New Church Of The Water Cooler Raises Puzzled Looks

By Francis Stokes
Spring 2007 4.1.07

An emerging new theological group of hyphenated UUs with a slightly offbeat belief system, known as “Water Cooler-UUs,” have a reason to celebrate this Easter season: their recent affiliation with the Unitarian Universalist Association.

“Will we be celebrating Easter? Of course we will!” attests Rev. Erskine Grantham jovially, tugging at the edge of his silver beard. “The birth of Jesus is important to us.”

While they may share a reverence for Jesus with mainstream Unitarian Universalists, the Water Cooler-UUs have a very different take on the afterlife and what constitutes “God’s work.” Seeing as the universe is so complex and unpredictable, they feel that there must be more than one hand involved in its creation. They talk of a network of lower divine beings making up an infrastructure to carry out God’s will, akin to the Christian notion of angels. When things go awry on Earth, when something happens that doesn’t seem like part of the divine plan, they would attribute this to the ordinary flaws of a system that is dependent on so many jobs and so many individuals.

“The first time I heard it all spelled out for me, it just made sense. I’ve never really felt that way before,” muses Jamie Baker, a recent convert. “I work at an office, and when we’re late on a report, it’s always because of something completely dumb, like someone forgot to add up the last column, or some fight over who’s getting a promotion. So why shouldn’t it work that way in heaven?” Jamie is one of roughly one thousand in the northern California area to join the movement, prompting the new church to be built.

The term “Water Cooler-UUs” was originally coined as a sarcastic remark by Rev. Robert Speer of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, WI, suggesting an image of God’s “workers” gathering around some sort of celestial water cooler and gossiping. However, in his typically disarming fashion, Rev. Grantham embraced the image as the perfect symbol of a higher supernatural system that doesn�t have to be perfect to be divine.

“I’m not sure I understand their ideas, but it is a beautiful church,” offered a passerby who lives in the neighborhood. The design of the church is loosely based on the distinctive architecture of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, CA. The perfectly circular structure has thick walls of solid glass towering three stories high from the ground and curving towards a smaller conical flume that is open to the sky.

“A lot of people said we can’t have a hole right in the middle there. What if it rains? What if birds fly in? And I said, that hole is the portal for the light of reason to shine in,” declares Grantham proudly.

In addition to the light of reason, the portal does in fact allow rain to pour in by bucketfuls, which led to the construction of a marble fountain located directly below it. And while pigeons can sometimes be seen circling above the congregation during a sermon, they are no match for Grantham’s inspired and passionate oratory (or the surprisingly frequent, jarring percussion of heedless birds smacking into the glass from outside.) Perhaps most intrusive to the service is the low, nearly deafening hum that echoes down on the congregation from above during windy days.

“Overall, it’s a very nice church,” says Patti Schacht, who attends service every Sunday. “But as interesting and pretty as it is, especially on a clear day like today, it’s what Rev. Grantham is saying that brings me back each week.”

During last week’s service, Grantham went into a long parable involving what might happen if someone were to steal God’s lunch from the office refrigerator. “It’s easier to get a point across sometime, if you tell a story. Ultimately the message is that even though we can rely on love, we shouldn�t go around blaming a higher power for every little thing that goes wrong. Humans are said to be made in God’s image, and as they say, to err is human. So who are we to think a divine power has to get it right all the time?”

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