We took a leap of faith and moved to Salem in 2008 when our granddaughter, Tabitha, was 4 months old. Less than 2 years later, our grandsons. Lucius and Nathaniel, were born. The children actually led us to UUCS. We brought them to RE the last Sunday in April and we have been coming ever since.
Our daughter and her three children are regular attendees of the UUCS. It was through them that we found our way to this congregation. I discovered the covenants aligned with my values and the members of UUCS were very welcoming.
UUCS has allowed me to practice my values through its many volunteering opportunities. Currently, I’m a member of the Social Justice team and will soon be on the Host team. Volunteering for the coffee service and Kairos Kitchen has provided opportunities for further bonding with other members. I look forward to future opportunities in the years to come.
Growing up as a Catholic, I felt a tremendous sense of loss when I could no longer reconcile my reason and beliefs, with those of the Catholic church, and stopped attending. Finding UUCS filled my need for a spiritual community that also respected my own beliefs and experience.
I first learned about Unitarian Universalism in 1989 as a Mom of two young children living 40 miles away from any church that interested me. My sister told me about the “church by mail” offered by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), then called “The Church of the Larger Fellowship.” I learned to ration out the monthly mailings, reading just one “sermon” a week to savor the open-minded and logical writings, rather than devouring them all at once.
When we moved to Salem, I quickly found this Salem Unitarian Universalist church, and enrolled my children in the Religious Exploration program. I wanted them to have familiarity with Bible stories, as well as all the other religious traditions of the world, a more open approach than my own strictly Catholic upbringing. Meanwhile I enjoyed the respectful attitude for each person’s search for meaning as I experienced it in each service I attended. Adult RE classes widened my perspective. I came for the children and I stayed for me.
After a year or two of being a “consumer,” I began to give back, working as an RE teacher, and helping edit the newsletter for seven years. This led to work on the RE team, policy committees, and eventually work on the board of directors and then the nominating committee.
My children enjoyed the contact with a wider circle of caring adults and peers through the RE program. I was intensely grateful for the Our Whole Lives program that offered human sexuality education in an age appropriate way to both my children. It was such a change from my own generation’s general lack of sexuality education.
I enjoy the contact with each of the varying committees and members. I am constantly amazed by the generosity of spirit of so many of our members, and of their capacity for giving of themselves and of their resources. And, giving back gives me meaning and satisfaction, as well as a wide circle of wonderful people to enjoy.
Though we’d lived many years religion-free, when our family moved to Salem for my wife’s job three years ago, we decided to try UUCS. We knew we’d be welcome, though we weren’t sure we wanted a religious community. We hoped to meet progressive-minded people who might become friends, and wondered if a spiritual practice was something we were ready to bring back into our lives. Plus, we like to sing hymns!
I’d started off as an Evangelical Christian missionary child, full of Hell-fire and brimstone. Even after we returned from our family’s mission, I carried my pocket Bible with me, talked about Jesus with my friends, and had a great time at Vacation Bible School.
Disillusioned by the lack of support and the hypocrisy they witnessed as missionaries, my parents tried a number of Christian churches. Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, non-denominational, and many more… some were a better cultural fit for my mama, others for my papa. Theologically, nothing was just perfect. The more we got involved in any community, the more uncomfortable my parents became. In my late teen years, my papa explored his Jewish heritage and studied Taoism and Buddhism. Meanwhile, my mama settled into a quietly agnostic world-view, putting her Fundamentalist Christian upbringing in the past. I was free to explore, and went to every church around. When I struck out on my own, I delved into nature-based spirituality and pagan traditions. I even converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints and was very involved there for a time.
The more I learned about each faith, the less I could believe that one was right and the others were wrong. Somehow they all seemed to think that belief was the most important thing. I didn’t really believe in anything, and didn’t have answers to “the big questions,” but that didn’t bother me. At peace with the incomprehensible vastness of the universe, my insignificance inspired me to try to do good in the world. Since then, I’ve developed a completely atheist world-view.
My wife, Kelsy, had been raised mostly without religion, but with some Presbyterian background. She has a more spiritual side, which she’s always kept personal.
So UUCS felt familiar to us. The services follow a format that echoes the Presbyterian churches of our youth. The songs are familiar, but the words are changed so that they no longer make me cringe. Rick’s sermons and our guest speakers’ perspectives touch on themes relevant to our lives. But our leaders never try to force us to accept their conclusions or submit to their authority. The UU Principles nearly perfectly articulate my core values, partly because they leave room for interpretation.
Our teens made friends at UUCS, and I was happy that they were learning more about how other people experience religion and spirituality. We even found that several of the families at UUCS are also homeschoolers, and were able to hold some of our activities at the church. Our kids liked coming, participating regularly. Our daughter helped put on the youth service a couple years ago. She also participated by playing her guitar and singing for the congregation. Our son went to a youth conference and to several sleepovers at the church, and had the best time. He often came home talking about things he’d learned or big ideas he’d been exposed to. Scheduling issues have kept them away lately, but UUCS has been a very positive place for them.
Over time, I’ve gotten more deeply involved. It took me over two years to sign the book… I finally did become a member so that I could vote on congregational matters. I also thought that since I was a chair of the RE Team and on several other committees, it was really just a knee-jerk anti-joiner sentiment keeping me from signing. At no point did anyone pressure me to join, or even suggest that I couldn’t fully participate without doing so.
I’m happy to have found UUCS and am regularly surprised at all the good our members (and “members”) are doing in the community! From those who keep the children’s programming running, to the ones who make sure our homeless guests from SIHN have their needs met, to those bringing clean water to people across the world, to those who have joined in on the Black Lives Matters movement, our UUCS community is full of people doing their best to make a positive difference for others.
The day before Christmas Eve on 2014, we got the news that my mother’s cancer was terminal. It was shocking and upsetting because this confirmed our worst fears. Mom was done with radiation and chemo and considering how frail she was, there is no way she could live through other treatment options. By this point, she was fading quickly… Mom made the decision to choose Death with Dignity. There were a lot of mixed emotions in the family, we were all rather panicked but respected her choice even if some didn’t support the decision. No one wanted her to die alone. Her suffering was getting worse with each passing day it was heartbreaking. There isn’t really a guide for what to do when someone you love chooses to end their life.
After making contact with Compassionate Choices, I had my first meeting with Reverend Rick. I wanted a religious figure to be there when my mom passed, one that my mother would accept. It was paramount to me that she left this world emotionally and spiritually at peace. I had not considered an End of Life ceremony, or more precisely I hadn’t been able to express that need. Reverend Rick, had been there for others who chose this path and was able to talk about how it could be handled. It was a relief to have someone experienced and compassionate in these matters. Reverend Rick was able to meet with my mother and address her concerns. He wanted to make sure that she was comfortable with every word in the ceremony. The End of Life ceremony allowed close friends and family members to be there when she passed. But the ritual is just a script and Rick deviated from the text to best suit the needs of my mom and the emotions of the group. It was a highly emotional environment and everyone had vast religious differences. Everyone felt comfort from Rick being there and no one was offended by how he handled such a deeply private moment.
Afterwards, family members expressed their thanks for having him there and for doing the End of Life ceremony. I was keenly aware of the emotional danger that my mother’s death would bring on me. I have had issues with depression in the past. While grief and depression are different things, they don’t necessary work well together. Every day was gray and flat, grief had run over me like a freight train and it was all I could do to move from the bed to the sofa. There I would just sit and stare at the wall. I couldn’t stand music, or movies so I would just sit doing nothing… everything in life was suddenly felt very empty and life gave no indication that this would change.
Rick had suggested that I volunteer in the office and Sam managed to set things up so that there were little projects that I could work on. It has been a year this February since I have been helping to work on the rough draft of the Order of Service and PowerPoint. While it may not have always gone smoothly, my Tuesday trips into UUCS office became my Raison D’être (my reason to live). It was the only thing I looked forward to doing. Yet each week it was a victory that I had gotten out of the apartment. It was the least I could do and it was the most I could do. That was enough, I wasn’t going to demand more out of myself.
Still, I was searching for something more than going to the office once a week. At some point, I needed to add something else to my life. Sitting on my sofa in one of my darker moods and I was desperately trying to do a mental inventory of the things I used to love doing. Where was my passion? Where was my joy? I thought of film school and scoffed to myself “Well that was a waste of an education”. Less than a week later Vicki approached me about possibly doing a video that the Women’s Alliance was interested in having done. I was shocked and jumped at the chance to put my knowledge to use and gently get back into my love of film editing.
I wanted to offer my story. I feel that there is a lot that UUCS offers the congregation and the community that are not things that are shared because they are too personal or are things that can’t be advertised. I’m not sure how the tagline “UUCS a reason to get out of bed once a week” would test. I want to thank the congregation for giving me the opportunity to volunteer and to be engaged with projects that remind me that there is joy in life. Whether you know it or not each member of this congregation is, in fact, part of my healing, a light in my hour of grief.
(Originally published in the March 1 2016 UUCS Newsletter, The Chalice and the Flame.)
After spending our working careers in the Washington, DC area, my wife Carol and I moved to Salem in 2005 to spend our retirement. Not knowing a soul in Salem, we joined various groups to meet people. In October 2011, Carol and I joined this congregation. One of the things we cherish about this congregation is the diversity of beliefs and spiritual practices among the members. Although each of us may have differing views, we accept one another’s beliefs and form a caring community. This congregation is a special part of our lives…
(Originally presented during the January 31, 2016 services as a “Stewardship Moment”.)
To me, our congregation is about goodness. About five years ago, on nothing more than a whim, I googled Unitarian Universalism and found the UUCS website. I read the entire site, and it was as if I had written every word myself. I walked into UUCS the next Sunday and never left. There are so many wonderful things about our congregation – the feeling of community, the love we have for each other, the way I feel when I contribute my time, and the personal spirituality I found that I never knew I had. They’re all important to me. But every Sunday, when I pass through the outer doors of our building, I feel like I am immediately surrounded by “good.” I don’t know how else to describe it other than to say that to me, more than anything else, our congregation is about goodness. And that goodness has given me great peace in my life.
Thanks again, Ed
(Originally published in the March 1 2016 UUCS Newsletter, The Chalice and the Flame.)