This is Who I Am – by Allysha Dunnigan
Since the day I was born I have been linked to a unique and distinct religion. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion characterized by a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning." This is the community that I have identified with for as long as I can remember. Growing up Unitarian Universalist exposed me to inimitable opportunities and circumstances that molded me into the person I am today.
Being raised in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn always made me feel like I had a reliable and trustworthy community that always had my back. I grew up surrounded by fun, exciting, and loving church members that made me feel like church was the best place in the world. But, as I entered grade school and met new kids, I realized that my views of religion and church differed immensely from the people I was surrounded by every day. I had always felt proud and blissful about the religion I identified with until the world around me started to change my ideas. I attended a public elementary school in which almost all of my peers and classmates identified as Catholic. This was no big deal to me, of course, because I was taught to accept people for the way they are no matter how different they are from me.
So I thought nothing of it - until it became a problem that I was the different one and I was labeled as the “odd one out.” At school I would hear stories about CCD, confession, and making first communion. I was told by my peers that everybody had to do all those things and that it was bad if you didn’t. My six-year-old self thought that I would be a bad person and that people would judge me if I didn’t accomplish all these things that I supposedly had to do. During this time, I started to truly second-guess myself and how I had been raised. According to everyone else I was “doing religion the wrong way.” This was the first time where I actually began to think that being a Unitarian Universalist (UU) was wrong and wasn’t supposed to be a part of my life.
As I grew older I still had the idea in my head that I was different, but I began to learn how to cope with it. I would exclude myself from conversations about religion since it made me uncomfortable, and chose to not answer when people asked me what religion I practiced. This continued into middle school until I experienced a life-changing event that forever changed my views on life.
When I was in the seventh grade, I attended my first Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (GA) Youth Caucus. At first I had no idea what this was or why I was attending it. The first day experiencing the GA life was unbelievable. I walked into a huge arena where I was surrounded by thousands of people just like me - yet we were all different in so many ways. It was a thrilling feeling knowing that I finally had people around me that practiced the same religion I did but were wary of it, as well. After that week in which I participated in many workshops, events, and rallies, it opened up my eyes to a whole different world. On the second to last day we had a huge gathering in the arena of all the Unitarian Universalists that were there. Looking around and seeing all the happy and loving faces of everyone there was when I finally realized how proud and excited I was to be a part of such a wonderful and unique group of people.
I changed my thoughts about being different and not fitting in; I realized that it didn’t matter because I was happy with the religion I was and I finally understood it. Attending GA opened my eyes up to all the amazing things Unitarian Universalism has to offer. It was after that week that I finally understood the religion and knew how to explain it to all my friends back home who had no idea what it was. Before this experience, I never knew how to answer the question “what is a Unitarian Universalist?” Now I know that the answer to this question is simple: we are a group of people who accept everyone for whom they are; that treat the earth we live on with great respect; and that have the freedom to believe in what/who we want. This is how I answer the commonly asked question about what we are and what we represent. I believe that my definition of a UU defines us perfectly while showing all the great qualities we portray. I know that I can believe in what I want to believe in and I don’t have to hide it or pretend because my congregation wont judge me for being me.
I love how this congregation is open to all races, ethnicity, members of the LGBTQ community, and even people of other religions. Having such a diverse community in which everyone gets along so well is an amazing thing to be a part of. It provides a unique but wonderful place to grow up and to have as a part of your life. These are the aspects of my church that people judge and put down, but I know that these are our best traits. I am proud to exemplify them.
My name is Allysha Dunnigan and I grew up in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott, MA. I am from Lynn, MA and graduated from Lynn Classical High School this past June and am currently attending the University of Tampa. I kept busy in high school playing soccer, swimming, and softball, but also managed to attend church every Sunday with my family. I am a fourth-generation UU and proud to keep the family heritage going.