Friday, January 12, 2007

My Journey (So Far)

I realized I had not shared my conversion story, although I think of it more as a finding story. I imagine I was holding back, trying not to make anyone feel I was trying to tell them how to believe. But of course I have shared my Nora story and TV stories and so I need to get over that hang up. And yes, people are less worried about book lovers or TV lovers showing up on their doorstep to try and bring them into the fold. Here we go.
My father was Catholic, my mother was raised Episcopalian. Both my parents went to church every Sunday growing up. Both attended religiously affiliated high schools, and my father also went to a religiously affiliated university. My parents were married in the Episcopal church but by the time I arrived a few years later, they were not even C&E Christians. My siblings and I were baptized Episcopalian and attended a Presbyterian elementary school. We were encouraged to attend church on visits with the grandparents, we celebrated the pagan bits of Christmas and Easter (presents and egg hunts), but that was it. My parents told us they wanted us to be able to decide for ourselves. (What we were deciding was never very clear to me.) It was at school where I learned about religion, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
I went to what may be considered a religiously affiliated university*. By that point I had done some soul searching. I decided that I believed in God and had taken to heart the idea that Martin Luther had in part inspired – that a middle person was not necessary to a relationship with God. But I also felt like maybe the rituals and the community that church seemed to provide would be nice. I read Gorman Bechard’s The Second Greatest Story Ever Told** and loved it. Again, I took away the idea that some of the dogma was getting in the way of the important stuff. I went to church a few times in college, primarily on my own, and liked it but still felt a little off.
In my twenties I decided that I didn’t know what the difference between Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Quakers and all the other branches of Christianity were. I knew some about Judaism and Islam, but not really anything about Buddhism. So I got books. Idiot’s Guide to World Religions. Dictionary of Religion. And I talked to people who told me more about Scientology or the Presbyterian council on sex (which I’m sure was not the official name) and gave me more to read. And in a book that someone lent me, I found Universalists.*** It appealed to me this idea that there was no need for only one right way to believe. And sure, Unitarian Universalists are not the first or the only group to allow such freedom. Catholics have the primacy of conscience, Quakers have attenders, United Church of Christ makes similar allowances.
I was unaware until later that there had been a UU ad campaign where people said, “I was a UU all of my life, I just didn’t know.” I went to the internet, found the UUA site with the guides and FAQs about UUs. And I went to congregation websites and read sermons online. And it felt like a good fit to me. And I found the church where I read one of the sermons and was actually mad that I hadn’t been there to hear it in person.
I shared my results with a friend and she went to a UU church near her, and called me afterwards to tell her it was the first time she hadn’t felt like a hypocrite in church, which seemed like a great description to me.
So that’s how I ended up where I am. And I ended up involved with the youth program (a story for another day) which I think has helped even more.
Is this the answer for everyone – goodness no. Is this the answer for me – yes. For now, and as far as I can see, yes. But time will tell.

*The original purpose of universities was to educate clergy. The University of St. Andrews was formed in the 1400’s when the decision was made that the relationships with France and England were unstable enough to demand a Scottish university. While Presbyterianism is considered the church of Scotland, there are no religious education requirements at St. Andrews, and the university chapel is non-denominational and also provides services for other faiths.
**It is the story of Ilona, Christ’s sister, coming to save us. She states that organized religion has muddled up the message which is, at it’s heart, “be kind”. It is a fictional story that also examines what it may be like for a child of God in the media age and a great read.
***The book was written prior to the merger of Unitarians and Universalists.