Do you need a hug?

11 a.m. Sunday worship, Unity Church of Royal Oak, Royal Oak, Michigan.

Unity Royal Oak is the huggiest church I’ve seen. No sooner had I walked in the door than a dapper older gentleman in a plaid suit greeted me with a huge smile and open arms. “We hug around here,” he told me. Then he pointed to the pastor, who was coming down a ramp out of the fellowship hall to the entrance. Another hug. There were maybe 40 members at worship that Sunday, and I think I was hugged by 30 of them. I ran out of time for the other 10.

Do you miss the counterculture?  Unity as a Christian movement dates to the late 19th century, but its ethos feels a little 1970s commune: We are all children of God, perfect in every way, let’s join hands and sing, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” (Which we did, swaying, at the end of the service. Too bad I didn’t remember the words.) It’s hard to not like a church that likes you, really likes you, so easily. Not even my self-defensive cynicism could keep me from being charmed.

But if you stand on formality — of any kind — Unity Royal Oak wouldn’t be your place. Even the sanctuary has the genial air of a studio in mid-project, tidied for company. We sat in theater seats, not pews, in the nave, and the sanctuary had no altar, no cross and no image of Jesus, though a huge print of two plump and dreamy angels guarded the piano in the corner. There were some candles and baskets and mirrors scattered behind the lectern and propped against an impressive carved console table, and a ladderback chair here and there. I couldn’t help it; I looked around for a macrame plant-hanger. (Sorry.)

Pastor Chuck Hancock had been deconstructing the Lord’s Prayer over several weeks, and this Sunday he got to the phrase “give us this day our daily bread.” Hancock doesn’t sermonize so much as muse in a stream of consciousness, and he threw his musings out to us. What is “bread”? What do we need? Why do we lack faith that God will provide? Why do we feel guilt? Etc.

Musing and questioning make for a great meditation, but it drives the journalist in the pew nuts. How am I supposed to summarize this? Somebody give me the points and subpoints. So I sat, twitching and irked, and then Hancock said something like, “Why do we not understand that everything we have been given this day is exactly what we need and that we need nothing more?”


After the meditation, the musings and the peace-singing — and many more hugs — we repaired to the fellowship hall and kitchen for tuna casserole, croissants and fudge cake. I was in the coffee line behind Donna, a fellow church-seeker. She said she’d gone to a Unity church a few years ago with a friend, and then fell away. “I’m not sure why,” she said. The people in Unity churches are so warm and welcoming, she said. “Like the Mormons. Those are really nice people, too.”

As for John, who drives in from Dearborn, Unity “just makes sense.” A friend of his, Frank, praised Hancock, whose Bible studies and lectures had impressed him. “He’s really funny,” Frank said, “and really deep, too.”

I’d noticed that the congregation was more integrated racially than any other I’d visited, but there were no children or teenagers. And no, there wasn’t a Sunday school class, though there is a weekly discussion course on “A Course in Miracles.” The Rev. Cathey Jo Tomilenko leads that, and I made a point of finding her among the diners. Would it be all right to join that group weeks from now, after my seasonal job was over?

She seemed delighted. “Of course!” she said. And then, yes, she hugged me.


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