In 2000, my first foray back into the organizations vaguely known as “church,” 20 years after leaving Christian fundamentalism behind, was the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. It was enough of the familiar “churchy” stuff, but lacked the stuff that made me uncomfortable. I was a member for several years, and, interestingly enough, it was my membership and involvement in that community that stirred my call to ministry. Those years were deeply influential to me, and as I traveled my way across country to go to seminary at PSR in 2005, I fully expected to join the ranks of UU ministers.
Although ordained ministry in any denomination was not my path, I left the UU before I left the ministry path. Two different threads caused this. First, I re-discovered my attachment to Christianity, in particular, the teachings of Jesus, and I also discovered this enormous queer-friendly, progressive Christian community I had no idea existed. As well, during the summer of 2005, I spent several sessions on the phone with a great group of UU seminarians of color. And I heard their struggles and the realities facing prospective UU ministers of color. At one point, we had some number of folks on the phone – I don’t remember how many – all UU seminarians of color. And I learned that there were more of us on the phone at that moment as there had ever been ordained UU ministers of color. I saw the writing on the wall. Black, queer, Jesus-following, Buddha-professing theist wasn’t likely to get a job (actually, the Budda-professing theist wouldn’t have been a problem.) So I switched teams, and decided on the United Church of Christ (UCC.)
Interestingly enough, I have really always been a unitarian theologically, although while in seminary I didn’t want to answer that question definitively, but I have since. That is, I believe Jesus was a great, wise, compassionate and conscious teacher, inspired by the divine, but just a guy born out of wedlock, who died being a revolutionary. It was his followers that created a new religion, something he probably didn’t intend. That said, I felt a kinship to the Christian mystics, and I grew up Presbyterian, so Christianity had formative authority for me. So I decided to call myself a Christian, even though I could not recite the Nicene Creed with a straight face. There was, it seemed, room in the UCC for folks of this ilk, and I slipped in. I left seminary early, and the ministry track for varied reasons, my unitarianism among them.
I’ve belonged to two UCC congregations. New Spirit Community Church, which no longer exists, and was an interesting experiment in multi-denominational congregation (UCC/MCC/DOC,) and First Congregational Church of Oakland, which has been my home church since 2009 (I served as Moderator for a year.) I spent a wonderful year at Haydenville Congregational Church in Haydenville, MA, when I went back to the East Coast for a bit in 2007-8.
Given that history, when I moved up here to Sonoma County, I church-shopped, expecting to land at the UCC church in Santa Rosa. I checked out the Quakers, the Episcopals, and went to the UCC church twice. But, in fact, the UU church in Santa Rosa is a much better fit. The minister of the UCC, to his credit, is a serious Buddhist (as is the minister of the UU, interestingly enough.) But the UCC church is small, extremely homogeneous, and, well, just not right for me. The UU church is large, vibrant, growing, and has more diversity (particularly age diversity, but there are a few people of color, and plenty of queer folk.) And, interestingly enough (and to my great relief) the congregation doesn’t seem to have the same allergy to language of reverence that the UU congregation in Northampton did when I was there.
Of course, living in Sonoma County, I will never find a community like my still-beloved First Congo. But the worship style at First Congo was always a big stretch for me, and when I returned for a visit last week, I was reminded of that stretch. I’ve always been one for quiet contemplation, for slow, easy, apophatic worship. Exuberant, expressive and loud worship is fun, but generally doesn’t feel like it brings me closer to God. Times of quiet, or low-key singing or music, especially in community, does that better for me.
I still don’t know if it’s right enough for me to get involved, and become a member. Time will only tell. But it’s kinda fun to be back again. I do rather like UUs–always have.