Who We Are
We are a community of open minds, caring hearts, and helping hands. Our community provides a caring space to explore your faith and to recharge your heart and mind.
We are a religious community of open hearts and open minds, working together to transform ourselves and the world.
Together, we create a welcoming, diverse, and vibrant community, where our accessible, sustainable campus is a sanctuary for spiritual growth; a center for transformative love and justice; and a home for liberal religious exploration, education, and empowerment.
Covenant of Right Relations
UUSM’s Covenant of Right Relations provides guidelines for the way we interact with one another as we create beloved community together:
Building community is an ongoing spiritual practice. Inviting the spirit of Love into our interactions, we each work to develop skills and promote practices that strengthen our bonds of relationships. As we aspire to co-create a religious community of people with open hearts and open minds, we enter this covenant of right relations:
We cultivate attentive listening, care-filled speaking, a culture of gratitude, and compassionate honesty.
We communicate directly with one another, especially when we are in conflict.
We engage one another thoughtfully, seeking understanding and acknowledgment even when we disagree or our needs will not be fulfilled.
We trust one another’s intentions. We also recognize that our individual behaviors and actions have an impact regardless of our intentions.
When we hurt or are hurt, we seek reconnection and/or forgiveness as appropriate.
We are responsible for our selves and we are accountable to one another for creating opportunities to encourage, challenge, and connect.
Through these choices and actions, we realize the interconnected network of mutuality of beloved community.
Below are the stated Purposes our congregation lifts up for ourselves, striving to create a community where:
A sense of transcending wonder inspires our life together as a religious community. Through a diversity of services and rituals, we open our hearts and minds, and are moved to take action in the world.
All people are welcomed, dialogues flourish, and relationships grow and deepen through joyous and difficult times. Individually and collectively, we exemplify love, compassion, respect, and hospitality, both within our congregation and in the greater community.
We invite and encourage all congregants to participate in congregational life, and we create opportunities, through social and spiritual fellowship, for everyone to form deep and lasting connections. We create meaningful connections with other Unitarian Universalists, and with other religious and service groups.
We have a cohesive and engaging lifespan faith education program, which inspires us to understand Unitarian Universalism, to nurture our spiritual growth and identity, to live in accordance with Unitarian Universalist principles, and to develop our leadership abilities. Our religious education program attracts and serves the greater community.
We demonstrate our liberal religious values through effective social action, providing leadership and creating partnerships in the local community and beyond.
We are generous with our time, talent, and money. Through our stewardship, our congregation thrives, and we create greater justice, equity, and compassion in the local and global community.
The History of UU San Mateo
In the spring of 1952, a group of about thirty-five people, most of whom were young parents, met with some Unitarians and Universalists from other Peninsula congregations in the home of James Rene and Marian Hemingway. The meeting ended with the formation of the Unitarian Fellowship of San Mateo, which was voted into membership of the American Unitarian Association in April 1952.
Private homes, a local labor hall, a Jewish temple, and the Les Williams Dance Studio were some of our congregation’s early places of assembly. In 1954, a small house was purchased from the dance studio and became the Fellowship House. In 1959, the congregation rented a large auditorium at the Peninsula YMCA; the adults met at the YMCA, and religious education classes for the children were held at the Fellowship House, a few blocks away.
In 1969, the Fellowship rented property of the disbanding First Methodist Church, located at 300 E. Santa Inez Avenue in San Mateo, and on June 17, 1971, those facilities were purchased. The location was considered ideal by many members, and it was also large enough to accommodate the growing congregation.
In 1989, we formed our Open Door Committee to reach out to people of color and to host the annual Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration in partnership with the North Central Neighborhood Association. In 1998, the congregation voted to become a Welcoming Congregation to explicitly welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered people. Read some of our stories and learn about some of our UUSM ancestors who have helped shape who we are today.
Today, our congregation remains committed and engaged in the San Mateo community.
A Brief History of Unitarian Universalism
Unitarian Universalism emerged from two separate Protestant denominations – Unitarianism and Universalism. Both of these denominations started in Europe hundreds of years ago. The Universalist Church of America was founded by 1793, and the American Unitarian Association by 1825. In 1961, these denominations consolidated to form the new religion of Unitarian Universalism.
Originally, all Unitarians were Christians who did not believe in the Holy Trinity of God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). Instead, they believed in the unity, or single aspect, of God. While Unitarian beliefs have been around since soon after the death of Jesus, people did not form religious groups based on these ideas until the middle of the 1500s in Transylvania and the middle of the 1600s in England. The religious authorities of the times saw these early Unitarians as heretics and often persecuted them. Unitarianism eventually began to stress the importance of rational thinking, each person’s direct relationship with God, and the humanity of Jesus.
Unitarians have been very influential throughout American history, especially in politics and literature. Some famous Unitarians include Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Paul Revere, President William Howard Taft, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Unitarianism flourished in the religious freedom of early America. By 1825, Unitarian ministers had formed a Unitarian denomination called the American Unitarian Association (AUA). Speaking out on issues such as peace, education reform, prison reform, orphanages, capital punishment, moderation in temperance, ministry to the poor, and the abolition of slavery, the AUA’s liberal voice was soon heard throughout the country. Influential Unitarians from this era included William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, Joseph Priestly, and Thomas Starr King, who was also a Universalist.
American Unitarianism went through many changes over the next 150 years, from the introduction of Transcendentalist thought in the middle of the 1800s, through debates about war and pacifism during the U.S. Civil War and the two World Wars, to the influx of Humanism in the early 1930s. These changes slowly made Unitarianism a broader and more flexible faith.
Universalists are Christians who believe in universal salvation. They don’t believe that a loving God could punish anyone to hell for eternity. Instead, they believe that everyone will be reconciled with God eventually.
While Universalist beliefs have been proclaimed for thousands of years, starting with Origen in 200 CE, the faith did not have the opportunity to form into a widespread religious movement until English Universalists came to America in the late 1700s to escape religious persecution. Because of its loving and inclusive doctrine, Universalism quickly became popular throughout the United States, especially in rural areas and the expanding western states. The Universalist denomination, called the Universalist Church of America, was formed by 1793. Universalists including Hosea Ballou, John Murray, and Benjamin Rush helped to spread and develop their faith’s teachings throughout the denomination’s early years.
Universalists have been influential throughout American history. Some famous Universalists include Clara Barton, Olympia Brown, Thomas Starr King, Horace Greeley, George Pullman, Mary Livermore, and Benjamin Rush. Universalists were best known for supporting education and non-sectarian schools, but they also worked on social issues, including the separation of church and state, prison reform, capital punishment, the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights. In 1863, the Universalists became the first group in the United States to ordain a woman with full denominational authority.
The Civil War unfortunately destroyed many Universalist churches and killed many Universalist ministers who had served as chaplains for the armies. Soon after, a softer approach to the idea of damnation became popular throughout the United States in the mid-to-late 1800s, making the Universalist denomination less unique in its teachings. The denomination struggled for many years as membership waned.
About Unitarian Universalism
After growing increasingly theologically and ethically close, the Unitarian and Universalist denominations consolidated in 1961 to form the new religion of Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalism no longer solely holds traditional Unitarian or Universalist beliefs, but does draw directly on its heritage for much of its inspiration and grounding. Well-known Unitarian Universalists include Tim Berners-Lee, Paul Newman, Christopher Reeve, May Sarton, Pete Seeger, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Since 1961, Unitarian Universalism has followed in the footsteps of its Unitarian and Universalist heritages to provide a strong voice for social justice and liberal religion. Within a very few years of the new religion’s forming, Unitarian Universalists’ voices were already heard nationwide, advocating for the rights of conscientious objectors to the war in Vietnam as well as for voting and civil rights for people of color in the south. Many members of our faith responded to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s call to witness and participate in the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Unitarian Universalists James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo were killed because of their participation in this protest, and ended up becoming martyrs of the movement.
Unitarian Universalists deepened our social justice work in the 1970s by actively supporting the rights of gay and lesbian people, publishing the Pentagon Papers, and working within our denomination to support feminism and to combat racism and oppression. The 1980s began more than a decade of denominational spiritual reflection which resulted in reframing our religious principles and acknowledging the shared sources of our faith. Unitarian Universalists continue to protest unjust wars and unnecessary violence today.
In 2001, the denomination marked the point at which there were more female Unitarian Universalist ministers than male ministers. Unitarian Universalism continues to encourage women’s leadership in our congregations and the larger community. Another issue which remains at the forefront of the Unitarian Universalist community is marriage equality (also known as same-sex marriage). Unitarian Universalism fully supports the right of all committed couples to marry. Unitarian Universalist congregations, individuals, and the UUA staff continue to work to have these marriages legally sanctioned in every state.
In addition to working on these and other social justice issues, Unitarian Universalism has grappled with a number of spiritual changes over the years since its founding. Some of the major debates have included reframing our religious principles, understanding the changing role of Christianity in today’s Unitarian Universalism, acknowledging the sources of our faith and making room in those sources for earth-based spirituality, and coming to understand what religious and spiritual language works best in our congregations. Together, we work to nurture our spirits, side with love, and help heal our world.