I have been a UU for over half a century. I was baptized in the Presbyterian faith, but outside of a stack of small bibles I won for memorizing scripture it didn’t stick. My mother got a job as a part-time secretary at the UU Church in Youngstown, Ohio when I was in elementary school. She liked what she heard and moved us there when I was about 12. I didn’t perceive this as a good thing as it added 30-40 minutes of travel time to attend services. I was a reluctant convert.
My mother jumped in with both feet and volunteered to teach Sunday school. Unfortunately, she was assigned to teach the class I was in. When I found out I would have her for the third year in a row, I declared myself an atheist and refused to attend. Nobody had the foresight to inform me that atheism was fully compatible with Unitarian Universalism. I was not at all interested in the youth group (LRY – Liberal Religious Youth at that time) but I would, on occasion, attend the adult service.
I was absent from church during college and early adulthood. I did attend the Fellowship in Bowling Green, Ohio, where I was doing my Master’s but it was too small and once was enough. During my Ph.D. at the University of Alberta, Kathy and I attended the Edmonton Church, but Sunday was a rare day off from school and work, and again once was enough.
When our first child was a year old, Kathy stated in a manner that did not brook argument, that she wanted our children to have a moral and ethical center and that meant church. I replied, with equal force, that if we were going to attend church Unitarian-Universalism was the only one I would consider. We took the plunge. Living in the south (Richmond, Virginia) was a serious dose of culture shock for a couple of liberal Yankees. Richmond was very insular, very conservative, and the “War of Northern Aggression” was a frequent topic of conversation. The UU church was a welcome respite, an island of liberalism in a place that was “as far south” ideologically if not geographically, as you could get. Kathy and I both became involved in a variety of church activities. It was the center of our lives for the next six years. The minister, David MacPherson, was a wonderful person. He was kind, intelligent, and his services were always well planned and thought provoking. The church was one of the few things we regretted leaving behind when we moved to South Bend in 1986.
We arrived in South Bend in June. Summer services were small and informal. We signed the book shortly after our first visit. During the next decade Kathy and I were very active. I chaired the Sunday Service (Worship Arts) Committee during a year when we were without a minister. I also served on the Board (twice), and as President. Kathy did everything else. Those were turbulent times; a new minister came and went, and we had a couple of interims before hiring Lisa Doege. The church is the center of our social and spiritual lives and we both attended nearly every Sunday. I am not as active as I was a decade ago. I attend services regularly and I enjoy the company of the people I know and meet here.
A few years ago I was asked to share with the congregation “Why I Pledge” in anticipation of the Annual Pledge Drive. I think my response surprised some folks based on what I wrote in the previous paragraph. I do not support the church because of the people. As I noted, the church is the center of my social life, and I do value the people (past and present) who call this place home. But they are not why I pledge. I support the church because of the “kindred spirits” who haven’t found us yet – UUs in all but name. I want to be sure that this church is a vibrant, active, and welcoming place for the visitors who walk through our doors next Sunday, next month, or sometime in the next decade. They deserve a place to call home as much as I did.