Welcome, welcome, welcome!

Visitors and newcomers are always welcome at The Unitarian Society, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in East Brunswick NJ. Please take time to explore other parts of this website to find out more about who we are and what we do. This page will answer questions you have about attending our online Sunday services, which will continue through the end of calendar year 2020, and likely longer, due to the COVID19 pandemic.

We hope that we will see you soon at a Sunday service or other offering. Should you feel that this just may possibly be your spiritual home, please reach out to us.  We want to do all we can to make sure you will come to feel part of this congregation as we create and grow a diverse, questioning, justice-seeking, spirit-growing community.

When does the service start?

Our services begin at 10:30 am. With the move to online services, you can arrive on time or any time throughout the service and while you will miss wonderful content, it will not be a distraction to others.  

How do online worship services work?

Our online services take place on Zoom, an online video platform. The first time you attend online, you will need to register with Zoom, giving your name and email address.  You will only need to register once and can do so by clicking here.  You can register in advance or just as you are “arriving” on Sunday morning.

We do ask people to use their real names on their Zoom screen.  This fosters a sense of genuine community.  Given the Zoombombing risk, we do not allow into the service anyone who does not use their real name.  We encourage folks to share their video screen so that we can see each other, but recognize that this does not work for everyone all the time, so it’s just a suggestion, not a requirement.

What happens during the online worship service? 

Before the service starts, folks often say hello aloud to each other.  As the service starts, everyone is muted except those who are leading worship.  There is an introductory one-minute movie that reminds us of the building to which we will eventually return and then the service begins. 

Services include lighting our chalice, reciting our Bond of Union, music, singing, inspirational readings/poetry/scripture, inspirational videos, a story for all ages, meditation/prayer, an offering (giving online through Paypal), and a sermon or reflection. At many services there is a time when people can share their joys and/or sorrows with those gathered.  While we do record the services and post them to our congregation’s YouTube channel, we edit out the Joys & Sorrows part of the service to protect privacy.

We encourage folks to have a chalice or candle at home that they can light as part of each service.  For some services, there might be special requests – have paper and pen nearby, have a bowl of water with you.  Those instructions typically go out towards the end of the week to our email list. 

Early in the service we encourage folks to type into the chat where they are joining us from, as well as to use the chat to make positive comments on different service elements, or to respond to sharing that might happen.  It’s one of the ways that we have an interactive service while we are online.

What are the sermons like?

Our sermons may be unlike what you grew up with, since we don’t try to tell anyone exactly what to think or do. They strive to offer personal and thought-provoking ideas on a topic so that you can determine your own beliefs about it. Most Sundays, the sermons is offered by our Minister, Rev. Karen G. Johnston.  You can check out past sermons by checking out our YouTube channel.

When Rev. Karen is not in the pulpit, we have guests or congregants who lead the Sunday service.  This is true particularly in July and the first half of August each year. 

Can my children attend?

Our Religious Education (“RE”) – what we sometimes call “faith formation”– program has often why people first come to TUS. Its goal is to nurture the spirit of each child, fostering ethical and faith development in our children so that they will be empowered to become free-thinking individuals who understand their role in building community; who respect themselves and others; who contribute to their human and natural communities; and who make informed decisions regarding their spiritual paths.

Of course – you and your children are very welcome to attend our Sunday morning services. Our minister, Rev. Karen, tells wonderful stories, usually at the beginning of our online Sunday service, that would be of particular interest to children. For some children, the whole service of interest; and for some, not so much.

With the arrival of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, we provided online Spirit Lab to our families with young children.  In the late summer and early fall of 2020, we will be connecting with families to see how we can meet their children’s and parents’ spiritual needs at this challenging time.

Will I be welcome?

We welcome all who bring an open mind and friendly intentions, knowing that you are here to get to know whether this might be a place and a people for you.

Are you hurting, full of sorrow, despairing? Then you are welcome!  Are you excited, searching, looking to lend your energies to others’ energies? Then you are welcome! Are you searching for community, to be affirmed for whole of who you are? Then you are welcome! Do you want to be a part of something larger than yourself that believes a better world is possible? Then you are welcome! Are you confused, not sure, wondering, ambivalent?  Then you are welcome!  Are you worried about climate collapse, or divisions in our nation, or growing hatred and want to be in the company of others who are committed to compassion and justice? Then you are welcome! Do you already know what you believe about god (or not-god) and have respect for other perspectives?  Then you are welcome!

Our members are diverse in background, social circumstance, and outlook.  There are folks who live comfortable economic lives and those who live on limited incomes. We aspire to be a multi-cultural congregation and currently have congregants who identify as Black, white, Asian-Pacific Island/South Asian, Latinx, and multi-racial; gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, transgender, genderqueer and nonbinary. Our congregants come from many different occupations, cultural heritages, and religious or spiritual backgrounds – Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, not-religious-at-all, Buddhist convert.

When we return to meeting in person, we have gender neutral bathrooms, respecting and honoring that each person will use the facilities that best suits them.  We are committed to cultivating and sustaining a safe space for all beloved humans across the gender identity continuum. 

What if I’m part of an interfaith family?

That’s great!  You will bring your gifts to the congregation and we will welcome you and be a safe haven for your family.  Many TUS families have roots in more than one religion, and specifically choose our congregation because we honor and celebrate many religious traditions and understand reality to be pluralist by its very nature.

Will I be welcome if I’m agnostic or atheist?

When we say our spiritual traditions are diverse, we really mean it! Within our membership are agnostics, atheists, nontheists, humanists, theists, Buddhists, people who follow the earth-based traditions, and others rooted in traditional Jewish or Christian beliefs. We do not ask you to give up your cultural or religious roots, or the impulse to seek what is true or meaningful to you.  

We do ask that you honor the spiritual beliefs or orientations of others and even cultivate curiosity about those whose approach this part of being human is different than your own. The sources that inform our shared community and our Sunday worship come from a variety of traditions.  In our Sunday services, we use a variety of religious words and concepts, some of which will resonate for you and some of which will resonate for others.  We invite you to take it all in.  If a particular word, concept, or ritual doesn’t work for you, we encourage you to find joy in the reality that it is feeding someone else present.

What should I wear?

With our move to online services, we are finding that folks wear what is comfortable for being at home, which just well may include their pajamas!  That said, you are welcome to wear clothes that help you feel grounded and ready to participate in a spiritual hour with others. 

What happens after the service?

Immediately after every online Sunday Service, we host a virtual “Coffee (half) Hour” – a time for reflection and conversation, growing stronger the network of connection. Participants are invited to take part in small group conversation in a breakout room that allows for listening and sharing in a way that a large online group would not. You are welcome to take part, or leave the service before the breakout rooms are in effect.

When we met in person, beverages (coffee and tea) were offered, along with snacks such as bagels, muffins or sometimes other fare. And the first Sunday of the month (October through April) is “Souper Sunday” when some of our cooks bring in delicious home-made soups to enjoy at Coffee Hour.  When we return to meeting in person, we will see what evolves of this beloved time to deepen our community.

Throughout the year, there are other activities or meetings happening either after a Sunday service or at other times during the week. Information about these are in our weekly eblast. You can sign up for that by clicking here.

Will I be pressured to join or convert?

We do try to be friendly, but we do not ask visitors to join our congregation right away. We believe that you should take the time to see whether we are a good fit and to consider our covenant. Membership conveys certain privileges, such as voting rights, and responsibilities, such as involvement and financial support. There are a number of congregants who are very active in the life of our community (“Friends”) but who have never signed the membership book.

There is no formal conversion process to become Unitarian Universalist, though we do celebrate each year new members who join the congregation, bringing their energies, commitments, and enthusiasm to our shared life.

What holidays are celebrated?

We celebrate many of the great religious holidays in some way that speaks to our Unitarian Universalist faith. These include Christmas, Easter, the Jewish High Holy Days, Passover and Hanukkah. There are secular holidays that we raise up as worthy, approaching spiritually: MLK Jr. Holiday, Earth Day, Pride Day/Month, and others as well. Other religious traditions’ holidays and holy times are marked in a way that respects such tradition and resists cultural appropriation.

How do I get there?

Our building is located at 176 Tices Lane, East Brunswick NJ 08816.  Currently, we remain open virtually, with our building closed to activity.

What do you do with my email information?

When new folks register to attend a Sunday service, we are able to reach out to them at their email address. We do this to be welcoming, not to pressure anyone.  Sometimes we hold special online meetings with representatives from our Welcoming/Membership team, or with Rev. Karen, as a way to grow connection or to answer questions that new folx might have.  We never give your information away to any other source and we will not add you to our emailing list without your consent.