|Unitarianism in New England|
|"Unitarian" means belief in a single God rather than a "trinitarian" or triune "God in three persons."|
Three centuries after the life of Jesus, the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325 AD) proclaimed the doctrine of the Trinity, that God was composed of three "persons:" God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit.
Over the centuries some Christians disputed or renounced this doctrine, arguing that the Bible does not set forth such a position. They argued for what they saw as the original Christian belief based on Judaic monotheism: that there was one God, of whom Jesus was the Son.
During the Reformation in 16th-century Europe, Unitarianism was espoused by several notable theologians, and Unitarian congregations were found (in the minority) in a number of European countries.
In America of the 1700s, Enlightenment belief developed in the direction of Deism, the belief that God was truly understood through the power of Reason and Experience, and best seen in the wonders of Nature. Deism was reportedly the belief of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and several other prominent American leaders and thinkers.
The early 1800s saw Unitarianism flourish in New England as some Congregational churches affirmed their Unitarian sentiments. At the First Parish in Concord (MA), originally (1636) a Congregationalist-Calvinist congregation, a majority of parishioners held Unitarian beliefs. The Trinitarians in the congregation left the church to build their own Trinitarian Congregational meetinghouse on the opposite side of Concord's Mill Brook.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) graduated from Harvard Divinity School with liberal Christian beliefs, but his thought quickly developed in the direction of Deism, though he defined Deistic beliefs in different terms: God was in each living being, and living beings all together were the totality of God—in Emerson's words, the Oversoul.
Emerson taught that people need not look to religious doctrine or precedent for spiritual guidance, but rather within themselves. The divinity within, revealed through Reason (the great gift of the Creator), would guide them in the right way toward goodness and fulfillment.
Emerson abandoned the pulpit for a life of lecturing and writing, expounding his beliefs in essays and poems. Though a member of First Parish in Concord, he later left the church, discouraged by the "dry, lifeless" preaching of Reverend Barzillai Frost (minister 1837-1857). He renewed his membership in 1865 when Reverend Grindall Reynolds was in the pulpit.
In 1961 the American Unitarian Association joined with the Universalist Church of America to form the Unitarian Universalist Association for administrative purposes.
Today Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal rather than a doctrinal body: instead of affirming that all members share the same beliefs, they covenant (promise together) to support and respect one another in their lives and individual quests for religious fulfillment.
Many Unitarians revere Jesus and his teachings, some consider themselves Christians, but a minority hold to traditional Christian doctrine.
Unitarian Universalists promote peace, tolerance, religious freedom, democracy, assistance to the disadvantaged, and all persons' right to search for religious fulfillment in their own way. Congregations are independent and operate democratically, electing their own officers and appointing their own ministers, who serve at the pleasure of the congregation.
The Unitarian Universalist Association, also democratic, provides organizational guidance and support. Minister-candidates are ordained after examination by other ministers, with confirmation by the Association.