Growing up in a church gave me a sense of belonging both to the congregation and to their beliefs. Our family life revolved around Sunday school, Sunday worship services, Wednesday suppers, choir practices, and revivals. At eight, I was baptized at Gordon Street Baptist Church in Atlanta, and I felt safe belonging to this familiar spiritual family. Gradually, though, I began to miss friends whose families no longer attended. Our dwindling congregation met to vote over the church’s future, and words of anger were exchanged. Eventually, our church closed its doors amidst the strife of integration, busing, blockbusting, and white flight. Our church died an all white congregation unwilling to change its membership rules. The building now houses Atlanta’s Shrine of the Black Madonna.
As an adult, I can look back and see the other signs of prejudice. The church “served” the surrounding poor community by offering services at a separate mission building. When these folks did come to our church building, we called them “mission people,” an example of us and them. Basically, everyone was welcome, as long as they knew their place. Perhaps this is why I love the phrase “radical welcome”, which challenges us to cultivate an environment of welcome and belonging.
By extending a sense of belonging to all, we keep our community alive and vital, and our doors open to the world beyond.
~ Lisa Kiel
Lisa, your experience as a child with religion is very similar to mine. Racial integration was the trigger that caused me to lose faith in my Christian church at the age of 15 or 16 when the adults in our congregation voted to deny entrance to “colored” people if they came to our door on a Sunday morning. I started questioning many other things I had been taught there, such as why would God/Jesus only save Christians. I drifted along for about 10 or 12 years feeling like I did not belong in a faith community. This was particularly difficult when my mom died suddenly when I was 24 years old. A friend introduced me to Unitarian Universalism, and I felt I had finally found the place where I belonged.
Peggy, thank you for responding to my reflection. I am not surprised that my childhood experiences sounded familiar. I too struggled with the idea that God’s grace seemed reserved for only a few. I always thought God was too loving for that!
Lisa, your reflection back over your childhood church experience is familiar. I look back on the things that our churches did during the Civil Rights movement, and it’s so clear to me now: they were not ready for that moment in history, but that moment in history had its way with them. I take that lesson forward: what have we not been ready for at UUCG? What will we not be ready for in the future? How can we soften our hearts and ready ourselves for something that might jolt us at first? Can we extend compassion forward to our future selves and our future new companions on the way so that we find our way together? You’ve given us much to think about.
Bob, I like your idea of carrying what we learn forward. Extending our compassion to our future selves and companions is something to meditate on. I also found in writing this reflection that it helped me grieve this time in my past, and offer some compassion and understanding for my past companions and myself.