Thinking about Joining a Spiritual Community

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Starting to question our opposition to organized religion

March 2013

My husband and I are starting to question the wisdom of our long-held opposition to organized religion. It seems to offer a lot to people we know and respect, both culturally and spiritually. The problem is that neither of us is really sure that we believe in God. Also, we don't want to introduce anything heavy-handed to our two young children. What I would really like is a great community of thoughtful, caring people, who come together to consider life's big questions. Is that church? If so, does anyone have any advice about how to begin to participate in a religious community where it won't feel like we are being false? Any recommendations about a specific spiritual community in Oakland, where there are people thinking along these same lines? ---Wondering

Read more about Unitarian Universalism, and check out the Unitarian church in Berkeley. This is a very liberal religion that supports free and responsible search for truth and meaning - it is a group of spiritual people going on their own path and not answering to a creed or higher authority. One Unitarian's beliefs may be very different than the next when it comes to God, the afterlife, and other major religious beliefs, but Unitarians are all joined in their wish to have a spiritual side to their life and their wish to do good on this earth. Check it out, it sounds like it may be a good fit for what you are looking for. UU

I run somewhere between atheist and agnostic and have a real bias against organized religion based on childhood experiences. Yet, i have found a community and a home at First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Unitarian Universalism has worked for me since there is no dogma, just a shared set of values. It is politically and socially progressive, values the use of reason and science as well as knowledge and experience gained by other means, and yes, is a place where we sing, read and contemplate life's larger questions. My fellow congregants identify as all over the map - Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, atheist, agnostic, yet we can come together in community to work through how we want to be in the world. Apart from the comfort and feeling of belonging, I am so encouraged by this model ... people of diverse beliefs coming together peaceably to face the challenges of life together. We often say ''we need not think alike to love alike.'' It is how I wish the rest of the world was. It is not for everyone, but for me it has provided all that is beneficial about religion without all the things that can so easily offend me about organized religion. We welcome all, including people like my former self who look panicky and hold their noses and have to sit by the door in case a hasty retreat is needed. Many, if not most of us started from that place. Love being UU

My family attends the Oakland Unitarian Universalist Church and we've found it to be a great ''community of thoughtful, caring people, who come together to consider life's big questions'' (I love your description!). Unitarians don't ask you to ''believe'' any particular dogma, but rather draw on many different traditions and practices to explore spirituality. I'm a Pagan and my partner is spiritual but not part of an established religion, and we have felt very welcomed at UU Oakland. The children's activities are great and promote UU values (see below) as well as understanding of different faiths and practices. Come check it out!

FYI about UUs: Unitarian Universalists are a ''non-creedal'' religion, i.e. you don't have to subscribe to a particular spiritual belief. The UU principles are: ''The inherent worth and dignity of every person; Justice, equality 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.'' Spiritual mama

The Eastbay Church of Religious Science is exactly what you are looking for! I am an agnostic and don't go there very often because I have a baby at home. But they are accessible and make sense with their positive message. Reverend E is especially amazing. It is such an amazing mix of people who go there, all ethnicities, all classes seem to be welcome. Dr Rene

''What I would really like is a great community of thoughtful, caring people, who come together to consider life's big questions. Is that church?'' Yes! In particular, it sounds a lot like my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. ( You do not need to believe in God -- we support everyone in their search for what is true and good. Come join us one Sunday morning and see if it's a good fit. A liberal lesbian who still believes in organized religion

My family has found a lot of what you are looking for by attending an unprogrammed Quaker meeting. Here is some more information about Quakerism: While Quakerism has historical roots in Christianity, many Quakers (myself included) do not consider themselves Christian. Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone, but have no dogma about what or who God is; for many it is simply one's own ''inner light.'' You mention finding a thoughtful and caring group of people, which would certainly describe my experience of Quakers. Since Quakers believe that no one's connection to the divine is any greater than any one else's, the entire community participates in caring for the meeting and its members. Vistors are of course always welcome, and there is childcare provided for Meeting for Worship (which is silent worship, with messages shared as anyone is inspired to do so) on Sunday morning. We attend Strawberry Creek Meeting in south Berkeley (, which has several young families. Good luck in your search for spiritual community, and feel free to contact me for more information. Judy

Welcome to the First Unitarian Church of Oakland! You would fit right in!! Debbie

There ARE places other than a church (or temple, etc.) that you can find a community of like-minded people with whom you enjoy contemplating life's ''big questions.'' But churches are undoubtedly the EASIEST places to find that, in our culture. Of course, for an atheist or agnostic, attending church services can be very uncomfortable for many reasons!

I would suggest that you check out the Humanist Hall in Oakland ( and the Unitarian Universalist church ( You might be interested in other non-theistic or pagan worship communities (Buddhist, Wiccan) but UUs, in particular, are often a good fit for people who ''aren't sure'' about belief in a god, but who are culturally Christian and looking for rituals that are familiar and comforting in that context.

You can also consider what other types of ''interest communities'' might serve your needs. Perhaps you would rather join, or start, a hiking club, a community chorus, a local-activist organization or political discussion group, a family sports league or something of that type. If it has a regular schedule of meetings or events with a social component, and a core of dedicated members, it can provide many of the same benefits that some of your friends get from attending church -- without the religion aspect. Holly

I go to Christ Church East Bay, a Christian church. I have found it to be a community of thoughtful and caring people grappling with life's big questions. Virtually every sermon begins by acknowledging those in the room who are not Christian and/or don't believe in God and affirming their decision to be there. There are lots of nice young families. Even being part of the community, regardless of beliefs about God, could be an enriching experience for your family. If you have an hour and half on Sunday, I would highly recommend visiting.

The only caveat is that it is still a church service with singing, responsive reading, etc. It's totally acceptable not to participate, but might be slightly uncomfortable on a first visit. It's also not a discussion.

Oftentimes, discussion in the context of organized religion (including at Christ Church East Bay) happens in smaller groups at some point during the week - discussing a book, a topic, or the Bible. tyler

You should definitely check out the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley (UUCB). They have a vibrant community with many children, parenting groups, and a great religious education program. It is not Christian or even God focused. The church allows each person to define spirituality as s/he sees fit. The focus is more on social justice and being kind to your fellow human beings. It's very LBGT friendly too.

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote: 1) The inherent worth and dignity of every person; 2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations; 3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; 4) A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; 5) The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; 6) The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all; 7) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. love UUCB!

Dear Wondering: You write ''My husband and I are starting to question the wisdom of our long-held opposition to organized religion.. neither of us are sure we believe in God.'' In Oakland I personally enjoy ''a community of thoughtful, caring people, who come together to consider life's big questions''... a religious community where you need not feel like you are being false.'' They meet at 225 40th Street Way and are unaffiliated with any organization or Christian denomination. Email me and I shall be happy to suggest some people to give you more information and welcome you if you visit. Meanwhile, search the Bible itself for some guidance. Your questions merit your efforts: ''He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.'' Hebrews 11:6. Happily, the required faith is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8. Best wishes. I would love to hear from you. Pearl

Unitarian churches are the obvious choice for atheists, agnostics, and others who don't care for organized religion. I'd also like to recommend checking out my church, Montclair Presbyterian. Theologically and culturally, it's pretty similar to a Unitarian church. On, it says ''We are a multigenerational, social justice-oriented community of joyful, imperfect people who welcome absolutely everybody with hospitality, openness and acceptance.'' Cynthia

A place to come together spiritually as a family

Jan 2010

My husband and I come from differing religious backgrounds and are looking for a place we can come together spiritually as a family, so that we can raise our daughter within some sort of a relaxed and unifying spiritual framework. I'm not sure what that would look like exactly, but would hope it to have a strong and supportive community, a focus on inclusion and unity, as well as provide a place to reflect and learn. We would love any input, ideas or suggestions from people who have been down this challenging road.

Try Unity -- in particular, the Unity of Berkeley (but if there is a Unity church closer to where you live, give that a try). Unity is a spiritual home for all beliefs. It focusses on the power of prayer/meditation. The Berkeley Unity church is eclectic and lively. There is a children's program, too. You can look at their website: They are located at Arch and Scenic. I just started going there in late November and I really like it, and I haven't been a regular church-goer, ever, until now (I'm in my late 50s). Becky

Unitarian Universalism: I love UUCB , and my 5 yr old daughter and I attend most every Sunday as we have since she was two. For us it's a great supportive community where I don't have to check my brain at the door. I can bring it right on in with the rest of me and enjoy conversations with people from all sorts of religious traditions, including followers of Christ's teachings, Jews, and devout atheists. It's not a complete free for all- it's never OK to hurt anyone. There's a quiz at that's helpful, but here are the basic beliefs: We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote 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.

If you're interested in coming, send me an email- I'd be glad to accompany you. Melissa

Agnostic seeking apolitical church

May 2008

I am at a point in my life where I think I need to get more in touch with my spiritual side. I'd also like to introduce my young children to the cultural traditions of Sundays at church and fellowship. From what I've read, including the archives here, it seems the Unitarian church is probably the best fit for me philosophically. However, I am really bothered by a lot of organized religion, particularly when churches get involved in politics. I wonder if in the liberal Bay Area there is a truly neutral congregation, or at least one that leaves politics completely out of worship. (And I mean all politics, inlcuding left-leaning politics.) I live in Berkeley but am willing to drive to other communities to find this, if it exists. seeker

I attend Church Without Walls ( and it may be a good fit for what you are looking for. We are a smallish church in West Berkeley, focused on loving God and our neighbors (locally and globally). Although I would say that folks in our church generally believe that politics are important to us, it is not part of what we do as a church on Sundays. I know that there are a variety of political viewpoints held by various members and that it is our faith that brings us together as a church--not our politics. We meet at the West Berkeley Senior Center on 6th and Hearst at 5pm on Sundays. You'd be welcome to come check it out. anon

You might like to look in to the Baha'i Faith . Baha'is believe in the common foundation of all religions, and don't participate in partisan politics. We have a nice community here in Berkeley. You can read more at There's a link for local contact info too. Michelle

Longtime atheist looking for spirituality

March 2008

I've recently experienced a radical change in my life and it has made me realize how much I could use a spiritual community and some more enlightened practices. I'm curious about buddhism and other meditative practices as well as a strong community, intellectual discussion and/or volunteerism. I am definitely NOT looking for a typical western ''one-god'' based practice. Anything come to mind? Something near Oakland is preferred. curious

Sounds like you are looking for the First Unitarian Church of Oakland! 14th & Castro, downtown. Debbie

I also was a longtime atheist and joined an Episcopal church 10 years ago. However, if you don't want a ''one-God'' practice, you could try the Unitarian Church. There's one in Oakland and their website is For Buddhist meditation, there's the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery and the Nyingma Institute, also in Berkeley. If you're willing to try Christian meditation, I'd recommend a taize service which is a beautiful candlelit program of chant. The best-known is on the first Friday of the month at Mercy Center in Burlingame. I think there may also be one in Berkeley at one of the seminaries. Good luck. nj

As an agnostic I too seek spirituality removed from theism and have found a very accepting and stimulating community in the Unitarian Universalist movement (NOT the same thing as Unitarian Christians). This community doesn't have any specific creed or writtings- meaning some people believe in god and some don't- and ideas from every text from the bible and quaran to contemporary fiction and poetry are all treated as good starting points for contemplation. The members come from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds. Everyone is just trying to be their best self and have repect for the world and it's inhabitants. Here's a Wikipedia article on the movement and a link to a list of local UU Groups (I go to the ''Church'' in Berkeley):

There are lots of options, Buddhist-wise, in the bay area I recommend picking up a copy of Inquiring Mind for listings of sitting groups - and do go to as many dharma centers and sitting groups as you can to find the best fit for you. I' like going to the first Tuesday of every month at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery when the monastics from Abhayagiri come down from Ukiah. On the other end of the spectrum, Orgyen Dorje Den is a GREAT Tibetan temple in Alameda (the Nyingma tradition) - it's the most beautiful I've seen locally - and they have a pretty active Sangha. Tibetan Buddhism is very catholic and mystical, so you might want something a little more straightforward. I've heard good things about Empty Gate Zen Center in Berkeley, I don't know anything about Berkeley Zen Center. I really like going to Ed Brown's one day sits at Green Gulch, he's my favorite Zen teacher. Try a bunch of different styles - the Buddhist magazines are a good resou! rce - the key is finding a teacher and a tradition that speaks to you. Good Luck! jennifer

I would recommend you visit the First Unitarian Church of Oakland . You can find out more about them at You can learn more about Unitarian Univeraslism at Best wishes. Rachel

First Unitarian Church of Oakland , corner of 14th and Castro, next to the freeway in downtown Oakland. I've been going for nearly 20 years now, and every time I miss a few weeks it feels like home when I return. We are atheists, Jews, pagans, ex-Catholics, ex-Protestants - you name it, you'll find it here. One caveat - you probably have to attend AT LEAST 3 times to get a real feel for it, as the services (speakers, music - choir, rock 'n roll band, bluegrass, piano, handbells, etc.) are VERY different each week. Sometimes it's meditative, sometimes it's rollicking! At the moment this is even more true than usual, as our minister is on sabbatical til fall, and we have lay speakers and guest ministers cycling through - but we've been through this before, and we actually enjoy it! It's a fairly large congregation, with 2 services and a short intergenerational service between the two, so the best way to find that community you're looking for would be to take an adult class, join a musical group, one of the committees (earth justice, etc.), and/or a covenant group - small affinity groups. Please come! UU fan

Buddhist meditation changed my life-it's so very intelligent, and based completely on ones experience, no dogma. Try the East Bay Meditation Center, which is in Berkeley.