Unitarian Universalist satellite church celebrates anniversary

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By Suzy Smith
Blount Today

Not having a bricks and mortar building isn’t keeping one area church from experiencing growth. The Blount County satellite service of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is seeing an increase in membership, despite not having a church of their own, a minister or a religious education program.

Due to membership growth at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, a proposal was made to try services at a Maryville satellite site. The congregation celebrated their one year anniversary on March 4.

"It’s been a much bigger success than ever expected," said Owen Rhodes, steering committee chairman and worship chairman at the satellite church. He added that initially he thought if 30 people attended services, the church would be doing well.

The Maryville Unitarian Universalist church services, which meet the first Sunday of each month, were originally held at the Center for Campus Ministry of Maryville College. Now that they have outgrown that facility, the church rents space from Maryville College’s Chilhowee Club located at 223 Clarion St. Plans are to expand services to the first and third Sunday
beginning in June.

At the anniversary services in the Maryville, approximately 130 people were in attendance. In the worship service, more than 10 visitors were greeted by the congregation and more than 10 new members were introduced. During this service, new members lit candles and signed the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church membership book that has been used at the Knoxville church since the 1950s. The children of the congregation presented each new member with a rose.

"I’m looking for a community that understands we’re stronger as a group," said Chad Rogers, a new member of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Rogers said he has Baptist roots, and he went through years of figuring out his beliefs. He attended a new member class at the Knoxville church where he was presented with material on the Unitarian Universalist beliefs, the history of the church and learned about famous Unitarian Universalists. It was then that Rogers decided to join the Maryville satellite church.

"I’ve never felt like I’m being judged," Rogers said. "People use the term, ‘liberal religion,’ with no idea being wrong."

Prior to the church services, Rogers and other interested members participated in the church’s first community outreach meeting.

"I would like to find a niche where there is a need that’s not being filled," said Herb Nachman, community outreach chairman. "I’m looking for something we can do as a group." Nachman, who is celebrating his fiftieth anniversary of being a Unitarian, took service project ideas from the group.

"My hope is to make community service a central value of this church," Nachman said.

Community service is not only left to the adult members of the church. The youth group met prior to worship services to discuss their service project, BooksForSoldiers.com. The project supports men and women in uniform by providing care packages of books, DVD’s, toiletry items and dry store-bought snack goods.

"People may not support the war, but they support the soldiers as individuals who face death every day," said Lelia Rogers, the religious education chairwoman. Rogers said that letters of encouragement to the soldiers are also welcomed.

The youth members presented their project to the congregation during the church service and the half of the day’s offertory collection was being donated to the youth’s mission.

The Maryville congregation received the word that 75 percent of the offertory collection will be going towards their budget with the remainder going towards the Knoxville Unitarian church which provides administrative support to the satellite church. Also, during the sermon delivered by Rhodes, the congregation received the word that the satellite church has plans to stay in Blount County.

"I hope our community has begun to receive the message that we are here to stay, that we have struck a chord of faith, reason and tolerance that many in this community have apparently been waiting to hear," Rhodes said. "And we plan to keep playing that chord for years to come."

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