I was the religious educator at a historically Universalist church. Fifteen years earlier, I had left the Christian faith of my childhood to embrace a Unitarian Universalism that had no room for the traditions and beliefs of my growing up years. One day, not long before Easter, I was searching for something in the storeroom behind the organ pipes when I came across a silver communion service. It was just like the one from my childhood. It had small individual cups to hold the grape juice, a platter for the bread cubes, and an elegant cover with a cross on top. Nearby, also carefully stored, was a hand-embroidered table cloth with wheat sheaves and bunches of grapes--a lovingly made communion cloth. I touched the cloth and the communion service, and was rocketed back to the faith I had left behind, to the mystery of Christian communion, to the hymns of praise and wonder sung on Easter Sunday. And I felt a longing. I needed to make peace with the faith of my childhood.
That day, I embarked on a journey of discovery. I talked with long-timers who remembered the communion set and the cloth, what it had meant in that Universalist congregation, and why the traditions and symbols of Christianity had been put away (but not discarded!). The conversations helped me grow in faith; I began to choose ways I could bring some of the tradition from which I had come into my current religious understanding and practice. With the full support and blessing of parents and the congregation’s minister, I carefully brought the cloth and the communion set out of storage, polished it up, and used it as an entry point for talking with the children about Easter, about Christianity, and about communion.
Our faith communities are full of people who come from somewhere else: another faith tradition, another UU congregation, or a place of no religious affiliation. All of us, in our own times and in our own ways, need to make peace with our religious past. We need to decide what wisdom and strength the past offers us and which traditions or beliefs we prefer to move beyond or through.
The Tapestry of Faith program The New UU offers workshops which invite newcomers to explore their own faith journeys while considering what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. Religious educators tell me that The New UU works for long-time UUs, as well, when re-titled and repackaged as an “Exploring Unitarian Universalism” series. The discussions and activities provide a container for just the sort of encounter with the past as my moment in the storeroom that Easter season. A shimmering, transformational moment.