Sunday, April 02, 2017


Today I was asked to give a testimonial at the pulpit regarding my experience as a Unitarian Universalist in my small congregation. I was asked via a phone call earlier in the week if I could do this, and said yes while in the middle of several daunting homework assignments. I actually forgot all about it until I was heading to church this morning. I wasn't worried about it as I thought it would just be an informal thing during the service, like standing up to express joys and concerns from candles lit during the prelude.

When we arrived the service leader greeted me with, “You are speaking today, aren’t you?”
I opened the order of service, and right there in print, after we sing the kids off to YRE it read:
"Testimonial by Zen -member since 2003.”
Good thing impromptu public speaking is something that I have prepared for over a lifetime of theatre classes filled with improvisation exercises.
Before the service began I decided to jot down a bullet list of what I wanted to say. It was brief and definitely on the fly, and the experience of trying to share in two minutes what 14 years as a member of this congregation has meant to me has been tinkering throughout my mind all day.
Now that I've had time to really think it over, this is what I'd like to say- what wish I had said- if only I had taken the the time to think about it ahead of time.

This is my story.
My memory…
of how I came to find my home with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Canton.

A “C and E” raised Methodist who sporadically attended my grandparents’ church, I spent a lifetime envying the faith and spiritual homes of friends and significant others.
In January of 2003 I started “church shopping,” going to various local churches of all sorts seeking a spiritual home for myself and the boys after going through a rather painful loss around the first of the year. That month I visited two churches, an evangelical church where the boys attended daycare, and a Lutheran church where their dad’s family had been members throughout his childhood.

Interesting experiences, but definitely not “home.”
In February of that same year I read about the UUCGC in the Repository when Mary Strickland (a UU Hindu member of our congregation) was interviewed.
The first Sunday I attended without the boys (who had grown pretty weary of the church shopping by this point.) The winter of 2003 was really horrible weather wise (to go along with how the year had started out for me) and that particular Sunday it was snowing several inches an hour. I woke up to face digging my jeep out of the garage if I wished to attend. It would have been very easy to crawl back into bed and watch TV or read all day long.
But doing things the easy way has never been my thing.
I arrived at the church’s former location, in the basement of what is now the New Vision United Church of Christ on Market and 32nd Street (where Brad and I were married 1.5 years ago).
I walked down the stairs and entered the sanctuary space where I was greeted with this:

I gasped quietly to myself. Then I breathed that message deeply in thinking...
I think I’m home.
I started taking the boys every other Sunday on their weekends with me. They loved going. They liked the people a lot and the kids even more. And for a few years it seemed like we had found a new extended family. Halloween nights and potlucks (OH the POTLUCKS!)
One teacher told me how she was speaking about dogmatic creed based religions with the kids one Sunday and Noah,then about 5 or 6, said, 
"Miss Lauri, are you saying there are religions out there that try to tell people how to think?"

To which Miss Lauri replied that there were.
Noah's eyes widened and he retorted, "Well Miss Lauri. Then that is not what I am. Because no one tells me how to think!"
It's a favorite story (of the teacher and of mine.)

In 2005 my life changed again, and my family grew by two (well more if you count new parents and siblings and cousins from coast to coast).
Then along came Anna, changing my life in all kinds of amazing ways.
My church family welcomed my new family members to their fold, including hosting a beautiful flower dedication ceremony for Anna.

Over the next few years a lot of life happened, for us and for the church. Over time we drifted out of regular attendance. Then my sons stopped wanting to come. And then I stopped going much as well.
In 2009 my life imploded in harsh and challenging ways. Changes in health…family…marriage…career. All on the brink and extremely scary (as change tends to be).
The most difficult loss being my family shrinking by 2, well more if you count from coast to coast.

All this occurring while my health was rearing to the ugly side of fearsome specialties.
Throughout the years and life's transitions one constant has remained for me since that snowy February morning I first walked down the basement stairs to stare in awe at that poster-my Unitarian Universalist family’s unwavering love, caring, acceptance and support.
In my 14 years as a member of this church, they have challenged me with committee and chair service. They have supported me when I embarked on other ventures in arts or advocacy projects, and family and career changes.
But most importantly, they have accepted me, when I am able to be active and present, as well as when I have not been able to be so.
My UU family…
Always meets me where I am.
And not just me.
They do this for everyone who walks through their doors, no matter how long you stay away between services, no matter if you stay for services or if you ever come back again.
Anytime you show up, even the first time, its as though we are all old friends for which no time has passed since last we met.
There are always refreshments after church (which has always been a huge draw for all my kids throughout our time attending). But today we had a potluck. This is something UUs tend to do quite often and is always one of my "we're not a cult because we feed you often and don't ever tell you how to think" arguments for those who question our church status. Today, in my ever-frantic grad school life, I had not noticed food was involved and therefore I was not prepared with anything to contribute.
But such things never stop UUs from welcoming you to the table.
We ate, and talked, and caught up and supported each other with our current struggles with society, with personal difficulties, with career challenges...
With love and laughter.
And I realized that I have been neglecting this family for some time again.
And that has to stop.
I have a home. I have for fourteen years, through many changes and challenges.
That feels amazing after a lifetime of searching, but that also comes with responsibilities.

And though the space and faces may have changed at times from back then, I have to say it's good to finally be home.

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