Religions and Spirituality

Unitarian Church in Summit Name Change Reflects Congregation's Desire to Reflect 'Radically Inclusive Community'

Credits: Bill Griffeth

SUMMIT, NJ - The Unitarian Church in Summit will now be known as the Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation after its congregation voted 138-9 to change the Church's name, the effect of which is immediate.

The vote came at a recent special congregational meeting, and follows nearly a year of focus groups, surveys and town-hall meetings among the 450 adult members plus 250 children and youth.

In the spring of 2016, the congregation’s board of trustees asked that a 'Name Task Force' be formed to determine whether Church's name reflected the congregation's mission: to be a radically inclusive religious community that feeds the human spirit and heals the world.

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“Our conversations were about much more than our name—and focused on who we are and what we stand for as a community," said Dennis Manion, Task Force chair. "Our members encouraged us to include ‘universalism,’ linking us to our faith heritage and affiliation with the worldwide Unitarian Universalist Association, and to replace ‘church’ with 'congregation,' a term that means 'worship assembly.' We wanted to assure people from every religious background or spiritual perspective that they are welcome."

'Beacon', as a metaphor, “illuminates the congregation's calling to be a light in dark times, to rekindle a love that leads to justice and liberation in our world," said Reverend Robin Tanner, minister of worship and outreach. "We tend to this flame of our faith, and as a beacon, open our sanctuary doors wide as a sacred site for refuge and renewal. Beacon is a call to serve, to speak up and to pass on the dream." 

The word also connects the 109-year-old congregation to the Beacon Press, the publishing house of the worldwide Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). It also refers to Summit's Revolutionary War-era signal light, part of a chain of 23 hilltop beacons built across the state to keep local militias in communication with each other.

The term 'universalist' relates to the creation of the UUA in 1961, with the merger of two historically Christian denominations, the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association, both based in the United States.            

The congregation has indicated that it expects usage of the name to evolve with an emphasis on brevity as in "Beacon UU," “Summit Beacon” or just "Beacon."

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