Welcome! If you are here looking to find the “flavor” of this church, this is where we do our best to describe it. We are a caring, open-minded religious community that encourages you to seek your own spiritual path.
We gather to nurture our spirits and put our faith into action by helping to make our community—and the world—a better place. Of course, there is nothing like coming to church and joining in, but if you'd like a little better idea of who we are before taking that step, please continue reading.
Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion that encompasses many faith traditions and accommodates a wide range of beliefs. Unitarian Universalism and First Parish include people who identify as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Taoists, Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and others. As there is no official Unitarian Universalist creed, Unitarian Universalists are free to search for truth on many paths.
Unitarian Universalism emerged from two different religions: Unitarianism and Universalism. Both started in Europe hundreds of years ago. In 1961, these denominations consolidated to form the new religion of Unitarian Universalism.
Although we uphold shared principles, individual Unitarian Universalists have varied beliefs about everything from scripture, to rituals, to God.
About Our Services
Sunday service is our main weekly gathering. Most services follow a common format, though with frequent variations. Elements of worship generally include times of welcome and call to worship, a chalice lighting, a message for all ages, sharing our joys and concerns with each other, silent reflection and meditation, singing, and a sermon. Piano and organ music, choirs and musical guests enrich our time.
What do we mean by “worship” if we don't all believe in God? This is the shared religious life of the congregation: attending Sunday services, creating religious music, honoring life passages like marriage and death, and celebrating special holidays together. A belief in God is welcomed but not required within Unitarian Universalism.
- We have monthly evening Vespers services, which are quieter, theme-based services including music, readings, candle lighting and personal reflection.
- We celebrate or honor all of the big events and changes that take place in people's lives, such as birth, entry into the religious community, marriage, and remembrance.
- Summer services are held each summer week. A wide variety of interesting speakers from our community lead us in exploration of topics of their choosing, in a more informal setting and format in the Fellowship Hall.
In tone, we seem pretty ‘Yankee’: somewhat reserved. Oh, we applaud now and then, cry at sad things, laugh at the good ones, sing with some gusto. But (so far) we’re not given to outbreaks of “Alleluiah” or “Amen”, wailing, shouting, hugging, or even speaking in tongues.
Are we different from other UU churches?
While each UU church shares elements with others, each is unique. Whether you find more similarities or differences is up to you: what you see depends mainly on what you look for!
We take pride in a few aspects of our community, which may not be unique, but seem to describe us well:
- We care for each other, especially when someone is going through troubled times.
- We love music, as an expression of the joy and beauty of life, and we have a strong music program.
- We are pretty down-to-earth, and while we value each other’s talents and achievements, generally don’t strongly categorize you based on “what do you do for a living?”
Community and Fellowship
For many, community is what brings us to church: sharing in each other’s lives, common purposes, joys and sorrows. While one might choose to worship alone, being in community is missing from the lives of many people today. That it is a loving, open-minded community is what compels many, over time, to consider First Parish as their other, or real home.
Our community is richly interwoven in so many ways we could fill pages, and we do throughout this website and especially over on the Church Life page! Some examples: our annual apple pie making, involving people in picking, peeling, dough-rolling, baking, and selling. A weekly peace vigil in front of the church. A coffeehouse with folk music, food, and fellowship that draws as many people from the surrounding community as from within the church. A memorial service that honors the life and mourns the loss of a member. Working as a group to construct a local Habitat for Humanity house. Our annual summer canoeing and camping trip, community supper, and fireside sing-along. Our small group ministries that gather together small communities monthly to get to know one other on a deeper level. Members of all ages teach our children, in and outside classrooms. We gather seaside in the spring to Retreat, and enjoy each other’s companionship and spirit. Together we celebrate and support our members doing social justice work locally and in India, Peru, and New Orleans. We visit each other in times of ill health, go Christmas Caroling, walk, make cookies, knit, drum, chat, laugh, kvetch. And we get together every Sunday after church service for coffee hour, just for fellowship.
Not everyone does everything; most follow where their heart leads them and find community and fellowship with others they find there. Years weave an ever-richer tapestry.
Most of us, in and outside of churches, are seeking: for truth, knowledge, love, community, justice, growth, understanding, peace. First Parish offers rich and diverse opportunities for such exploration; for most of us, more so than anywhere else. What we find is often transformative.
We offer formal and informal opportunities for exploration and growth, beyond Sunday services. There are occasional adult education classes – see our Newsletter or call the office. There are always opportunities for you to volunteer to be of service. "The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others." – Ghandi. Similarly, teaching is the best way to learn. Small Group Ministry meetings provide an opportunity to explore with others. Forums, like the Middle East forum, offer the chance to broaden our horizons. Acts of kindness, given and received, can soften years of hardening of the heart.
Occasionally people have epiphanies. Sometimes support from friends is just the boost needed to make a major change. Sometimes our soul and spirit just grow stronger, day by day.
Unitarian Universalists are dedicated to living our faith and practicing what we preach. Working for civil rights and combating oppression are essential parts of our spiritual journey. We work for justice in ways that resonate with our Principles, from protecting our environment to standing up for bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people. We refer you to our Social Justice page for more details of our Social Justice commitment and program.
Unitarian Universalist religious education is grounded in nurturing our children and adults. We give people the building blocks with which to form their own beliefs rather than indoctrinating them into a system of thought. We offer children and adults information and support to discover and explore their own spiritual beliefs; help in expressing their Unitarian Universalist religious identity; information on our Unitarian Universalist heritage; support in developing and living by their own ethical codes; and the basic teachings of other religions, especially the Judeo Christian traditions from which Unitarian Universalism emerged.
Please visit our pages on Religious Education for more information regarding programming for children and youth.
We are a member church of the Unitarian Universalist Association of America, numbering over 1,000 congregations in North America. We belong to the Clara Barton District, along with 64 other churches, which is part of the New England Region.
Our professional staff works with lay leaders who sit on our governing board and head all our committees. The duties of elected positions and rules for the church's operations are defined in our bylaws. Every member of First Parish is eligible to vote to elect our officials, as well as approve both the annual budget and changes to the bylaws.
We ask each family who participates in church on a regular basis to make a pledge of financial support. Amounts are determined solely by each family, according to their own financial circumstances and desire to support our community. We have an annual canvass activity in the spring to reach out to all members and friends of the church, prior to determining what the annual budget for the next year will be.
See the Members & Friends Area for the link to the on-line pledge form and more information about pledging and stewardship in general.
Facts and Figures
We have 315 official members. A larger population identify as part of the church but are not official members. For more about membership, please visit our Newcomers page.
Most members come to church most weeks. Church attendance averages about 130 adults weekly. We currently have 132 children enrolled in Religious Education.
We are a regional church, and draw from a number of surrounding towns. Beyond Stow and Acton, we count within our population people from Hudson, Boxborough, Maynard, Marlborough, Bolton, Cambridge, Framingham, Harvard, Berlin, and beyond.
Our Church's History
First Parish Church traces its origins back to 1683 when the town of Stow sought to settle a minister as a condition of its incorporation. The First Parish Church of Stow became Unitarian in 1833. The Universalist Church had its beginnings in Acton when the Reverend Hosea Ballou began preaching sermons on universal salvation in 1814. In 1961 the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Churches of America merged. In 1969 the Universalist Church of Acton and the First Parish Church of Stow combined to become First Parish Church of Stow and Acton.
We also have available a History of FPC to 1987 (958 KB, Adobe Acrobat format), which not only includes more details but also vintage photographs, postcards, and even fair posters from early in the church’s long life.