Mobile Bay in Alabama
has two UU fellowships
by Scoop Peery
Trying to find an early spring, in late March I visited Mobile Bay and Pensacola. Part of the time was spent in an apartment in west Mobile, only six blocks from one of the two UU fellowships in the area. So, one Sunday I walked to the UU Fellowship of Mobile. This is one of two fellowships in the Mobile area and has about 65 members and a number of children and teens. Attendance was about 40 adults and a dozen or more children at the service.
The main building was a lot smaller than ours, but had enough space for seating and facilities. A modest sized house nearby was purchased and was first used for both services and Sunday school, and is still used for religious education. There are four acres of space in a woodsy area, giving ample room for parking, a play area and activities. I was greeted outside at the door and given a name tag. The service leader and a few other members also greeted me, but in the welcome and announcements part of the service did not include introductions.
The whole service was similar in format to ours and most other UU congregations,but with their own individuality. In general, it was a step more informal than the Springfield church. The introductions and announcements were quite varied. The Story for All Ages was read by a teenager from a book. She had no eye contact or conversation with the children seated in front, but she read the story well, except for the lack of graphics and stacatto (sp?) voice. The children left for their RE during the singing of the next hymn. There was a good piano player who was a music teacher but no choir was present at this service, although there were “choir chairs” in front.
Joys & Concerns were given by members from their seats, and the service leader added a few. All were brief. I got up at this time and introduced myself, opening with that it was a JOY to be visiting on a beautiful spring day in Mobile and that I was from the Springfield, MO. UU and was involved in social action and denominational affairs, and learning about other UU congregations. They didn’t boo me out but gave me the largest applause of the morning. The offeratory was disorganized with no or only one usher type to coordinate it. It is good we have 3-4 people to make sure the hat is passed smoothly. Also, I like an introduction to the offeratory which states the need to support the church. This was lacking.
The topic of the address (sermon) was Mad Hatter Univeralism and was interesting and entertaining. A Rev. Lewis Carroll who was a strong Univeralist in England apparently was the author of the “Mad Hatter.” He also mentioned a Charles Dodson who started out a deacon in the Church of England and became a Universalist. Universalism was and still is considered by some as a “gateway drug religion” which leads to the falling away from orthodox faith. Universalist no longer fear hell so they start to be freethinkers, which leads to Unitarianism, agnosticism or atheism when their freethinking is carried to conclusion. This is a quite interesting topic some in our congregation could pursue in discussion.
The service was concluded by a response by members of the congregation. Many told of the fear of hell being brought to them as children in their orthodox
Christian upbringing, especially as a disciplinary tool, and how it made them afraid of speaking out. The congregation held hands and concluded the service with a Chalice ceremony. After they joined in a Mad Hatter picnic outside with members and children wearing unusual hats they brought. The picnic food was ample, healthy and nourishing.
Unitarianism has been alive in the Mobile Bay area since 1836. In 1850, it included more than 150 members, many from prominent families in Fair Hope, east of Mobile across the bay. Many owned slaves. It languished for nearly 100 years from 1850 to 1950 and restarted in 1950 in Fair Hope, a congregation of 138 members today. The Fair Hope congregation helped restart a congregation in Mobile, but differences on race made for a slow start. Today, they seem very liberal in their beliefs and practice, and have some ethnic minorities in the congregation. In 1970, they bought the small house which is now used as an RE center. Friday nights, the congregation has a coffeehouse environment for “free thinking” topics.