EDMONDS — Near the end of the worship service, people lined the sides of the sanctuary to make their way up front, toward a large bowl filled with water.
As their turn came, each plucked a pebble from a small bowl and gently dropped it into the water. The reflections ritual at the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation was a chance to make a promise, remember someone or mark an important event.
“A kind word or a thoughtful act, like a pebble dropped in water, sends ripples out into the world,” a pastor had explained at the outset.
Like those tiny pebbles, the congregation seeks to send positive ripples throughout the community — and the wider world. Local adherents champion progressive causes such as climate activism and racial justice, LGBT rights and interfaith dialogue. They support children at neighborhood schools and work to keep low-income neighbors from going hungry.
“We try to be a part of the world, rather than apart from the world,” the Rev. Eric Kaminetzky said. “We do the justice work we do as part of who we are. One contrast from other denominations: We are not out serving the world in order to make more Unitarian Universalists; we’re trying to meet people where they’re at.”
An example of their faith in action can be found in the church’s back parking lot off of 224th Street SW, in the Esperance area just west Highway 99. A car camp provides 10 parking stalls as a safe overnight haven to families and single women who have no other place to stay. The congregation provides security lighting, a portable toilet, twice-weekly showers and a temporary membership to the Dale Turner Family YMCA in Shoreline. To use the space, there’s an interview process and a background check.
“A lot of it is about human contact,” said Grant Gladow, a retired commercial real estate appraiser who joined the congregation in the early 1990s. “A lot of them may not have had people look them in the eye and say, ‘How are you doing today?’”
Some of the guests have fled domestic violence or sexual assault. They might be in the middle of a divorce and bewildered that they’re unable to afford rent or a mortgage.
The congregation’s community involvement takes many other forms.
Volunteers spend one Saturday each month serving the Neighbors in Need breakfast at Trinity Lutheran in Lynnwood. Other volunteer groups work with students at Chase Lake and Cedar Valley community schools.
There’s a long-standing interfaith relationship between their church and the local Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, including blood drives and joint worship services.
The Edmonds congregation takes up an offering at the end of each Sunday service, but they give it away. Over a year, it can add up to $20,000 to $40,000. Recipients have included local food banks and child advocacy groups, as well as organizations supporting women and refugees in other countries.
“We have been giving away our Sunday offering for years and years and years,” said Rachel Maxwell, a congregation member whose day job is leading Community Sourced Capital, a nonprofit she co-founded. “It’s like the whole of the congregation is tithing to the world.”
Kaminetzky has served the congregation full-time since 2010. He’s the senior minister, but not the boss of the church. A second full-time minister, the Rev. Cecilia Kingman, focuses on faith and justice.
Its most famous past leader is probably Robert Fulghum, author of the 1989 bestseller, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He was pastor from 1966 to 1985, and still has emeritus status.
The Edmonds sanctuary is airy, with light wood paneling and lots of windows. The service, in many respects, resembles one from a Protestant church, but the congregation welcomes people of all faiths — or no identifiable faith at all. The denomination was formed in 1961 by the merger of Unitarianism and Universalism.
“We don’t ask them to say they believe what everybody else in the sanctuary believes,” Kaminetzky said.
Put another way, they’re “religiously liberal,” open to differing creeds and doctrines. It’s no contradiction that different members of the congregation identify with various Christian traditions, as well as Judaism, Buddhism and paganism.
But they all share common values.
“If you look at Unitarian Universalists and you look at the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation,” Kaminetzky said, “you will find a determined optimism, not that we can make everything better, but that we can make some things better and that we have a responsibility to try.”