In which I quietly, calmly and vaguely worship with the Unitarians.
As I said my previous post, I was intrigued by the all-accepting philosophy of the Unitarian Church — all faiths welcome, even if your faith is having no faith at all. As a writer I was also a little curious about how you craft a sermon for such a group without offending anyone, or being incredibly vague.
I arrived at the church and was greeted by one of the only people under 65 in the whole place, who had me stick a red newcomer’s name tag on my chest (so much for blending in). The church building is a low-slung Frank Lloyd Wright-ish sort of affair with a lot of doors and courtyards (I kept finding myself accidentally outside). The most notable thing about the sanctuary is the absence of pews– instead, there are rows of chairs with cushions. Very comfy.
A charismatic older woman in a bright top greeted us and lit the chalice — which looked kind of like a giant fruit bowl with a candle in the center — to begin the service. We sang a hymn, the words for which were conveniently projected on the wall. The hymn did not mention God, but it did have the word Alleluia in it several times.
The woman in the bright top (I believe her name was Penny) related her experiences with meditation. She was warm and funny and authentic — if she had delivered the whole sermon, I would have really enjoyed it. After another vague hymn about flowing water and trees and compassion, however, she passed the service off to the guest minister, a novice Soto Zen Buddhist priest from North Carolina.
The Buddhist woman was a lovely, sweet and gentle person, but sadly, she was not a gifted orator. She seemed so nice that I was rooting for her to get better at it, right up to the end of her disjointed and meandering talk. Within the talk, there were some very nice metaphors and genuinely good insights, strung together with a lot of “ums.” The two main ideas I gleaned were these: 1) Independence is an allusion. We are all dependent on one another, on the earth, on the air we breathe. We are all interconnected in our dependence. 2) One thing meditation teaches us is that in most moments, if we are in the moment, everything is okay. If we remember that, we can draw strength from it in those relatively rare moments when things are not okay.
Here is what I learned from my visit to the Unitarian church: in choosing a church, I thought that the philosophy of the church would be the most important factor. I was wrong. The atmosphere and the energy, it seems, are more important to me. The Unitarian church was lovely, but there were only a handful of people there under 70. And there was no choir. According to their website the choir only performs on alternate Sundays. I really missed it. The place was calm, clean, uncrowded, and sterile. Where were the moms hissing at kids to shut up? Dads dozing off and snoring?
I guess to me, church is less about beliefs and more about community. Beliefs are portable. If there is a detail of a sermon I don’t agree with, I can choose to ignore it. But I can’t manufacture a feeling of belonging by myself. Next Sunday I’m going to try a church closer to home.
The next New Thing: Road Trip!
My son is attending a rock and roll camp in Indiana this week. On Friday, I will make the 4-hour drive to Indiana to see his camp band perform. Not exactly the Odyssey, I know, but believe it or not, I have never driven on my own out of the state of Michigan. My husband usually drives on road trips.
I’m hoping to take a more epic road trip later in the Fifty Things, so this will be a good warm-up.