03 August 2010

Excerpts from "Companions for the Journey"

At All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, we have a recurring sermon series where members share the journey that led them to All Souls and why the continue to stay.

On 25 July 2010, I was one of three persons who talked about these questions and here is what I said:
The journey that led me to this church
Good morning – I'm Steve Caldwell and here's the journey that me to All Souls.

Does anyone know what a Unitarian Universalist is?

Well, the punchline for this joke is “An atheist with children.”

And that joke is the short version of my journey. But there is a longer story as well.

Many years ago, my first encounter with Unitarian Universalism happened in 1981 when Susan and I had out wedding in Athens, Georgia.

We were looking for a setting for us to get married. Susan was raised as a questioning Roman Catholic by a Presbyterian mom and Catholic dad. And I wasn't very religious (much to the aggravation of my Mom).

We both had relatives who would be more comfortable with a religious wedding instead of simple justice-of-the-peace ceremony.

Susan's dad suggested that we talk to the Unitarian minister in our town. He thought this would be a solution for both of us.

I attended church occasionally but I didn't call myself a “Unitarian” or a “Unitarian Universalist” yet. In 1980-1981, “signing the book” was just too religious for me.

A few years later when I enlisted in the Air Force, I told the recruiter that I was a “Unitarian” and that is what they put on my dog tags.

Fast forward to 1987 when Delia was born. We faced a dilemma that many UU parents face. How do we let our child know what our values are and also let her discover her own values? How to achieve this delicate balance?

From our wedding experience, we knew about Unitarian Universalism but we were far away from the nearest UU congregation because we were living in a small town about 3 ½ hours north of Detroit (Wurtsmith Air Force Base - near Oscoda).

However, we discovered that the UUA have an excellent “church by mail” program for isolated families like ours (Church of the Larger Fellowship). We did some UU stuff with Delia around the holidays and such. And we added yet another wonderful person to our family when Charlie was born in 1992.

Shortly after Charlie was born, we left Northern Michigan for Rapid City, South Dakota. In Rapid City, we discovered that there was a “real” UU congregation for our family where we could meet with other Unitarian Universalists face-to-face. And they had real religious education classes for our children as well.

After 3 years in South Dakota, we moved once again to Shreveport and Bossier City in December 1995.

I had visited All Souls a few times during the autumn of 1995 before our entire family moved to Bossier City.

I remember Ron Thurston and Charlotte Crowley who were working the membership table greeting newcomers like myself when I first visited on a warm September day.

Compared to our “church by mail” experience and our small lay-led fellowship congregation in Rapid City, we were amazed by how big All Souls seemed to us at the time.

Our kids enjoyed having RE classes where half of the kids did not have “Caldwell” as their last name.

And that's the long story about how I got to All Souls.

The reasons why I've stayed
The other question that I've been asked to talk about the reasons why I've stayed.

Charlie overheard me asking Susan about this and he had one possible answer – “computer tech support.”

But I should provide a more complete answer than that.

We don't talk about “salvation” very much in Unitarian Universalist circles. I've never heard anyone in a UU setting ask “are you saved?”

Hellfire and damnation in Unitarian Universalism went out of fashion back in the early 1800s with the theological writings of Hosea Ballou and other early Universalists who rejected the idea of Heaven and Hell in the afterlife.

We do have a theology of “salvation” today – we just don't talk about it very much.

Rebecca Parker (President – Starr King School of the Ministry and one of our leading theologians) provides a short and pithy summary of our implicit theology of salvation.

“We offer salvation from those things that deny life or make life less whole.”

When I heard this, a light bulb went off over my head. To me, this explained why I'm at All Souls and active as a Unitarian Universalist elsewhere.

I've been very active in our denomination as a curriculum trainer for the Our Whole Lives lifespan sexuality education series that we jointly developed with the United Church of Christ.

Our sexuality education curricula are just one example of the salvation what we offer – just one example of how we can save people from those things that take away life or make it less whole.

For example, a person who is struggling with negative messages about bodies and sexuality which are all too common in the Southern “Bible Belt” culture would find a message of salvation in a church like ours which teaches that our bodies and our sexuality are a good part of the human experience.

And there are plenty of other ways that we can provide salvation in this life to a world greatly in need of salvation.

The promise of salvation – along with providing computer tech support – is why I stay at All Souls.

Thank you.
The audio podcast recording with Gia Motti, Kathy Osuch, and myself can be found online here.

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