A New Experience

The other day I got a chance to check out the local Unitarian Universalist church in my area. For those who are not familiar, Unitarian Universalist churches are pretty much open to people of all beliefs. It’s a very Humanist-esque philosophy of embracing religious and nonreligious alike, without discrimination or dogma. I’ve always been heavily involved in evangelical Christian churches, and since my deconversion, have missed the community and social value of church. I figured that if I could meet even one or two people with similar thoughts on life, I would be better off than the state of social semi-isolation (at least from anyone who thinks like me) I had been in prior.

I was unsure of what to expect, but wanted to keep an open mind. I couldn’t help but think it would be an odd experience. After all, these are the type of people Sunday School teachers warn you of. You know, social liberals who seek to unite people of varying cultural backgrounds for the purpose of promoting shared values, such as love and compassion, must necessarily be the Devil’s henchmen (or so the fundamentalist logic goes.) I had forgot to bring a prayer shawl to defend me against the demons, so I knew I was going in for battle a bit unprepared.

As I expected, it was a very small congregation; maybe fifteen people. More of a small group than a church. The building itself was small, yet inviting, with a traditional church appearance on the inside. There were pews and hymnals, and a room with tables set up for snacks and conversation afterward. Most of the members seemed to be over forty if I had to guess. There was a couple who were probably in their thirties with a young child. I was the second youngest there, next to the child from my estimate.

Before the service began, I was greeted by a pleasant lady with a wonderful British accent. She asked a few typical questions, including how I found out about the church. She mentioned to me that they often have people speak, but they mix it up some weeks. This week, they were planning on playing two TED talks, and discussing them afterward. Now, in all my years of going to church I’ve never seen a TED talk on a Sunday morning. I thought that was pretty cool. A church that likes science and research . . . I could get used to this!

The service began with a man on a piano playing traditional hymns and singing. The songs had no explicit spiritual meaning that would lend itself to a specific religion, although the hymnbooks contained some Christian songs. I enjoyed the group singing, and found it refreshing, although I do enjoy a good worship band. There was something nice about the simplicity. The person playing and singing had a pleasant demeanor and was moderately skilled.

Between songs a few rituals were observed, which I found interesting. I appreciate the church’s use of ritual, as it is one underestimated aspect of religion that can serve to bond people together. Community singing and recitation can be powerful psychological tools. They also have certain traditions, such as the lighting of a chalice, and a recitation that goes along with that, which affirms positive, universal values.

After a couple of songs, the lady with the British accent introduced the video, which was played via the young couple’s laptop hooked up to a projection screen. The first talk was about our misconceptions about stress and how they might be doing more harm than stress itself (!) It was very interesting, and entertaining. The lady who gave the talk was not only a engaging speaker, but very attractive as well (being cute never hurts.) Here it is, if you have time to watch it:

After the video, we discussed the topic as a group (one of the advantages of being a small church.) Even though it was my first time, I felt comfortable enough to share my thoughts here and there. The discussion was interesting, and I enjoyed the participatory nature of it, as opposed to the usual disconnect I am accustomed to at the much larger churches.

After the short discussion of the first video, we watched the second. Now what is so interesting about this one is that it is given by the twin sister of the lady who gave the first talk. But they didn’t tell us until halfway through, so it was a surprise for sure. The second sister is a video game developer, and she talked about the benefits of gaming. While some of the benefits may be overemphasized, I think the main point is certainly valid, that gaming can be a very positive aspect of our lives. I’d imagine moderation is the key. Here’s that video:

The first sister (the one who talked about stress), from what I was told, has suffered from constant migraines her entire life. But what is crazy is that the second sister suffered a concussion/brain injury a few years ago that gave her constant migraines as well for a period of time. What a rough turn of events!

During the video, I might mention as well, there were certain things the speaker asked us to do, such as shake hands with someone for six seconds, or count backwards from one hundred, etc. That made it fun and light hearted, in addition to the fact that the talk was about games.

After that talk, we again discussed the topic of the video. We shared thoughts on gaming, most not being gamers, but a few mentioning certain phone app games they got sucked into. I personally have been somewhat of a gamer in the past, but never a serious one. I haven’t played video games in probably six months, and should probably dust off my PS3 sometime.

After service, I had a nice, short discussion with the lady with the British accent and another lady. They were very pleasant to talk to. It was quite an odd experience talking openly about my atheism/Humanism in a church. But it felt very natural, as all of us had equal respect for belief and nonbelief. I think many of the members are Deists or Christian Universalists, but they told me that there are several professing atheists in the group, so nonbelief is not a problem. The lady with the British accent said that her husband is what she calls a “Christian Atheist”, that is, he enjoys Christian religion but doesn’t believe. I found that fascinating and cool.

We all went into the room with tables and snacks, and I sat down at a table with three other men. I had some great conversation with them, as we discussed our religious pasts, current beliefs and philosophies, etc. We shared a good deal in common, although we each had our own particular thoughts on whether there was some sort of God (basic Deism) and what that meant, or the nature of reality as a whole. It was nice to have that type of open, respectful dialogue that could never work at an Evangelical church. We hit several topics that never come up at church: atheism, a critical view of theodicy, and a positive appreciation for Eastern religious thought (something I always find fascinating.)

I really enjoyed my experience there, and plan on going again next week. I could see this being a good place for me. Who would’ve guessed? If there is a similar church in your area, I’d encourage you to keep an open mind, and check it out at least once. You never know until you try.

Thank you for considering my perspective. Your opinion matters to me, and I’d love to hear from you in the comments.