Gifts go beyond what’s under Christmas tree for Unitarian Universalists

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of Question-and-Answer feature stories that highlight Auburn’s “Churches at Christmas.” Today, the Journal takes a look at the Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists church. The Rev. Lynn Gardner and The Rev. Wendy Bartel are co-ministers. Other churches are being featured throughout the week. 


1. In what ways does your church focus on the birth of Christ?

The theology of Unitarian Universalism includes honoring many of the world’s spiritual leaders, including Jesus of Nazareth. His birth story is one that encourages hope and wonder, and celebrates love and peace.  Many people yearn for these things, and we strive to offer them through worship, community, and service. We celebrate the beauty found in the light and the darkness. The gifts of peace and goodwill are more than nice words. They are spiritual practices. We strive to create a better world so that each child that is born is recognized as holy, precious, and loved.

2. What are you offering, in terms of traditional and innovative experiences for church-goers at this time of year? What is on your church’s calendar leading up to Christmas, including Christmas Eve and Dec. 23 services?

 Throughout December, we honor Advent, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanzaa – recognizing that there are many spiritual truths. We celebrated a Wholly Family service knowing that love and families come in many forms.  Last Sunday, our children and youth led worship and shared wisdom on peace and justice. It was especially poignant to have our young people speaking about creating peace this year. Our Winter Solstice Celebration is at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 21. We will share poetry, music, drumming and dance. At 5:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, we’ll invite folks gathered into a deeper reflection on faith and love with story, song, and candlelight.

3. How many members does your church have? What is your church address? How long has your church been serving the community?

Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists have around 135 members, and about 50 children and youth participating in our Religious Education program. We have two Sunday services at 9 a.m. and 11a.m. most weekends. SFUU is located at 190 Finley St. in Auburn across from Placer High School and serves people from all over the region. Our Web address is The congregation just celebrated our 30th anniversary in October. In November, we formally called our co-ministers, the Rev. Lynn Gardner and the Rev. Wendy Bartel in an installation ceremony.

4. In what ways does your church and its members serve the needy in our community?

Social justice is deeply important in our religion. Many people do good works through their employment, through raising spirited, thoughtful children, through donations, or volunteering. SFUU is one of the founding congregations of the Gathering Inn. We are active at the Auburn Interfaith Food Closet and the CROP walk. We support the democratic process, and have a team of volunteers who serve at the polls.  We stand on the side of love by working for compassionate immigration reform, marriage equality, and water justice.  We host a non-violent communication circle every month, and have offered a Peace Camp for several summers.

5. The retail side of Christmas seems to be seeping into our lives earlier every year. What are your thoughts on the commercial side of Christmas?

Gifts come in many forms. They may be purchasing a particular item, spending time with someone, or a small act of kindness. Choosing gifts can be meaningful when done mindfully and heartfully. Choosing to support businesses that share our values – equality, peace, protecting the environment, giving back to communities, engaging fair-employment practices especially for people who are often marginalized, this is faith in action.  We support a Giving Tree for needy families. We strive to buy from local merchants, artists, and Fair Trade organizations when possible. The radical message of Jesus was to love one another-what a gift.