Shortly after my spouse and I married nearly fifteen years ago, we joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation. When we moved across the United States, we found and joined a congregation in our new state. When we moved again, we tried the two UU congregations near us, and neither was a good fit. After our first couple of visits, my pragmatic spouse was no longer interested in attending. I, however, couldn’t quite accept that it wasn’t working for us. For nearly two years, I took our daughter every Sunday, taught religious education, volunteered at coffee hour. After an embarrassing winter morning when it became dramatically apparent that this church wasn’t going to work for us, I started trying other religious congregations in the area. I visited Episcopal, Congregationalist, and Catholic churches, Baha’ai gatherings and Buddhist temples. None was quite what we were seeking (although one Buddhist temple came very close).
My spouse couldn’t understand why I was so fixated on finding us something to do on Sunday mornings, and I couldn’t really understand it myself. But since reading The Gift of Faith, I think I have a better idea what drove me to try and find a spiritual home for my family.
Nieuwejaar says it well:
“With extended families scattered across the continent and beyond; with telecommuting replacing the social context of the office; with shopping malls replacing the local marketplace; and with neighborhoods characterized more by fences and alarms than by open doors and shared backyards, our experience of community is becoming rarer and rarer. To nurture spirituality of children only within the family is to perpetuate the isolation of the family unit and to bypass one of the finest opportunities for community available to us.”
I knew that I could nurture my children’s spiritual lives at home, I knew I could establish rituals that would help support our religious beliefs even away from a spiritual community, but we would be missing the embrace of a loving community of seekers.
As much as I felt the need for this community and felt keenly its absence, I didn’t really understand how much it meant to me until we moved across the country again and found a congregation that feels like home to us. There really is something powerful about going to a place where everyone is committed to honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person. My children are friends with the other children in the congregation and with loving adults they see multiple times a week, not just on Sundays. They are developing the kinds of close relationships they would (I hope) have with their extended family were we closer to that family.
And of course, the benefit isn’t just for our kids, although that was the focus of this book. My spouse and I know that we can rely on our spiritual community to support us through hard times and celebrate with us through happy ones. The Gift of Faith is a lovely echo of all of those things we value in our spiritual community.
One more of my favorite quotes:
“In religious community we may honor one another simply on the basis of the inherent worth and dignity, the inherent divinity of each person. Then from religious community we must take this attitude back into the larger world in whatever small ways we can, chipping away at the barriers and indignities of public life, the deceptions and impatiences of the marketplace. And as the indignities and injustices of those places begin to touch and tarnish us again, we need to return to communities of the spirit to be reminded of trust and love, to be made whole and to remember the possibility of a world made whole.”
A healthy spiritual community is an oasis of love that recharges us so we can engage in our daily lives with compassion. And if we can do that, we’re doing our small, local part to change the world.