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Unitarian church marks 50th year in Hagerstown

July 09, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - Sharon Rucker said she knew she had found a new church when a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Kentucky served her chili and beer - for communion.

A native of Washington County, Rucker moved back to Hagerstown in 1978 with her first husband. Both joined the Unitarian Universalist Church in Hagerstown, which was then meeting at 465 N. Potomac St.

"No beer and chili but there was a lot of champagne as I recall," Rucker said.

As the congregation observes its 50th anniversary in Hagerstown this year, the love of individuality, spiritual growth, social justice and freedom is as strong as ever.

First in a private home when it began in 1957, the small but steadfast congregation met briefly at the Women's Club, then the Wacohu Grange and then the downtown Hagerstown YMCA for nine years before settling into the North Potomac Street house.

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About 10 years ago, the Unitarians moved to a new location at 13245 Cearfoss Pike and built a modest sanctuary on the property.

Some of the original and longtime members are still active in the congregation and its works, Rucker said. Through the years, members have been involved in food banks, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity and Alternatives to Violence workshops in area prisons.

Rucker recently retired after many years working in the state prisons south of Hagers-town as did her second husband, Tom Greenfield.

Four more classes and Rucker will complete her Master of Divinity degree - her second advanced degree. She often leads services and plans to expand her work once she completes her degree.

Ginny Cook said she too was exploring when she first encountered the Unitarians in 1985. "I didn't know where to go when a friend told me of the Unitarians," Cook said.

Once she began attending, Cook said she wondered where they had been all her life. "There is no creed and you are free to change your mind whenever you want," Cook said.

She loves the closeness she feels with the other members of the group. "I also love the talkbacks after service - you might not agree with everyone but it always gives you something to think about," Cook said.

Earlier this summer, Rucker and others offered a Peace Camp to the young people of the church - patterned after Vacation Bible School only in that it lasted a week and was held in the evenings.

About a dozen began the camp but that grew to 14 by the end of the week. Unitarian children are taught about world religions - their beliefs, their customs and even their foods.

"We wanted the Peace Camp to be an alternative to violence," Rucker said. There were talks on mediation and how to deal with bullies in addition to the craft and nature projects during the week.

New this year, Peace Camp should be done each year, Rucker said. "It was very rewarding and we were thrilled at how well it went," she said.

Both Rucker and Cook said the Unitarian Universalist experience has become a big part of their lives. And they said they wouldn't want it any other way.

For more information on the Unitarian Universalist Church of Hagerstown, call 301-797-5533 or check out the Web site at www.uuhagerstownmd.org.

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