Auburn is home to many different churches. The Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship finds itself among that mix, but as a more liberal church.
Unitarian Universalists describe themselves as a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. The denomination was established in 1961, and the Auburn branch was founded that same year.
The church is growing rapidly in the South. Nearly 100 members actively participate in the Auburn church, said the Rev. Chris Rothbauer.
Rothbauer leads services each Sunday where they mainly discuss spirituality or issues relating to social justice.
Along with their Sunday services, the church also holds religious education for young children every Sunday, Rothbauer said.
“We also hold children’s RE every Sunday,” Rothbauer said. “It starts in the middle of the services where we send the children to their classes.”
Children attend classes starting as newborns and until they are out of high school, Rothbauer said.
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“It allows them to go away and have classes where they learn values such as social justice and [allows us] to send them away with an ability to make their own educated decisions,” Rothbauer said. “We have a lot of parents who want a more liberal upbringing for their children.”
Members of the church joined for many different reasons, such as seeking an escape from the deep religion in the South or discovering spirituality within themselves in a time of need, Rothbauer said.
Rothbauer said the birth of the church was an adjustment in Alabama.
“We were founded in 1961 by a group of mostly humanists who were looking for an alternative to the existing religious groups around here,” Rothbauer said. “And it just so happened to coincide with a time when the American Unitarian Association was pushing for growth in cities that didn’t already have Unitarianism.”
The church building held a historical significance within the community before it served as a home for the AUUF.
“It was the first location for the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church,” Rothbauer said.
EMBC was the first church in town for freed slaves following the Civil War. The AUUF bought the building in the early 1980s and EMBC has since moved locations.
“We are really proud to be associated with that, to the point where I think if we ever had to move, it would be devastating,” Rothbauer said. “Their building is wrapped up in their history.”
Most branches of Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism are symbolized by a flaming chalice.
Rothbauer said the symbol came about during World War II with the Unitarian Service Committee.
A branch of Unitarians went abroad to aid those in need, helping Jews and other persecuted people escape Nazi Germany, Rothbauer said. They needed a symbol to let people know which locations were safe and inconspicuous to the Nazis.
“So they came up with putting a chalice in the window of the safe houses,” he explained. “It has caught on from there and it has become an international symbol.”
The church involves itself in multiple social justice movements, including climate issues, Black Lives Matter and transgender rights.
“We are really proud of the justice we deal with here,” Rothbauer said. “We were very involved with the climate march, and a lot of our members are traveling to Montgomery in order to participate in the trans visibility march.”
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