Because Unitarian Universalism encompasses so many qualities different from a standard organized religion, first and foremost our lack of a prescribed set of beliefs, it is sometimes very difficult to explain to our children what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Family Network has a number of good resources available for families to aid in the development of Unitarian Universalist identity in our children. This story from the Rev. Hope Johnson, who serves the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, New York, is part of a 34 page document of stories about family religious traditions called “Family Stories as Faith Stories” (PDF). Her description of her faith journey transcends generations.
For consideration: what stories in your own family history inform your faith journey today?
My Faith Home
by Rev. Hope Johnson
Hi, my name is Hope and I’m from the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea. I grew up all over the world but always went back home to my island. I was raised Anglican which folks here in the United States, call Episcopalian. My twin sister Janice and I went to Sunday School every single Sunday no matter where we found ourselves. And we would get in trouble every single Sunday. Our Sunday School teachers didn’t like the questions we asked each week when there was one thing or another that we did not understand.
“I don’t understand the Trinity. If God is God why do we need to pray to Father, Son and Holy Ghost? But you said ghosts are not real. But I don’t believe that the Devil is real. Where’s Hell? But I do love Jesus, I just don’t understand it the way you do. Now about this Virgin Birth…”
Each question we asked was answered with: “You can’t ask that. Just because. It’s in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. You will understand one day but for now, you just can’t ask that…”
One Sunday, we had had enough…so when our Dad came to pick us up from the classroom he found us crying and saying we would never, never ever go back to Sunday School. I remember that we went out for ice cream and our tears dried up real fast! Our Dad was so patient—he talked to us for days and days. He didn’t get us to change our minds. No more Sunday School… no more. He tried to understand why we didn’t want to go back to Sunday School. He reminded us that we would miss our friends. He reminded us that we would miss the stories. He reminded us that we would miss everything. Oh well, we had had enough. No more, no more…
Finally, Dad said. OK. No more Sunday School. NO MORE SUNDAY SCHOOL! Yeah!!! No more Sunday School!
Sunday morning came by, no Sunday School. Yeah!!!
The following week rolled by—Sunday morning came by again. NO SUNDAY SCHOOL!!! YEAH!!!
The third week, Dad woke us up early. Time to get up. We are going to visit another house of worship!!! What? Groan! Oh no! But he said, hurry, you’ll love this and we believed him. I’m glad we did because our Dad had the brilliant idea of visiting several different houses of worship so that we would still have opportunities to explore our understanding of ourselves in relation to our world. We could choose a different house of worship each week. If we found something we liked we could stay as long as we wanted. We did that for a year. Once in a while we went to a service or school on a Saturday, or a Friday, but wherever we were, we went somewhere at least once a week.
Then we went to a weekday school that had a similar program. Our whole growing- up life was spent all over the world in United Nations Schools. And we visited all kinds of cool houses of worship—synagogues, temples, churches, places of gathering … everything.
And I realized that most of the religions, most of the houses of worship all did the same thing. They asked big questions: “Why are we born? What happens after we die? What does being a good person mean? What do good people do? How should we live? What responsibility do I have for others? And for my world? What difference should my life make?”
And I knew that I didn’t really care to join an organized religion because my God was bigger than all of them even put together. So I planned to live like that all my life…
Until, I grew up and was talking to my Dad one day. And he wondered if I had ever looked at Unitarian Universalism. No, I said—what’s Unitarian Universalism?
All those years of visiting different houses of worship and I had never heard of Unitarian Universalism. When I finally visited the Community Church of New York, my home church, for the first time, I walked into a sanctuary that had all kinds of religious banners all over the place. I felt comfortable, as if I had walked into my spiritual living room. I felt so “at home” that for the first time in my life I wanted to be a part of something. I became a Unitarian Universalist feeling as if I was a beautiful painting and had finally found the right frame for myself.
How could I have known that I would become an active member, a lay leader, and eventually, a Unitarian Universalist minister? If my Dad had not encouraged me to explore my world I would never have been open enough to explore all of the wonderful faith traditions. If I had not explored my world, I would never have found a faith home of my own. And my sister found her faith home here too. And so did her daughter, Lehna.
My daughter Jova is growing up in this faith community and is now a youth leader. She has, through Unitarian Universalism, explored many faith communities. The other day she said “Mom, I’m so happy to be a UU. This is the only religion I know of where I’m not only encouraged to make this world a better place… it’s the one place in my life where I am expected to make this world a better place for all!”
My Dad shared his values with me. I shared mine with Jova. And the beat goes on as we continue to share our family values with each other…
Source: “My Faith Home,” by Rev. Hope Johnson, serving the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, New York, from the Unitarian Universalist Family Network’s “Family Stories as Faith Stories” (PDF).Tags: children, community, faith, Hope Johnson, journeying