When Reverend Christana McKnight first thought of revamping Unitarian Congregational Parish of Norton, she had to first figure out whether there was still a place for it. She concluded that while traditional churches are dying, there is still a need for spiritual community.
“We don’t need horse and buggies anymore. That is done. But we still need transportation,” McKnight explained.
And so the church has evolved.
The Unitarian Church is the oldest church in town, founded 300 years ago with the town in 1711. The bell was made by Paul Revere.
Before McKnight took over in May of 2010, the last time there was a full-time reverend was many decades ago. There were only two active members of the congregation. Sermons and hymnals were outdated. The church did not have a postal address or a telephone number. The pew benches are still stuffed with straw, and the windows are painted shut.
McKnight is slowly working on these issues, as her first six months were spent researching what people need from a religious institute. So far, she has recruited 50 congregation members and come up with some creative ways to keep their interest.
“When I started this job, I said, I’m not going to do this to recreate something that’s just going to die,” McKnight said.
On Wednesdays and Fridays, members gather at the church for TED Talks. TED is a nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading.” Speakers are given 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can while spectators view online. Speakers have included Al Gore, Bill Gates and more. Tonight, members of Unitarian Universalist will gather 4 p.m. over soup as Dan Gilbert tackles the cause of happiness.
Other groups her and volunteers are working on include Roots, where members talk about perennial religious issues, a movie group, Buddhism and 10 Steps to Spiritual Parenting.
Another idea McKnight had was to use LCD screens for people to look at instead of hymnals.
“Singing is an important part of the spiritual experience,” McKnight said. However, she wants to foster the relationship of church members with each other, instead of with the books.
“I’m the one starting a lot of this, but if the community is going to live, everybody has to participate,” McKnight said, noting each person has a special skill they can use to make the church successful.
When McKnight first started, she cancelled worship services since they had not been changed since 1945. The goal is to start off with one service a month once a critical mass is gained.
The first service will be 4 p.m. Christmas Eve.