1004026844 unity church4.jpg

Photo by John Darling

The Rev. Norma Burton at Sunday’s last meeting of Unity of Ashland before taking some time off after 15 years leading the faith community.

Unity takes a sabbatical

Unity of Ashland, the multi-faith alternative church that’s been operating at Havurah Shir Hadash for a decade, closed May 27 for the summer, hoping to reinvent itself in the fall in new, more participatory forms, perhaps with a new name, that appeal to all ages, especially the young.

The Rev. Norma Burton, the Unity minister for 14 years, said community needs are changing away from Sunday morning service with a mostly elderly parish and “now it’s ready to take a leap to incredible realms. I have to take some time off and am coming back in fall to re-initiate what we do in Unity.”

The direction of the congregation is “Buddhist-shamanic” and might not be called Unity, she said, in an interview.

“We’re allowing it to deconstruct its form, like going in a cocoon, so when we resurrect as a butterfly, we meet the needs of the times even more, especially with young people.

“Everyone agrees we need to call out to more people, including the 25 percent who are ‘cultural creatives’ to make a spiritual community that people like.”

“Cultural creatives,” according to Wikipedia, is a term coined by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson to describe a segment in Western society emerging since about 1985 that has developed beyond the standard paradigm of modernists or progressives versus traditionalists or conservatives. Ray and Anderson claim to have found 50 million adult Americans belong to this group.

Burton said young people indicate they don’t care for the trappings of old religion and would like it to be Sunday afternoon or evening, with music, potluck and more interactivity, “where people get up and speak or they speak in small group, have space for conversation about their spirituality and there’s more music and ritual involved.”

Burton is going on sabbatical all summer to finish her “journey to completion,” an extended “psychological trauma healing process” which three-fourths of her congregation are involved in — and which is being passed on, she says, to professors at Harvard and MIT, who want to teach it to their students. She is also finishing a book on it.

“What we’re creating now is something that meets the needs of people more,” she said. “A lot of people out there don’t realize we’re doing something different, earth-based, omni-faithed, bringing together all different religious traditions of the world, including Native American and shamanic. It’s a 21st century spirituality and it’s where so many people are at …. Our idea is not to go away, but to expand.”

Rabbi David Zaslow of Havurah said Unity has been “good partners” and they would welcome them back in the temple.

Donations to Unity may be made at PayPal (AshlandOregonUnity@gmail.com). For more about Unity, go to unityashland.com.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Share This Story