All-inclusive church’s members embrace social, political causes

Heidi Kim

In the wooden seats of the Unitarian Church of Evanston, you can find anyone from Christians to Tibetan Buddhists to atheists.

“We don’t propose any specific theological viewpoint or belief,” said Eileen Wiviott, the membership director and member of the church for seven years. “We allow each person to find truth and search for their own theological beliefs themselves.”

The church, 1330 Ridge Ave., has been an Evanston institution since 1891, but moved to its current facility in 1958. Its focus is both social and political. Church members visit a soup kitchen in Evanston once a week, and in 2006, parishioners hosted the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet, which served both gruel and more sumptuous food to demonstrate the difference between the world’s rich and poor.

Children in Sunday school learn about the Bible in third and fourth grades, and they learn about other world religions in fifth and sixth grades, with a strong emphasis on social justice.

Additionally, the church has had a rich history of engaging in political activity and hosting service events. During the early 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the church. More recently, the church has taken a firm anti-war stance. In 2003, the church issued a public statement opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2005, they held an anti-war demonstration in solidarity with Camp Casey, an organization launched by Cindy Sheehan, a California mother whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004. Parishioners stuck crosses and little boots with names of soldiers killed in the war on the lawn of their church.

On Jan. 23, Scott Ritter, a former U.N. weapons inspector, and Ambassador Edward Peck spoke about the “No War on Iran” campaign at the church.

“Our religion calls us to do more in the world,” said Russell Clark, a member of the board of trustees. “Service is the law of this church. It is what I am doing and what I am contributing.”

The church draws upon the wisdom of all religions, Clark said.

“This is a welcoming congregation and denomination,” said Dana Deane, a member of the church for four years. “We ordain ministers who are openly gay and lesbian, and we also marry people who are gay and lesbian.”

Rev. Barbara Pescan became the first lesbian senior minister of the Unitarian Universal denomination in 1995, along with her partner, Anne Tyndall, who also became a senior minister. Pescan currently presides as the parish minister of the Unitarian Church of Evanston.

Pescan’s readings consist of anything inspirational, such as works of literature, as well as readings from a range of religious books such as the Bible or the Quran. Music sung at the church can range from versions of Christian worship music to African tribal music to songs from musicals.

“(Pescan) takes issues out in the world and brings them here,” said Mary Dudek, a co-chair of the Peace and Justice Program. “She uses spiritual language to help us know what is going on.

“There are a lot of rough issues,” Dudek added. “Sometimes looking at the world, we would despair. Churches need to move beyond the despair and feel inspired, empowered. We try to make a difference in the world.”

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