Awhile back I had written an article about religion, I write a lot of these types of articles, whereby I had stated that I do in fact believe in God, had in fact never been able to call myself an Atheist, although I had called myself an Agnostic over the years, and that I do greatly admire the social and moral teachings of Jesus, but that I had some huge problems with organized religion that were keeping me outside of the Church. I am not going to rehash those arguments here. Anyone can click on my column and click on my religion tag, there are 44, or thereabouts, articles and seeds of mine related to religion. What I do want to call attention to is that there was one viner, I can not remember who it was, or specifically which article of mine it was on, who had basically told me that I should run as fast as I could to my local Unitarian Universalist Church. I told this fellow viner that I had in fact been thinking of doing just that for many years now, but that previously there had not really been too many UU Churches in my area of NC, a conservative area of the state.
Now, that I've been living in the Chapel Hill area of NC, Hillsborough to be exact, a much more liberal area of the state, I had noticed that there were several UU Churches in the area and that I intended to attend one eventually. My girlfriend and I had been talking about doing this for quite some time now and now, this Sunday morning, we did indeed attend The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough
We loved it and I want to talk a little about the UU Church in general and the UU Congregation of Hillsborough specifically. We went to this church this morning, not really knowing what to expect. I had read a little bit over the years about this particular denomination and it always seemed to be right up my alley, even learning that a lot of famous people of history were in fact Unitarians or Universalists, something I will talk more about in a bit.
We parked in the gravel parking lot and immediately noticed all the liberal bumper stickers on the vehicles. This is pretty common to this area anyway, but I don't think you are going to find too many Obama stickers down the street at the Free Will Baptist Church. Saw one sticker that said, "Ankh if you love Isis" Thought that was pretty cool. Looking this up afterwards at home, I found that Ankh was an Egyptian hieroglyphic that read "life". And Isis, as we all know, " is a goddess in Ancient Egyptian mythology and is celebrated as the ideal mother and wife, patron of nature and magic; friend of slaves, sinners, artisans, the downtrodden, as well as listening to the prayers of the wealthy, the maiden, the aristocrat and emperor. In union with her husband and brother Osiris she conceived Horus. Isis was instrumental in the resurrection of Osiris when he was murdered by Seth".
Anyway, I knew before I had even gotten out of the parking lot that this was going to be a different type of Church, not at all what I was used to, growing up in a Southern Baptist family. From the parking lot, you can not even see the building, as it actually sits back about 50 yards inside some pretty dense woods. This area of Hillsborough is very heavily wooded and very beautiful. After walking along the gravel pathway, we emerge at the front of the building, as pictured to the right, and walk inside. As par for the course, we were greeted by very friendly people and shown where the nursery was for our daughter. We were also asked to sign the guest book, which we very gladly did. When I first walked past the main hall, or what a traditional church would call the sanctuary, I noticed that all the chairs were formed into a circle and Immediately thought, "Uh, oh, we are going to be asked to talk and I don't like to do that." I was actually scared to death at this point. I did not know what to expect and I don't like to speak in public anyway. I also thought at first that this was going to be a weird experience.
After dropping our daughter off in the nursery and signing the guest book, one of the ladies told us that the service today was going to be nontraditional, not the way they usually did things, was going to be led by a member who was a Cherokee Indian and that he was going to lead a Native American "talking circle". I thought, as someone who is scared to death of talking in a circle, that I sure picked the right Sunday to come visit this church.
We walked into the room and found a seat at the opposite end of the room. Unbeknown to me, I sat down right next to the moderator of the service. I should have remembered, as someone with Cherokee in my own family history, that Cherokee Indians a lot of times look just like your typical white man. This was all just too ironic for me, again, as someone who was deathly afraid that I was going to be asked to talk.
After a few preliminaries of speaking about Native American talking circle tradition and explaining what a talking circle was, we then "sang the children" to their services, sang another hymn and recited another. The Hymns were very earth and nature centered and this was very refreshing after growing up singing about the blood of Jesus.
As our program notes state:
"Communication in Native American culture is quite different than the "usual" American competitive-style communication. Their style values cooperation over competition, which reflects in many areas of their lifestyles. When many Native Americans engage in conversation they listen intently, usually looking down and not establishing eye contact, until the person speaking is completely finished talking. Then the other person talks and fully expects to be able to completely finish their thought without interruption or before the conversations turns to another person
What is left unsaid?
In some Native American cultures there is a ritual called, "what is left unsaid" and it is practiced in various ways. In one instance, the group gathers in a circle and uses what is called a "talking feather." (We used a talking stick, more like a talking branch actually, as tall as a person) Whoever has the feather (or stick) is the one that states what has been on their mind but hasn't been said. When they are finished talking, the feather is handed to the next person in a clockwise direction and the next person says what they have left unsaid. This is called a "talking circle"."
After explaining a few preliminary rules, he tells us that the first pass of the stick is for introductions. He introduces himself an tells us his Cherokee name. He passes us to me and asks that we introduce ourselves and either give our spirit name or our given names. I nervously take the stick, but once it is in my hands, I calm down and begin to speak calmly and quite relaxed. I tell the circle that we are Brian and Jackie and that we have been in Hillsborough for a couple months and this is our first time attending a UU church. A few welcomes from church members and then I pass the stick on. Some people just give their names, some tell a little more about themselves. From the introductions, we found out that there was a practicing witch in the circle and later we hear from a gay adult male. Everyone is very warm, nice and welcoming and the entire experience was just so peaceful, I was at complete ease and thoroughly enjoying listening to everyone speak.
The next pass of the stick was for concerns. Jackie and I just passed the stick along, but one man, the husband of the witch, says that first of all, he was happy to have his witch back, apparently she had been away for a week at a gathering with other witches. He mentions that the recent killings at the UU Church in Knoxville, TN concerned him deeply and that his hope was that something positive came from it. Another lady down the circle, also said that she was greatly concerned about the killings too and said that it just shows that there are many people around us who have mental issues and that are not finding the help that they need.
The next pass of the stick was for announcements, and this was mainly taken up by talk of a auction the Church was attempting to set up, whereby members could donate items they no longer wanted or needed and they could be auctioned off to other members, all proceeds to benefit the church.
The next pass was for joys, for each of us to discuss what we were thankful for in our lives. I took the stick and said that we were thankful for our family and for each other and for our daughter, Eira-lynn, who will turn 1 year old on Aug 17th. Jackie said that she was thankful that she survived her first year of being a new mother. That got a few chuckles from the circle.
Several other people talked about the joys in their lives and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to every one. The Cherokee moderator said that he was thankful for the church itself, after having been there a few years, because for many years he had thought that his beliefs were shared by no one else and that he had thought that he was going to have to just go live in the woods somewhere and be by himself alone with his beliefs. He said that he was thankful that he had found a welcoming and open church whereby not only were his beliefs considered valid and valued but that the beliefs of others in the Church were too, even if they weren't all the same beliefs.
He tells us that the first 4 passings of the stick represented the four directions, east, west, south and north and that we were all going in a certain direction in our lives, and that hopefully we were going forwards and not backwards.
The last pass was for personal stories, which represented mother earth, and every story told was very interesting.
One man mentioned that the sound of one hand clapping is nothing, because it makes no sound. Likewise, one person is not a circle, even two people are not a circle but that many people standing together makes a circle. This represents sharing and working together for common goals in stead of working against each other and tearing each other down.
The moderator said a final prayer to "grandfather" and instead of the congregation ending it with a shared "amen", they shared a common "All hope".
I thoroughly enjoyed the service and can not wait to attend again. This was their very first talking circle and I just think it is very funny that I chose to attend on this day. I am scared to death about talking in front of people and have been nervous about starting school next week for that very reason, but I did just fine and I think it is exactly what I needed at this time. You could call that God or serendipity or whatever, but I believe the soul, in communion with God, is all knowing and will guide you to what is needed any particular moment of one's life. It was all just too coincidental. Not only did I choose to attend this service, not knowing that it was going to be a talking circle,(I probably would have waited till next week if I had known), but then I end up sitting right to the left of the moderator and ended up being the first person to have the talking stick.
I would also like to mention a little about the Mission/Covenant Statement of this particular UU Congregation and to provide some other links so that any readers will be able to find out more about the UU Church in general.
"Uniting together as members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Hillsborough, we covenant:
To accept and support one another with open minds and open hearts, to care for and respect each other, to share our sorrows and celebrate the joys of life together, and to work together in a spirit of cooperation and harmony;
To create a welcoming and diverse community that is open to all people without regard to race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, political persuasion, age, disability, or religious belief;
To build a liberal religious community that supports each individual's search for truth and meaning and encourages the spiritual and ethical growth of each person;
To support our Congregation by sharing our financial resources, our time and energy, our creativity and imagination, and our talents and skills; and
To serve others and to work together for peace, justice, and understanding in our community and the world. "
You can read about What Unitarian Universalists believe? there.
You can also read the 100 Questions that non-members have about Unitarian Universalism
I would also like to point out the numerous famous people that have been UU's themselves all throughout our nation's history. Originally, they were two separate liberal movements within Protestantism but in the early 60's the two groups merged into it's present form. Just looking down through the list, one can see that it reads like a who's who of America's greatest minds. It has always made me wonder, that the world's greatest minds have almost to the man, tended to be liberal in their theology and in their politics. The following is a short list of the people that most people will have heard of, and I will close with that. We are not talking about Madonnna or Paris Hilton here either.
John Quincy Adams
William Howard Taft
Those are just the ones that most people have heard of
Arts and Humanities -- again, a veritable who's who of the world's greatest minds
Louisa May Alcott
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Oliver Wendel Holmes, Sr and Jr
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry David Thoreau
I could continue but I think you get the point. You can read even more, such as those in science and medicine, such people as Alexander Graham Bell and Tim Berners-Lee here