For many, leaving their birth congregation is a rending experience, and finding a new home congregation a daunting one. Every instance of this transition is a personal story which, when shared speaks to the universal experience of seeking and belonging. This is the first in a series of responses and reflections by Unitarian Universalist young adults on their experience being welcomed into a UU congregation that was new to them, prompted by a comment by Kenny Wiley, UU World Senior editor.
Kenny Wiley comments:
"What's a time you felt welcomed or affirmed by a faith community, be it a one-time thing or a sustained experience? I keep thinking about the UU church in Columbia, Missouri that welcomed me in and treated me like a regular adult member during my undergrad years, and really supported me as my mom's health worsened. Faith communities can be healing or harmful, especially in times like these right now, and I'm pondering what makes the difference.
Leslie Mills responds:
After I graduated college, with my family of origin in turmoil, I moved to a place where I knew no one outside of the job I was working. As I young person who didn't know myself well yet, I had some messy relationships, with no healthy models to hold up as a mirror. I was drifting, and in a lot of pain.
In desperation, I recalled my UU upbringing, and thought I'd take a risk and try out the UU congregation in my new town. I attended a Music Sunday, and was so moved I found myself weeping. I signed the visitors book as a gesture of thanks, not expecting anything to come of it.
Much to my surprise, later that week my phone rang, and it was a member of the welcoming team, introducing herself and asking if she could answer any questions. I was touched, but still held her at a distance, and let her know that while I had enjoyed my visit, I likely wouldn't be coming back; I had been hoping to find new friends my own age, and instead saw a sea of gray hair. While everyone had been friendly, they weren't the hang-out-after-work crowd I had been hoping for.
And gently, with no force whatsoever, she invited me to consider the possibility that there were other young people in the same position, and wasn't it a shame that none of us were willing to step up and be the first one to stick around and draw the others near.
Her words hit me like a lightning bolt. I went back the next Sunday, and every Sunday after, as I helped them call a new young adult minister, started a young adult group, and through that felt my own call to seminary and Unitarian Universalist ministry.
Sometimes small gestures really do change the world.
What would you say in response to Kenny's question? Submit it! here, or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org, attention: How I was welcomed. Please include your name and congregation for proper attribution.