Yesterday morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) I did a talk titled “Entering The Mystery.” This talk was part of a larger service on “New Member Sunday.”
You can view the YouTube video below. If you prefer, you can read the piece below the video. Thanks!
“Janet? Janet joined a church?”
I overhead this a few years ago when I was downstairs. A woman I had known casually for a few decades through the women’s community was talking to my partner.
Her comment wasn’t judgmental or skeptical. Rather it was innocent and incredulous — or maybe it was simply factual. Was she hearing things correctly?
Could Barbara had said this? Was it true?
This was after a service when several members of the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir joined the Restoration Singers on Music Sunday. Our music director, Jane Hulting, formerly directed the Women’s choir and stays in touch with the “Annas.'”
Of course, I found the comments of this “Anna” amusing.
But I’m the first to admit that I’m an unlikely church member.
When I joined Restoration about four years ago, it was the first time I had joined a church. I was raised secular – but always knew myself as a spiritual person. Like many, I was distrustful of organized religion.
In one of my earliest spiritual memories, I remember standing on the beach as a child — having lost my parents — and looking out to the waves and praying to an amorphous and genderless “God” that I find them. Then I turned around and my mother was walking toward me.
I played the guitar as a child, and in fifth grade sang “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the stage. The song has always had resonance for me. Then as an adolescent, I crossed my own troubled waters. Perhaps it was my spirituality that got me through.
When I started coming to Restoration, the time was ripe for me. I discovered a religion that shared my values. I had a life-time of alternative spirituality behind me and found a place that wasn’t rigid or narrow where I could explore traditional spirituality.
I also found a spiritual home for my partner and I.
Last week she said to me after we came home from the service that it was really wonderful that we have such a nice church to attend together.
There are so many people from the wider communities that we belong to here at Restoration. And there are so many others — who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It is good to be together.
It is good for me to be connected to all of you, to this Beloved Community – and to be connected to hope.
Shortly after the election, I heard a short segment on National Public Radio about how people in the United States tend to be divided into red and blue states and experience sameness rather than diversity. They often don’t know the stories of anyone who is different from them.
Diversity helps to build empathy.
It also creates hope.
I really cherish being part of the diversity here at Restoration.
As a writer and as a creative writing teacher, I know that our stories are sacred. I spend much of my time alone and am fortunate in having a partner who respects my need for aloneness. Solitude is necessary for a writer but so is being in the world – to a lesser extent.
I’ve been a reader all of my life. As a child, the whole world opened up to me when I learned how to read. I was described as a bookworm – as a child and as an adult.
Restoration’s emphasis on books drew me in as did its diverse and welcoming community. But coming here most Sunday mornings is different than spending my time writing and reading. By coming here, I am part of a community that is connected to the world and to the cosmos.
A year ago, I would have said that the diversity of the congregation was important – today I know that it is absolutely essential.
As I mentioned, I was raised secular. Religion is still a bit of a mystery to me. Everyone’s reason for joining a church is different. I suspect that each person joins Restoration for a reason that might end up being different from what they may have thought originally.
Welcome to the mystery.