Janesville72.6°

Spiritual traditions coming together

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Catherine W. Idzerda
May 19, 2008
— It was an unusual church service.

The readings came from Matthew, the Lakota Sioux and Tennyson.


The music included “Amazing Grace,” “The Water is Wide” and “Gray Cat on the Tennessee Farm.”


The service also included the passing of the offering plate and gathering of flowers.


On Sunday evening, the Unitarian Congregation of Rock County held a “Flower Communion Service” at Rotary Botanical Gardens.


“This is a historic occasion,” congregation member Ed Timmer said in his opening remarks. “It’s the very first time Rotary Gardens has hosted a church service and the first Flower Communion Service our congregation has held.”


Norbert Capek, founder of Czechoslovakia’s modern Unitarian movement, started the service in 1923. Each person brings a flower to the service, and all the flowers are placed in a vase together.


At Sunday’s service, Timmer held the vase while members came forward with their flowers. Lilacs, miniature daffodils, bleeding hearts, tulips and brightly colored grocery-store daisies combined to create an unconventional bouquet.


The collection of flowers represents the community—its collective strengths and the love that binds it together, the Unitarians believe.


“We all come together as a group,” said Dick Ramsdell, one of the founders of the current Unitarian congregation. “We are more together as a group than we are as individuals.”


What do Unitarians believe?

The Unitarian Universalist Church has seven principals:


-- The inherent worth and dignity of every person.


-- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.


-- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.


-- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.


-- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.


-- The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.


-- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.


“Those are the principles adopted by the general assembly,” said Dick Ramsdell, one of the founders of the Unitarian Congregation of Rock County. “Locally, we’ve never adopted them officially.”


The local congregation’s statement of purpose is “To bring its members, friends and visitors together in a stimulating environment for the examination and clarification of ethical, philosophical and religious thoughts and values.”


Some Unitarians believe in God, others do not. They draw on a variety of philosophical traditions ranging from Christian to Buddhist, Muslim to Native American, agnostic to atheistic.


Ramsdell believes the “overarching difference” of the Unitarian church is “a mutual respect for a diversity of beliefs.”


Unitarians in Janesville

Unitarians have been an on-and-off presence in Janesville since the late 19th century.


From the late 1800s to 1923, the congregation had a church on the corner of North Parker Drive and Court Street, said Dick Ramsdell, one of the founders of the Unitarian Congregation of Rock County.


In 1923, the group disbanded, with many members joining the Congregational Church.


In the 1970s, Ramsdell and others were in a Unitarian fellowship, but several key members moved away and it eventually dissolved.


Four years ago in January, Ramsdell started the group again.


At Sunday’s service, about 16 people attended.


The congregation has 17 official members and another 10 to 15 friends and visitors. Members gather at 6 p.m. Sundays at First Congregational Church, Janesville. Ramsdell stressed that his group is not affiliated with the church—it just serves as a meeting place.


The first and third Sundays are devoted to discussion, and the second and third are devoted to a more formal service. There is no service on fifth Sundays.



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