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Progressive Church in Moscow, Idaho, Provides Sanctuary for Community  


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Progressive Church in Moscow, Idaho, Provides Sanctuary for Community  

Contributions from FāVS from readers like you make this news story possible. Thank you.

News Story by Mikayla Finnerty

A flaming chalice surrounded by colors of the rainbow beckons the Moscow community to the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse as a symbol of the church’s openness and inclusivity. 

Ginger Allen
Ginger Allen / Courtesy Photo

“It’s a symbol that we are a safe place to be in the world. And so that symbol now is used in almost all not every single one but almost all Unitarian Universalist churches,” said Ginger Allen, director of family ministries.

Some may find the symbol out of place. 

Church member Pam Arborgreen spent over three weeks crafting the window, cutting the glass, and individually gluing each piece. 

A Progressive Church in a Right-Leaning State

The state the church resides, Idaho, a predominantly right-leaning state, passed legislative bills earlier this month restricting gender-affirming care for minors and limiting abortion access

UUC on the Palouse is a progressive church, where it often finds itself at odds with more conservative and restrictive opposing ideologies from policy makers and conservative churches like Christ Church.  

The Reb. Elizabeth Stevens
The Reb. Elizabeth Stevens / Courtesy Photo

“In my congregation, I have atheists; I have progressive Christians; I have pagans; I have Buddhists; I have Jewish people; I have one person who identifies as a Jewish, Buddhist pagan,” the Rev. Elizabeth Stevens said. “We’ve got this rich theological diversity, but what holds us together are our shared deep values, commitments to things like equity, justice, love, compassion, kindness.”

Stevens is the minister at UUCP and is passionate about social justice. She has served the congregation for just over 10 years this year. 

From Stevens’s perspective, the political climate in Idaho is scary, and a little bit sad. Even though she believes the majority of Idahoans aren’t extremists, the minority of those who are have maneuvered the thinking.

“I feel like in a two-party system, you want Republicans and Democrats to work together to find the place in the middle,” Stevens said. “And I think when you have not only one party in such singlehanded control, but the extremists of that party, driving the agenda and the platform, which is what we have here, I just I think we’re in really dangerous waters right now.”

What is Unitarian Universalist?

UUC beliefs are diverse and inclusive and embrace other religious beliefs and philosophies. Unitarian Universalist is one of the fastests growing denominations while others have shrunk. 

Other religions outside of Unitarian Universalist are creedal, where you are defined by what you believe. While Unitarian Universalists are covenantal Stevens said.

“This comes out of actually the Calvinist Puritan tradition, this idea that what defines a church community and the boundaries of a church community aren’t what we believe, but rather how we behave, and specifically how we treat one another,” Stevens said.

Allen was born and raised Unitarian Universalist. 

She considers herself a humanist and says that many Unitarian Universalists have humanist persuasions.

“My faith really centers on a couple of things. The bottom line is that I believe all people are good and have dignity and worth and that I try to go through life seeing the shared humanity and see the goodness in everyone,” Allen said, “I believe the world is a good place and people are inherently good. And so that really sets the foundation of my faith.”

The Moscow UU Community

UUCP just went under a $2.4 million renovation that was constructed during the pandemic, and put to use in June of 2022. 

The driving force behind the renovation was accessibility for those who needed it during the winter, Stevens said. 

Outside of Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse in Moscow, Idaho / Photo by Mikayla Finnerty (FāVS News)

They added a third level to the sanctuary, repaired and expanded the commercial kitchen, added an elevator, and built in a double staircase among other renovations, Stevens said. 

All of the funds for the construction were raised by UUCP or donated by community members. 

“What I love about this church in particular here in Moscow, is that, well, my folks are amazing. I mean, the people that I serve, they’re smart, they’re caring, they’re real,” Stevens said. 

Community members are encouraged to express their opinions and guests are always welcome, Arbogreen said. 

“The members have settled in here because they have found support and acceptance just as they are. Members are equal in the church and the pastor is the head coach,” Arbogreen said.  

Unique Teaching

At this congregation, sermons look a little different than traditional lectionaries from books of worship like the Bible or the Quran. 

“We don’t have any kind of a lectionary. We do lift up religious holidays and secular holidays and that’ll be the jumping-off point. But I use a lot of secular readings, a lot of poetry,” Stevens said, “My doctoral work focused on trauma so I bring in a lot of sort of psychology and neurobiology.”

Stevens takes events happening in the world and tailors her sermons around it to open discussion with her congregation, she said.

In other churches, there are offerings requested at the end of the sermon to help fund church expeditions. For UUCP, their offerings do not touch the church. 

“We give away what’s called plate offerings. It’s when we pass the plate and you put money in, none of that supports our church, actually, all of that supports local communities and other people that we believe in,” Allen said.

Activism Is Key

With the ideology of faith and activism being intertwined, UUCP advocates for LGBTQ+, gun violence and more, Stevens said.

“The way we like to do our faith is trying to make the world a better place. And so I think activism and Unitarian Universalism is like really intertwined,” Allen said. “There’s not really a way to be a Unitarian Universalist unless you’re out there trying to make the world better.”

The completed glass art of the flaming chalice / Photo by Mikayla Finnerty (FāVS News)

UUCP openly accepts people part of the LGBTQ+ community while Idaho legislature recently signed a bill banning transgender transitions for minors.

“We’re living in this place where fundamental human rights are being eroded, where people are being demonized and attacked unjustly, transgender people, queer people, as progressive people of faith like we see our work as evolving, growing, moving forward, equipping ourselves to be responsible citizens in the present and then for the sake of the future,” Stevens said. 

Members of the congregation participate in social activism marches and events, which Allen says the church supports. 

“We either create events or support any other community, like we’re always a part of the pride parades. We always are there for reproductive health, and Planned Parenthood, we go out and support you know, Black Lives Matter, all of these social justice groups,” Allen said.

Pushback for Their Beliefs

Not everyone supports UUCP’s activism efforts, and they face their fair share of adversity. 

“Certainly we’ve gotten our share of hate mail. I think we had somebody come in and actually kind of yell inappropriate, things at one of our services and police had to be called. That was before I got here,” Stevens said, “This is a congregation that’s really strong and we actually have quite a lot of community support.”

The church will continue to advocate for social justice as Idaho continues to increase restricting policies.  

“I think being in a place where conservative politics are so extreme right now, in a way it strengthens our church because it just makes it clear what the work is … We have to be a sanctuary. We have to be sort of an organizing platform for people of goodwill,” Stevens said. 

Contributions from FāVS from readers like you make this news story possible. Thank you.

Mikayla Finnerty
Mikayla Finnerty
Mikayla Finnerty is a multimedia journalism major at Washington State University.  She was the social media editor for the Daily Evergreen spring 2022 and will be Managing Editor for the paper this Fall. During her time at the Evergreen, she has written for Roots, Opinion, and Culture.  She has also created illustrations as well as taken pictures. Mikayla enjoys reading and baking in her free time.

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