What do you call an atheist with children? answer: A Unitarian. That is a joke we heard very early on. For us, it was the truth. What got us to First Parish the first time was the feeling that we wanted our kids to have some religious background. We certainly struck the jackpot. The UU Religious Education program is rich. It covers Unitarian Universalism of course, but also the Bible, Judaism, various Christian denominations, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others. In 6th or 7th grade, there is a program that was called "Faith Across the Street" when I went thru it with my kids. In 8/9th grades there is a Coming Of Age program.
As a result, I believe my kids are very well grounded in their own beliefs - neither is particularly devout, but, they did not feel left out when their friends had first communion or Bar Mitzvahs. Credible research (Harris/Pinker) says that the choice of peer groups is more important than what we do as parents in the home.
My second reason for being UU is for my own personal search. I was born the grandson of a minister and the great grandson of THREE (3!) ministers. My grandmother was very devout and we would attend church with her on holy days. I started Sunday school, but, dropped out. I was the only sibling - last of six that did not get confirmed. Growing up we would have wide ranging discussions about whether god existed, what religion was and other spiritual questions. I was not big on the afterlife, nor am I today. I am skeptical of religious truth, but, at the same time, I know we cannot know. Negative proofs are hard.
When I am in the ocean, I feel a tremendous connection to something very large. I have also had these feeling in the woods and on mountain tops. They are local place specific feelings and I choose the think of them as connections to local gods. This was quite amorphous when I arrived at First Parish in the spring of 1987. Our second service was the Easter service where the minister described the many symbols and stories that come from ancient pagan traditions, including the name from Ēostre. That service made me feel very much at home and my own search was off to the races. With help, I found out about Tiamat, the Babylonian goddess Tiamat of salt water. There were a core of pagans and the minister helped us create a Winter Solstice Ritual as well as others.
The Reality is that I know that we cannot know. I am as sympathetic to atheists and to those who take Christ as their Lord. Whatever path you take is OK with me. I am not sympathetic to people who think they need to save me. God save us from the "Righteous"!!
First Parish has good programs for spiritual exploration on a continuing basis. And I continue to explore.
My third reason is that the congregation is a "community of like minded persons". It is a rich fabric of amazing individuals who I would be unlikely come across in my daily life. Living out in the suburbs, especially if you do not live in a neighborhood, it can be hard to meet people you expect to develop a strong friendship with. The phrase like minded does not mean we think the same way, but, rather we can assume that we can agree on facts and use reason to understand each other.
We are social creatures and to gather as a community with no agenda other than to witness, worship and celebrate is gratifying on a primal level.
Fourth is not specifically UU, but, I will mention it here - history. The story of First Parish is very much the story of Sudbury, Massachusetts. In every New England town, there is a big white church in the center. That will either be UU or Congregationalist. To be a member of the congregation is to be a drop in a stream flowing continuously since 1640. That's cool.
#5. The power to do good! UUs have a long tradition of pushing history along in terms of rights and justice. Slavery, Suffrage, Civil Rights, Gay Rights. Our symbol, the UU Chalice was first used as a marker for Jews escaping the Nazis. Our congregation has programs each year to give materially to kids in need. We have always done some things well, but, Faith In Action has really come alive in our congregation recently. There are many tangible ways in which we make the world a better place.
Six and last in this list for now: Music. In surveys we used to do, one in three people came to worship for the music first a foremost. We have a wonderful organ and a wonderful organist. Singing hymns in a large group can strike a deep chord in me. Why do UUs make lousy singers? Because they are always reading ahead to see if they agree with the words.
Addendum: Checkout the mix of theologies of the members and friends of FPS from a 2011 survey.