Unitarian Universalists offer a place for people of all faiths, backgrounds

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Every Sunday, Diana Dechichio drives 45 minutes from her Wesley Chapel home to attend Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalists Church in Odessa.

There, people of various faiths and theological backgrounds come together. They study world religions, talk philosophy and explore spiritual ideas.

The Spirit of Life congregation, formed in 1997 as an offshoot of the Unitarian Universalists Church of Clearwater, welcomes all people regardless of their beliefs, Dechichio says. The group focuses on accepting and caring for others. Many of its members come from Pasco, as there is no UU in the county.

Dechichio, 60, came to the Unitarian Universalist tradition 25 years ago when she, a Jewish woman, married a Catholic man. Neither wanted to convert, and so they began a search for something new. After the birth of their son, they discovered the UU way. They attended a church in Boston before moving to Florida and discovering Spirit of Life.

Dechichio is now president of the church, which meets in a renovated home on 5 acres.

I spoke to Dechichio about what it means to practice Unitarian Universalism.

What attracted you to Unitarian Universalism?

UU is all encompassing and accepting of everyone. As an interfaith family, we wanted to find a religious structure.

We were living in Boston when my mother actually found out about the UU church. We tried a couple out before finding the right one. Since UU is accepting of everyone, each church ends up with its own flavor. Some are more pagan than others. Some are more Christian, and some are more humanist.

Eventually, we found one that was just right for us, and we raised our son in the church. It was the same when we came to Florida. We tried a couple UUs before finding Spirit of Life.

What does the church offer its congregation?

The opportunity to embrace religious thinking that might be off the beaten path, to discover the spirituality with oneself and spend time with nice people in a beautiful environment. We celebrate Jewish holidays as well as Christmas and Easter. We also celebrate other religious holidays. We have had Buddhist speakers and others. We are really interested in learning about all the religions of the world.

We welcome members of all ages. We have a nursery and children's school. Right now, I think our youngest member is 10, and our oldest is 80.

Why do you think Unitarian Universalism is not well known and sometimes misunderstood?

I wish I knew. It is such an answer for so many people. Maybe because the more traditional religions are so well known, people worry if they don't fit in they seem weird. Maybe people think we're a cult, which we are not.

We are an established religion that has been around for hundreds of years. We are very traditional. We have a minister and Sunday services. There are no particular rules, just what we call our principles, which are a structure for living a good life and being a good person.

As UUs, we are on the journey together trying to figure out who and what we are. We believe it is a lifelong journey. What you believe as a teenager might not be what you believe at 50, and that is okay.

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