Monday, November 27, 2006

Interfaith Blog Event #3 - Connections

Here is the next installment of the monthly interfaith event! Jon, from Jesusfollowers Journal, will be writing from a Protestant Christian perspective, and Mike from Unknowing Mind, will be writing from a Mahayana Buddhist perspective. This month, I got the opportunity to present the question for the event and here it is:

Within your religious traditions, what rituals and/or traditions give you a
sense of connection to your fellow congregants, beliefs, and communities?
What actions do you take to ensure the stability of those connections? Do
you feel that the connections that have been made are sufficient for your
spiritual and/or religious needs?

Here are the links to the other perspectives:
[Jon's Essay] [Mike's Essay]
Direct links will be provided when available

Even though I am not officially affiliated with any particular religion, I have been attending an Unitarian Universalist church off and on for the past few years, but never really got involved with the activities of the church. Recently, I started to attend on a more regular basis and also started getting involved .

I am in the beginning stages of making those connections that help to build a sense of community within a religious tradition. As I start to make connections with the people of the church, I am finding that there is a new set of rituals and traditions that are beginning to support feelings of connection. Some of them are:

  • I love the lighting of the chalice at the beginning of the service. People have a chance to share their personal stories, their favorite quotes and songs, or dedicate the lighting to someone.
  • Reciting the opening words and the closing words in unison with the members.*
  • The first service in September, where everyone is coming back from their summer vacations. Every year, a different element is highlighted (this year - water) and people bring something back from their travels to symbolize coming back together as a congregation.
  • I volunteered to help out in the kitchen. While talking to a member of the church, I found out that the gentleman that was in charge of the coffee, tea and snacks between the services was overwhelmed and needed help. I thought that this would be a great way to meet and connect with people.
  • I will be signing up for the adult education classes in the church regarding various topics.
  • Lunch after service. This happens about once a month. This is a great time to sit and socialize and get to know the people of the church. I will soon be helping out with the preparation of the food for lunch.

While I haven't explored this option yet, this particular church happens to be involved with a lot of social action and is very proud of its activities. Many of the members are involved with other groups in the community that promote religious tolerance, GLBT rights, and other social action. As my time frees up (when I am finished with my schooling in December), I will be looking to get more involved with this aspect of the church. I feel that this will help to deepen my connection with the church and it's members.

One of the reasons why I started seeking a congregation to join is that I didn't feel satisfied with what I was currently doing, which to be honest, was hardly anything at all. As I have stated before, I didn't grow up with any particular religious background and because of that, I feel that opened up the possibilities in finding a system of beliefs that is truly for me. Even though I was not brought up with a religious tradition, I have felt the need as of late to reach out for this type of connection.

I think that all human strive for a sense of connectedness whether they find that connection through family, friendships, and/or a church membership. I am starting to feel a sense that my needs are being met. I am starting to feel that I am connected to something that is larger than myself.

*opening words are "Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law. This is our great covenant to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another."

Closing words are "May peace dwell within our hearts and understanding in our minds. May courage steel our will and love of truth forever guide us."


Anonymous said...

Congrats on finding a church to attend...I really have alot of respect and admiration for the unitarian church....hope it all turns out well for you...

Mike said...

Hi Sojourner,

I like your explanation of the various rituals that have meaning for you in your new church. Having never been to a UU service, I know minimally about it. Your opening "lighting of the chalice" sounds like a beautiful way to begin a service.

There is such a great range of rituals and traditions and events that can give us a sense of community. Some obvious, like social activism, some less so, like group meditation sittings as I explained in my essay. In the same way as I think all religions have value because of people's differing attitudes and personalities and needs, people seek & obtain connection in different ways as well. It sounds like your church provides a large number of different community-enhancing practices and events, and readily expends effort to improve the local community through social action.

Thanks for sharing your personal experiences at this new church. It sounds to me like you've definitely found a caring, spiritual environment in which to learn about you and find a system of beliefs that meshes with your personal experiences.

Congrats on finishing up your schooling next month too!

Pastor Jon said...

Social action and community experience certainly are important kinds of ritual to be included in spirituality.

I am looking forward to our next dialogue. I guess it is Mike's turn to ask the question.

Have a great month! By the way, I will be making a special post sometime late in the month discussing the problem of what our materialistic culture has done with the Christmas holiday. I mention that because it should fit rather well with our current discussion. Talk to you guys soon.

Sojourner said...

Jon -

I look forward to our next event as well. I will be watching out for your post about Christmas. I also think that there is a problem with what our society has done with a religious holiday. It is one thing to celebrate with a giving a gift of appreciation to a loved one. It is another thing when our GOVERNMENT encourages spending huge amounts of money this time of year and tries to pass it off in the name of bettering the economy and thus cheapens the "reason for the season" so to speak.

Most of my family celebrates Christmas and got really sick of this trend about 10 years ago. So we started a new tradition. Instead of getting everyone a gift (exception: Grandparents and Great Grandparents and kids under 12), we each get one unisex gift and play a game instead. No one gets hurt feelings cause they didn't get what they "wanted" and there is much laughter. The holidays tend to be a much happier time because of this change.

Mike said...

That's a great tradition in your family, Sojourner. We still give gifts to everyone, but while that used to mean all the aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents when I was little, it's now limited strictly to our closest family (my parents, my sister & her husband, and my fiance and I). I have no idea how my parents and other relatives managed to handle buying for everyone back then.

Our Christmas has its own rituals too.
We always meet at my mom's on Christmas morning. We settle down with coffee or tea in the living room, around the tree, with her three dogs anxious to join in (they can feel the excitement and the love).

Plus there's the pseudo-ritual of my dad trying to pawn off Santa Claus duties to me (which he's been trying to do for years), but every year my sister, my mom, and I explain that as long as he's breathing, he's Santa. :)

Continuing the normal ritual, one gift is opened at a time so that everyone can experience the excitement of the gift recipient and giver. Gifts are, of course, strategically alternated by Santa. :)

Following gift opening is a light breakfast for whoever is hungry, and good conversation for the rest of the day.

While we do exchange gifts, and therefore aren't entirely avoiding the materialism of Christmas, my family's focus during that holiday is definitely relationship and love. It's my favorite holiday.