church shopping

If I were going to be any religion at all, I’d be a Unitarian Universalist, being as I’m mostly atheist (strong agnostic at the very least) but really appreciate spirituality and spiritual/mindful/empathetic life, and I want to raise my son that way. (I have been identifying as spiritually but nontheistically pantheist, but that fits very well into UU.)

Historically, when I’ve tried UU services, I’ve been left sort of underwhelmed, like I attended a Thursday night lecture at a local community college. I like feeling a bit whelmed, at least, in a church service. Back when I knew I was feeling something and identified as theist, I attended Grace Cathedral quite a lot, and that was fabulous … but ultimately, I failed to find any reason to believe in the divinity of Christ (I guess “reason” is the clicker, there, if I’m looking for reason, then faith-based religion isn’t in my brain or heart), and I couldn’t get over the idea that if there’s a god or gods at all, that any one is more correct than any other.

But over the years, a few different things are leading me back to a UU fellowship, mostly that I keep meeting kids (you know who you are) who were raised in UU families with UU religious education, and they’re almost uniformly wonderful kids. I know a Jewish UU kid, and Pagan UU kids, and agnostic UU kids, and whatever it is those programs (and parents) are doing, the kids are thoughtful and respectful and open-minded and awesome. And I want that for my kid. So here I become the parent who goes to church for the kid.

But here are the obstacles I perceive for me:

  1. My kid’s other parents couldn’t give a whit about going to services, from what I can tell.
  2. I’m currently having a hard time with my rheumatoid arthritis and getting up and about and really moving before 11 am or so is hard. And Owen’s a toddler, so it’s not like RE now is important outside of what we do at home, so I’m not feeling urgency but I want to be in community before he’s “old enough.”
  3. Just like I’m sick of treatment-shopping for my RA and jeans-shopping for my hips and thighs, I’m sick of congregation-shopping for my spirit. Or rather, I am not so much sick of it, as that I have been sick of it in the past, and I don’t feel like delving into it.

These are congregations I’m considering at this point:

I know the RE program is excellent but it’s too far by a little or a lot:
These also have great music programs.

I hear the minister’s pretty good and it’s local enough:

I get the sense this one is very queer/bi-friendly:

When I say something is “too far,” I mean a combination of “it’s hard enough for me to get somewhere in the morning without having to get there” and “wow, gas and bridge toll are expensive.”

Maybe I’m being too fussy. Maybe I want more spiritually than UU fellowship services have to offer, and would be better off getting the rush out in the world, and the lectures (because that’s how sermons there often feel to me) on Sundays.

Maybe the first thing I need to ask is, “What do I do with this toddler while I’m in the service?” as he’s sure not going to sit quietly.

I certainly wouldn’t mind your opinion about any of this at all, including suggestions of other things to consider or try.


7 thoughts on “church shopping

  1. First Unitarian Church of Oakland. “An intentional, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-generational, radically inclusive, anti-oppressive beloved community,” quoting from memory from our mission statement as set to music by one of our congregants. It’s also LGBTQ-friendly. There’s a program for children too young to sit through the service, and a moving “bridging” ceremony for kids who’re leaving their teens and joining the “adult” community. And the music director is awesome. You don’t just sit back and listen very much.

  2. I’ll talk with the girls for their impressions of the churches you mention. They, because of their leadership roles in the district, are far more familiar with the various churches than I am.

    You are right that MDUUC is a good hike for you. However, if you want one of the top notch RE programs in the District, then this is the place to go. Owen would be well accepted, well loved, and would love it there. The girls credit who they are today to a good part because of this RE program.

    1. Jen Kiernan’s kids (and yours, etc.) are top-notch kids, and I don’t know if I’ve ever known a truly unpleasant kid who came out of UU RE. San Mateo’s kid program is really awesome. But it’s not helpful to me if I never make it. I hope Fremont’s works for me. If not, I’ll probably schlep to Palo Alto, where a friend of a friend does RE and is well recommended.

  3. So, I’m feeling that “meant to find this” feeling (after stumbling across your blog since you tagged Jen K on FB), and I’ll just put this out there and leave it. This may seem like an off-kilter suggestion since you are looking for community, not a reading list…and both of these are Episcopalians writing (as I’m I) which you’ve already looked at and not been completely drawn by. But, anywho…I also have RA and completely get the “it’s just too hard to get anywhere early/on-time/on-a-schedule” thing and the difficulty of connecting with a spiritual community. Or any darn community. When that was more the case for me than it is now, I connected spiritually with others by reading, reading, reading…when I could find 5 minutes, in the bathroom, wherever… two books that come to mind are these: Take This Bread by Sara Miles (gay woman, Episcopal convert…last person who expected to find meaning in the sacraments…it’s intense, funny and wonderful); and Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic, by Nora Gallagher. Long time writer on spiritual issues facing a chronic and mysterious illness that isn’t RA, but I’m guessing will remind you of the journey of figuring it out. The Gallagher book just came out, and has an interesting take on finding the rituals and sacraments not a good fit any more, but finding another way. So, just ideas…maybe reading might open up ideas about where the right fit is. Maybe not…either way, great reads. And that doesn’t suck. Good luck. Genie

    1. Thank you.

      I know I’m not Christian. I am pretty sure I fit okay in the right UU congregation. It’s just that the one near us is small enough to not usually have a critical mass of youth community, which I’d really like. I might just end up there anyhow.

  4. I am religious and I attend Sunday services alone with my (younger than Owen) girls every week, unless there is illness. I am also in my church choir. FWIW, I found my church home long before I had children,

    I found that proximity is important to me. If I have to put too much into just getting there, I will make excuses to not go (and I *don’t* have RA).

    I did “shop around” for a place where I felt comfortable and accepted.

    My church does not have a nursery. I bring small, quiet toys for the toddlers to play with. The church provides coloring pages and crayons/markers for the kids after the children’s sermon. (However, my girls still eat the crayons, and are unwieldy with the markers.) There are also several other toddlers in the congregation and we all hang out in the back pews together, and the kids play (mostly quietly) and mooch each others’ snacks. It is quite helpful to have a congregation tolerant of small children at the service and willing to help chase the more-than-occasional runners. 🙂 It also helps that the girls love being around people as well as the plentiful music.

    1. It’s *so* great that you’ve found a place that works for you.

      Owen and I attended a “hanging of the greens” evening at the San Mateo UU church, where we decorated the indoors and he played with copious kids, and he just vibrated with teh joy of it. I’m pretty sure we have to start going. At any rate, he has upcoming preschool for other kids. I just want the UU youth influence.

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