Sunday, February 15, 2009
An Atheist in a Church
In our society, atheism and church tend to be strange bed fellows. Well, to most anyway. If you happen to have attended, or heard of, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation than you'll understand that atheists and churches are not as of a funny thing as most would imagine.
Today I, an atheist, attended one of these congregations in Chandler, AZ. I'd been meaning to for quite some time but alas things stopped me from going every time I attempted to get up for their service.
It was honestly intimidating at first. The church property is a lot bigger than I imagined it and a lot more people showed up than I thought would be interested in their group. However, I walked up to the door knowing this place would be accepting of a mindset such as mine as UU accepts all creeds, faiths, religions, etc. Their core belief is love and the ability for all humans of all beliefs to come together as one and work together with this love.
Love, as it turns out, was the central focus for the day (it having been Valentines Day and all yesterday). The church interior was like most churches. It had two sections of pews divided by a walk way to the pulpit and had hymnals sitting underneath the pew in front of where ever you chose to sit. The people looked no different from those you'd find in a Christian church or any other church for that matter. Some were dressed up and some were wearing more casual clothing. This isn't to say that the church had it's share of differences from that of a traditional religion's church.
Along the western wall a very humbling thing could be seen. Symbols from many religions together including Christianity, Toaism, Islam, Judiasm, Wicca, and even the Humanist logo for us atheists. turning to the south I saw beautiful abstract paintings hung up behind the pulpit that seemed to really give the building a warm glow. Clearly this place felt a lot more welcoming then even I imagined.
The service began with a few hymns sang to the tune of a piano. These hymns were not about a god though. They were about peace, loving, and sharing. I gladly sang each one knowing that I wasn't ascribing to a deity. The songs shortly transitioned into a welcoming to all the new comers and new children that were brought in. As it turns out today there was a special event where the children were being blessed by the preistess.
Each child came up to the pulpit with their parents and said their name; then was given a yellow rose and blessed with a thumb of water on the face with a short secular verse. The verse basically said "this child will be a peaceful force for our earth". After all the children and parents came up it was now time to do the bridge. This was something unique. Between the two rows of pews people would each across to the other side and grasp the other's hands to form an arch/bridge. This continued from one end of the pews to the others. For those not standing at the end they were encouraged to place their hands on the shoulders of those beside them as to all join in on the bridge. Upon construction the children and parents ducked through the bridge and out the other side. When the last child went to the end we sang a few more hymns followed by a few charities asking for donations for their organizations. Next, the sermon was given by the preistess.
As I stated earlier the sermon was about love. I couldn't even prepare myself for how blunt, funny, and enriching it was. First off the preistess joked about love as being caused by seratonin in our brain and how it was hard to imagine anything coming from that taken seriously. Some other highlights including joking about homosexuality and even a story wherein she married two women 20 years ago. It truly was a sermon about love and how it knows no bounds. I believe my favorite part of this came when she asked us all to meditate for five minutes while speaking to us about love and clearing/grounding ourselves. This was very special to me as I'm not real huge on prayer but love meditation.
The service eventually came to an end with an ancedote given by the preistess. It sent us all in a chuckle as some made their way to the door and others stayed around to mingle and partake in the snacks. I myself stayed to mingle and found some very fascinating people. One was an agnostic lawyer whom I talked to a bit about my beliefs and my future in studying law. Before he left he gave me his card and said I should call him if I want to talk to him about law.
Another couple talked to me for a bit about the service and religion in general. The man described to me a book by karen armstrong and recommeded I read it as it was a real great critique of religion. Out of all the people I met though there were three that I talked the most with: Caroline, Caralina, and Bryan.
I got into a discussion with these three about my standing on atheism and religion as well as politics. Each were very open and every enthuisastic to my point of view. Rather than attempt to debate my beleifs they listened with an open ear and asked more questions to find out more about how I came to their church. One of them exclaimed that the preistess is a Christian but that not all here are. I nodded and told her I saw that based on the sermon she gave but believe that it wasn't the central focus of what everyone believed, just her belief.
We ended up talking until the head of the building was locking up. We said our good-byes and they welcomed me back. "I think I will be back." I said optimistically. Well, upon taking it all in I think I'd better change that now. I will be back.
visit www.vuu.org for more information on UU and the congregation.