Joan D. Spengler, who belongs to the Dorothea Dix Unitarian Universalist Community, wanted to share her story of coming home to a place she had become afraid she would never find. We share her story, an abridged version of a sermon she shared in that congregation, because we think it is important to remember that most of us (89% by her reporting) found our way here after searching, possibly feeling alone and discouraged, wanting to find a spiritual community that welcomed and nurtured our whole selves. We can help people by inviting them in. We can help them because we build the kinds of community they are looking for.
Chutes and Ladders
Many of us were not born into Unitarianism or Universalism. We were raised in other faith traditions. But there was something about it that wasn’t right for us. We had to go out and explore different ideas to find out what was right for us. That is what the Fourth Principle is all about – the free and responsible search for truth.
I contacted the UUA to find out some statistics. It’s really amazing that between 9.9% and 10.4% of Unitarian Universalists are “birthright” UUs, meaning that almost 89% of us had to find our way here. For many of us, there were many stops on our path to Unitarian Universalism.
I like the metaphor of Chutes and Ladders. You remember that game? You went around the board and sometimes you would land on a ladder and go up. Or you would land on a chute and go down. That’s how my spiritual quest felt; one day something would seem so clear and true and perfect it was like landing on the ladder, and then I would find a flaw, something that just didn’t feel right, and I was sliding down one of those chutes. It was probably the same for many of us. We knew we needed something but it was hard to find.
I know in my case, it started young. I was born Roman Catholic and was Baptized, received my First Communion as a Christian, and a recommitment into the faith. However after that, things sort of went downhill. After 13 years of Catholic school, I was too “intellectual” to believe in a god that was so totally patriarchal and demanding. I am a woman and worth more than Catholicism had to offer me. I guess this was my first chute.
So I drifted around for a very long time. When I met my husband, he was Episcopalian. He wanted to be married in his church. I was really worried that the roof of the church would collapse when I walked into that building. I guess I still believed in that old god after all! But the building did not collapse and the wedding went off without a hitch. After our first child was born I couldn’t attend his church very often. I think I only went back twice, to have each of the boys christened. Then my husband noticed that the only time they recognized him was when they needed a strong guy to move tables around for the yearly yard sale. Little by little his attendance started to dwindle.
Then it was time for baby number 3. I had thought I had gone up one of those ladders and I was in a good place in my heart as far as my faith went. But something about being responsible for a new life sent me down one of those chutes. There was a Presbyterian church down the street. I knew that Presbyterianism wasn’t so full of hell and damnation. I thought I was climbing another ladder and became a Presbyterian. But, internal politics got involved. The “birthright” Presbyterians did not like the new minister. He wanted to make too many changes. Somehow the old guard had him dismissed. I felt that chute opening up under me. And then I was in free-fall for quite a bit.
My husband had started coming to the Dorothea Dix Unitarian Universalist Community. I stayed home and did laundry. I just wasn’t interested in another disappointment with religion. I also started to notice a growing hole in my soul or spirituality. I wanted to believe in something, but after too many chutes and not enough ladders, I was too cynical to even try. Still, I felt that I needed something.
I felt a strong pull to be outside. I started taking long walks in the woods and the more I went out to the forest, the better I felt. Hmmmm, was I climbing another ladder? But where did this ladder lead? I can’t say there was ever an “Ah ha” moment, but it became clear that there was something to this love of the earth, maybe the forest became my church and nature became my god. Was I becoming a “pagan”? Maybe it was time to fall down that chute again. But no, that didn’t happen this time.
Little by little I started attending this community. The services were a bit different that what I remembered from my other religious experiences. There were 7 Principles that made more sense to me than anything else. Was this the ladder I was looking for? But I was still hesitant. I wasn’t sure if I could commit to another disappointment.
Gradually, as I found out about the freedom to be what you are, the freedom to find your own way, I thought that I had finally found a home. I signed the book and I joined. Another ladder, when would the chute appear?
Unitarian Universalism is great, but there was still the feeling of something missing. The 7th principle, the one that talks about our interconnectedness with all life, was like a buzz in the back of my mind that kept getting louder. Then another ladder appeared in the form of CUUPs, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. Yes, this was the buzz that was getting louder. I felt like I was home. And I was freely accepted as who I really was.
There are some who have found their way here through different channels. I’m sure they have had some chutes along the way. And they probably have had some false starts up other ladders. When I think about the diversity of spiritual beliefs in this small congregation, from pagan and Wiccan, to Christian, to atheistic leanings, I am proud of Unitarian Universalism.
Some of the statistics that I found was that one out of 4 members had been Roman Catholic, 2 out of 4 members were mainstream Christian and the other 1 out of 4 was other or refused to answer. The most amazing statistic that I found was that only 3% of Unitarian Universalist ever “convert” to other faiths. For the majority of us UUs we have climbed that final ladder. We are home.