PORTLAND, Ore. -- A quick glance at the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations:
Q: What's the origin of Unitarians and Universalists?
A: Unitarians date from 1568, when some Christians in Transylvania declared that they did not believe in the trinity -- the understanding that three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are united as one God. The first Unitarian Church in the United States was established in 1794 in Northumberland, Pa.
In the 18th century, Universalists emerged. They believed that a loving God would never damn a person to hell. Salvation, they said, was universal. The first Universalist Church in the United States was founded in 1770 in Gloucester, Mass.
Q: When did the two denominations get together?
A: They consolidated in 1961, after several years of discussions.
The two groups were both liberal in their thinking, but each was worried about being dominated by the other, says the Rev. Marilyn Sewell, senior minister of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Ore. Today, it is correct to call members Unitarian Universalists.
Q: Do they believe in God?
A: Some do, some don't. Through the years the denomination has welcomed agnostics, atheists and humanists, as well as Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims. "You name it, we've got it," Sewell said.
Q: Do they share any beliefs?
A: Yes. Unitarian Universalists believe that every human being needs to be absolutely free to follow his or her own conscience.
"We're known as the uncommon denomination," Sewell said, "because we are a free faith. There is nothing that you have to believe. You don't have to sign on the dotted line to believe a specific thing. But your faith is so important that you are required to pursue your own beliefs."
Q: What is a Unitarian Universalist service like?
A: It depends on which community you visit. Some call themselves churches, and their services include sermons delivered by seminary-trained ministers and choirs who wear robes. The congregation joins in hymns, prayer or meditation. Other groups call themselves fellowships, which meet with lay leaders and hear lectures or take part in discussions without hymns or prayers.
Q: How many Unitarian Universalists are there?
A: The Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations counts 162,477 members in 2006-07.