Love is the spirit of this church.
To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love,
and to help one another: this is our covenant.

—Covenant of Clifton Unitarian Universalist Church in Louisville, KY

Bells toll in the Clifton neighborhood this winter morning. Inside a charming white church building, a grandmother and her grandson pull the bell-ropes to signal the start of Clifton UU’s Sunday Service. Attendees sit in a circle of chairs facing a simple altar. At the center rests a flaming chalice, the primary symbol of the Unitarian Universalist faith tradition. Morning sun illumines the building’s old stained-glass windows that depict scenes from Christian scripture, flooding the chapel with light.

Although Unitarian Universalism emerged from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the faith is inclusive of many sources of wisdom from myriad religious traditions. Seven Principles inform the living tradition of Unitarian Universalism, which include the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. The front of the program for today’s service at Clifton UU reads: “We need not think alike to love alike.”

Food pantry outside Clifton UU

Worship begins with local musician Jim McGee, who plays a creative blend of kirtan chants derived from Hindu scripture and familiar popular tunes in a playful call-and-response. The service coordinator, Doug Lowry, offers poetic reflections for meditation, then extends an opportunity for participants to greet one another. Soon, he invites attendees to share their joys and concerns. One by one, churchgoers come forward to express what personal or global matters rest on their hearts; the others reply in chorus, “Your joys are our joys. Your concerns are our concerns.” A guest speaker quotes Cornel West: “Love is what justice looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private.”

After the service, during a potluck meal, members share about the congregation’s history. Many initiatives have been seeded and supported by Clifton UU over the years: pagan gatherings, ecstatic dance circles, queer activism initiatives, and discussion groups, among diverse others. Clifton UU members proudly share that their small but mighty congregation is fertile and firm ground to nurture community needs in mutual aid. The food pantry outside the church is one tangible example of their reciprocity in practice: church members and folks in the neighborhood both give and receive from the pantry. As the potluck is cleaned up and the space tidied, jokes and quips are punctuated by the laughter of familiar friends.

We come together this morning to
remind one another
To rest for a moment on the
forming edge of our lives,
To resist the headlong tumble
into the next moment,
Until we claim for ourselves
Awareness and gratitude,
Taking the time to look into one
another’s faces
And see there communion: the
reflection of our own eyes.
This house of laughter and
silence, memory and hope,
is hallowed by our presence

—Kathleen McTigue, from ‘Singing the Living Tradition’, #435

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