The Sunday Services committee at our Unitarian Universalist church asked me to speak (along with two others) today on why this place is home for me. Here’s what I had to say:
I didn’t grow up with a church community. I was an only child and home for me was watching Cheers while sitting on my dad’s lap, inhaling the smell of second hand smoke brought home on his dress shirt from the tabloid newsroom. At Cheers, when Norm walked in, everybody knew his name. Not to compare church to a bar, but there wasn’t really a place beyond my neighborhood when I was growing up where everyone knew my name. I’d visit churches on holidays with my grandparents or cousins, but I didn’t know a soul and didn’t understand the seemingly intricate rituals that I wasn’t allowed to participate in since I wasn’t baptized. While I was raised with canoe trips down the Loxahatchee River for the sole purpose of cleaning up litter and spent much time volunteering with my Girl Scout troop, my family had no organized religion or spiritual community. My parents said they didn’t force religion on me so that someday I could make my own decisions about what I believed, but without any reference of what was even out there to choose from, I felt a bit lost.
Ryan and I moved to Manchester from Florida in 2002. Ryan grew up in a Catholic church and we planned to church shop and see what was out there as we settled into our new community. Sometime after buying a house and moving to this side of town in 2004, we began visiting UUS:E. It’s the only church we’ve ever visited. Ryan connected with Bob Richardson (music director) and volunteered here and there to play on Sundays. At some point, we drifted away.
Almost seven years ago we had Margeaux and again we visited. Ryan connected with Pawel (music director) and we started going more frequently. He enjoyed playing music on Sundays and outside of church with Pawel. I enjoyed the sermons and found it easy to attend with a sleeping newborn. Margeaux was dedicated as an infant in this church and the powerful words read back by the congregation moved me deeply. But as she grew and became mobile, it became harder and harder to concentrate on the sermons while juggling a cranky toddler. I know the ‘holy hubbub’ (our reverend’s term for babies babbling during sermons) is encouraged, but I was unable to focus and it became a chore to attend with her. I wasn’t quite ready to send her downstairs to the nursery and at that time we didn’t have a staff member and relied on volunteers. Without a familiar face week after week, I felt uncomfortable leaving her while I was upstairs. So again, we drifted away.
I should stress, music was ALWAYS bringing us back. In the early days, Bob would call on Ryan and then later Pawel would reach out to him. And back we would go. Simone was dedicated here and again, the powerful words of support that the congregation repeated to us were so uplifting. We loved being here. Pawel would always be open to Ryan’s suggestions for pieces he wanted to play and he would come to Ryan when he had something in mind and needed a bass player, and sometimes even a cello player! Music always pulled us back and for some unknown reason, we always seemed to drift away again.
And then Pawel died. I don’t believe I have ever felt a pull so strong to be in a physical space. The outpouring of grief, love, compassion, community, support and so many other things that I saw come out of this congregation at that very difficult time in so many people’s lives made me see what an amazing, wonderful, caring, spiritual place this is. I felt to honor him, I needed to be here. I needed to bring my family here. I needed to connect to something bigger than myself. It was time.
We started coming more regularly. Ryan connected with Mary. We were excited when Emily was hired to run the nursery. Simone, who was two at the time, felt comfortable going to her each week and we felt that we had someone who really knew our child. Now we are so thankful to have Claire in the nursery. And she’s joined each week by wonderful volunteers who we’ve also come to know.
Margeaux joined Spirit Play and is now in Superheros. She enjoys seeing her friends each week and learning about UU Superheros from history. While hesitant at first, I am enjoying being an assistant in Margeaux’s class about once a month. On the other weeks, I enjoy volunteering with other aspects of the RE program, or attending upstairs. I recently spent an hour teaching Matteo how to play chess and that got me thinking I might like to volunteer with the older kids next year. Both volunteering and attending upstairs fill my soul.
Our kids have made great friends in their classrooms as well as with older and younger kids at UUS:E. Through our circle group gatherings, they’ve met folks from upstairs that they might not have gotten to know otherwise. Downstairs, where we hold religious education, I’ve connected with moms that I am learning from, growing from and just love being around. They bring so much positivity to my life. We’ve all been exposed to amazing music and powerful words from this pulpit.
I think one of the most important aspects of parenting is modeling the behaviors you want your children to develop. I love being part of a community that has so many amazing role models for my children. From handing out hot cocoa with Michelle and others at the Manchester Road Race to learning about gratitude from Gina, I have many wonderful partners on this parenting journey.
There are so many more opportunities to get involved at UUS:E. I’m interested in the book group, the movie discussions and the environmental work being done. I am also moved by the amazing social justice work being done by Josh and this congregation. I want to do all the things!
Up until Pawel’s death, I would say we were always just visiting and drifting, visiting and drifting, visiting again and then drifting again. But now, two years later, I can say with much certainty that we are home. My family is excited to come each week and “giving up” our Sunday mornings doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all, it feels like finally coming home to a place where everybody knows my name. And if you don’t, let me introduce myself: My name is Jenn and this is my home.