Today, for the first time ever in my life, I went to a church that was not the LDS church. Judging on the length of this post alone, the Unitarian Universalists made quite the impression.
As I've previously discussed in this blog, my issues with the LDS church can be traced to several years before I realized I was gay and are entirely separate from "the gay thing". And while I did start to feel distance from the church over the three years between that first crisis of faith and when I came out to myself, I didn't really realize that divide between who I was and who the church wanted me to be until after I started dating Doricha.
I went through stages with my personal faith, ranging from wanting to continue attending the LDS church to wanting to never attend church again. In that first little while after I came out to myself, I had such bigger fish to fry than where to go to church. My soul was in tumult over my sexuality and my faith system kind of took a back seat in all of it.
So I guess it's a sign of progress on my part that I'm finally feeling ready to start looking to maybe find a new church.
I casually looked into Buddhism for a short while but, while I liked some of the basic tenants, I couldn't get behind many of the core beliefs. Then I stumbled across Unitarian Universalism. A good friend of my from high school was hard core UU and was one of the most open-minded, loving, accepting people I've ever known. I looked at my local congregation's website and this looked like stuff I could really get behind: open to everybody especially LGBT, committed to social justice. Most of all, they teach their children to love and respect everyone regardless of what they believe. And they teach their children to learn from their friends' beliefs.
The service itself was incredible. I went by myself, entirely unsure of what to expect. As soon as I walked in the door, a very kind lady said hello and introduced herself and invited me to make a nametag for myself. She also pointed me toward another table where I could put my name down to get a permanent nametag. At that other table, another very kind lady offered me a pamphlet of information on the congregation and the Unitarian Universalists as a whole. She encouraged me to fill out a contact form and join the email list if I wanted to so I could know what was going on in the community.
I walked into the chapel (is that what it's called in every faith or just Mormonism?), entirely unsure of what to expect. It was absolutely beautiful. It was in the corner of the small building which allowed floor to ceiling windows on nearly every wall. There were lots of rows of chairs grouped in sections much like the pews in an LDS chapel. They were all facing a stage like that of Protestant churches I've visited. It was a simple stage with a pulpit but no barrier between the congregation and the speakers. A small choir was seated on the stage as well as (who I later found out was) the two ministers and the two ministers in training for the congregation. Around me were all kinds of people. A surprising amount of older people considering had always kind of thought of UU churches as being for hippies. A good number of families with small children, although I didn't see many high school aged kids. Do they have a service of their own? Or do they go to the morning service? (There are two, one at 9:15 and one at 11:15 and I went to the later one.)
The service itself was beautiful. It featured short musical interludes, singing from the congregation (although I didn't recognize any of the hymns we sang), and sermons from the pastors. (What's the difference between a pastor and a minister? More jargon I don't know from being Mormon.) The first sermon was for the children in the congregation. The female minister gave them a short talk about how today was Easter and that was a very special day for some people in the world and how it's all about new beginnings. She talked about flowers and bunnies and stuff. And then she led them through a very short guided meditation. The other minister joined her with a hand puppet hippie dog (kid you not) who had some great quips which the congregation got a good chuckle out of. Apparently the hand puppet is called Minister Barkley.
After the short part with the children, they were dismissed to their classes and just the adults were left in the congregation. The did an offering, where baskets were passed around and some people gave money. (I think this is mostly the norm is Protestant services?) During this time, anyone who wanted to was invited to come to the front and light a candle for a joy or a sorrow in their life.
After this, the two ministers in training gave sermons. Both talked about Easter, but it was very very different from the talks I heard in the LDS congregation later that day. The topic that the ministers had chosen to discuss was New Beginnings. How appropriate. How appropriate for me. And the sermons were beautiful, bringing in tenants of many faiths and opportunities to learn from all people.
The entire service just felt so good. I have not felt that good at church in years. I was completely at peace and I felt so comfortable, even though I didn't know anyone around me. Being in the light-filled room surrounded by people who were ready and willing to accept me for me...it was beautiful.
Next time, I'm going to go to their before-service meet and greet. Maybe I'll go to both services, just to see what they're like.
I know one thing for sure: I'm definitely going back.
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