FIRST: To all my long-time church friends. Don’t panic. You are still my friends and will always be. And to the current and former ministers at the church I’ve been a member of, it’s not you. You have my deepest respect and admiration.
That said, in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking about my membership in an organized religion for the past twenty-something years. It’s clear to me that I did it for reasons that had nothing to do with the institution itself: I just wanted to meet some people with values similar to mine and to have a chance to sing with others.
I had not made friends in my neighborhood (only ever made a few), and my work was online, so I couldn’t make work friends. A church seemed like a good idea, and a church that would accept me as I am and give my children a foundation from which to create their spiritual paths.
I joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation, where I made some wonderful friends and enjoyed a close-knit community for many years. When the church changed focus from building community to growth, I still had my friends and the music we performed to serve my needs. I also enjoyed women’s conferences and other activities.
I enjoyed the traditions and rituals in the weekly services, too, and I learned a lot from the sermons. I also liked how sermons seemed educational and disagreement was welcomed. I didn’t feel like I was being told to toe some denominational line or being put down for having a different perspective. That was good.
Change is inevitable
People change and institutions change. There were a couple of upheavals in the church, but we got through them. I was really surprised at how much I grew personally from these challenges. I handled change! Scary change!
But some of the change I’ve seen in the church and its parent denomination have made me feel less and less comfortable. And for that reason, I don’t think I want to be a UU anymore.
Lack of forgiveness: Leaders in the church keep getting removed from positions for mistakes that seem totally human to me. Someone said something “politically incorrect,” or they made a mistake when they were younger and less wise, or in some way they just weren’t living up to expectations of “wokeness.”
Rather than working with people to make amends; allowing them to learn from mistakes, apologize, and move forward; or look into how an error occurred and not do it again…people just get forced to leave. And people get shunned for not being perfect.
It’s the “me-too” movement taken to other areas. If you screw up and someone points it out, you should go into your corner or cave and stay there.
Intolerance: More and more, I see denomination and church members conveying an intolerant attitude towards people who have a different point of view, a different perspective, or unique experiences that might lead to conclusions that are different from what’s being promoted by the leadership. That reminds me way too much of the kinds of spiritual communities I’ve avoided my whole life (prescriptive, more uniform traditions are fine if that is what makes you comfortable; it’s just not for me). I see lip service for supporting diversity of thought and expression, but in practice I see a LOT of pressure to conform to whatever’s currently en vogue.
[Unpopular aside alert: It sometimes even seems that, if you are white and straight, you start out with so much negative baggage and un-earned privileges that nothing you say or do will make your input worth including. Wow. Even if I think I believe in reincarnation, I don’t think I chose to be a white straight woman (European-American cis-gender I mean). I was just born this way. I might actually care about people who aren’t like me and want to help make the world a safer and more welcoming place for them.]
Ageism: And this one’s the straw that breaks this old camel’s back. I know it is very important to mainstream denominations in the US to attract youth and young families. They don’t want to die! (I understand that from the first-hand experience with the church we bought because there were no new people joining the congregation.)
I also enthusiastically embrace the inclusion of new perspectives, new voices, and new energy into all institutions. They bring welcome change and help us see where we’re bogged down from always looking at our communities and institutions in the same way. Like I said yesterday, I learn so much from people who are growing up today.
But, both the larger UU Association and the church I have been associated with have been (both subtly and occasionally overtly) pushing aside or putting down input from older church members. And I’m not just talking about recent events. I once said a program didn’t really meet the needs of me and my friends, and I was told that well, the church isn’t looking to please the long-time members.
Individuals have also given me an uncomfortable feeling about being my age in the church. My generations experiences with racism, sexism, homophobia and other issues are put aside as no longer relevant. That’s really hurtful, especially when I consider how much I learned from feminists and equal-rights activists of the generation before me!
A fond (I mean it) farewell
I’d been thinking of starting a satellite church in Cameron, but I really don’t think the lack of acceptance of people who think differently would go over well there.
So, I think I’ll go back to being a solo practitioner of my own brand of crazy pacifist/neo-pagan/Buddhist/gnostic mish-mash and leave institutional religion to people for whom it works. At this stage in my life, I want to focus on areas where my input is appreciated, my propensity to make mistakes tolerated, and my imperfect ways of supporting and allying with others are welcomed.
I’m just going through a phase where I’m tired of having to prove I’m good enough to be in the same room with UUs. I still support people who get their needs met by UUism or other such things. I’m just outa here.
PS: I’m not wanting to be convinced my perceptions are wrong or to be told not to feel how I feel. I get to have my feelings. That said, you get to have YOURS, too, and you are welcome to share them. I also get to perceive events the way I perceive them; yours may differ. I won’t judge you.