of sources from which these have been drawn. These encompass such things as a belief that every person has inherent worth, that justice, equity and compassion in human relations are important, that one has the freedom of conscience and the right to search for truth and that all life is part of an interdependent web. In fact from its earliest beginning in the 1500’s its members led the way in demonstrating tolerance. The church tries to focus on what we hold in common with other faith traditions.
During the Second World War the Unitarian Service Committee was helping people escape the Nazis and needed a letterhead symbol to use when appealing to various countries for visas. Hans Doich (??) came up with the one still used, a chalice with a flame denoting love and sacrifice. The early Unitarians in the Reformation, such as Erasmus, also began looking at the Bible as text and manuscript and not just the inspired word of God. Inconsistencies came out, one of which was the belief in the Trinity. Questions such as, “Could the three main world religions work together if this belief was not there?” were asked. Even today individual congregations have a choice in their direction for example in the east a Christian style bread and wine communion service is not uncommon whereas in the west other types of “communion” are readily accepted e.g. a water ceremony in September in which each person will bring water and add it to the whole to be used for services through the next year. Another is a “flower” service in the spring in which each person will bring a flower and at the end of the service will leave with a different one. Waldo Emerson said, “that our spirit has helped connect us to the natural world. So each generation will examine their beliefs anew and keep what is meaningful to it and discard the rest.”
The Nanaimo Church has 65 members who have a strong leaning toward service and social action as exemplified by Lara……. in the early 1930’s (?) The church runs a shelter, is working on an environmental theme which will deal with the ‘tar sands’, has book discussion groups, and an adult education group presently studying ‘science and religion’.
As a minister Karen was ordained by her congregation with a laying on of hands. In this church she has a Sunday Service Committee who ensure that all themes which are relevant to her congregation are discussed at some point in the year. She uses thematic preaching and is not constrained by a lectionary. A service usually has hymns, readings from various sources and most often a sermon. One sermon coming up will offer thoughts on how a person could handle “unfinished business” as they near the end of their life. There is always a ‘shared silence’ in the service so that each person can connect to their inner beliefs.
All too soon it was time for Rev Karen to leave and we still had so many unanswered questions! For those who may be interested in visiting the Unitarian church it uses the old Elks Hall on Townsite Rd opposite Brechin School. Service time is 11:00am.

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