The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Grow With Us--Members Share Experiences

We are DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, a growing congregation of more than 300 members who honor many belief systems and are united by shared values of justice, freedom of thought, and peace between all.   Three members share what growing at our church means for them, and you.

Grow in Wisdom—
Karen Peck

     Fourteen years ago I came to DuPage UU Church with my family: my husband George, and our two boys, Andrew who at the time was a year old and Alec, who was five years old.  At five, Alec was asking questions—the kinds that make you squirm--oh, he knew where babies came from.  I'm talking about the "G" question. And, after a little girl told him about angels up in the sky in heaven, he told her that he was in an airplane and he was above the clouds and didn't see any angels up there. No surprise that he is studying physics at college now is it?

     My point is that I didn't have easy answers for questions about the BIG (capital B) stuff before coming to our church.  So,

George and I decided we had better get aligned with a religious community so that our children would have something to reject later in life.   

     Thankfully, that didn't happen, but from that first big G discussion, I realized I didn't have the language to solidify and share my beliefs about important questions and meaning in life.  I knew what I didn't believe, but had a hard time articulating what I did believe, what my moral and ethical stance was, or what I would do with it once I figured it out.  Our church provides us with an avenue for discussion, listening, learning, and action.  

     One of the first things we did—and this was before the wonderful classes we have now for new members—was attend an orientation-type gathering.  Some people you may know were in that group.  One has since become our DRE.  We started talking about our beliefs, what we thought we knew for sure, what our questions were.  In sharing and listening, you learn more about yourself.  That dialog helped me critically analyze what I believed and why.  Our orienteer, who was the late Ed Clark, was gentle, yet pointed in getting us to find our inner wisdom.  It was wonderful!  I had a guide, yet I was in charge of where to go! 

 Photo Credit: Roger Easley
     I decided I liked “growing my wisdom.”  Then I went to more classes, like Welcoming Congregation, and Spiritual Parenting with Bill La fountain, and talked, but listened more.  I went to sermons on Sunday.  I started teaching RE.  Nothing is more humbling than teaching RE and having a four year old ask you whether or not you think god is in rocks, and you realize you don't know how to answer that.   By the way, ours is a church where it is perfectly okay, and probably wise to say, "I don't know?  What do you think?"

     I have been attending the Spirit in Practice Workshops going on this winter.  They have been a place for learning, sharing, and growth that enrich not only our relationships, but our faith journeys. 

     You may find wisdom as you work beside others here at church and see a new perspective that rings true for you.  Committees, you ask?  Yes, really.  Committee work can be spiritual.  I have held positions on a number of committees and now sit on the Board of Trustees.  We have a lot of tasks to accomplish, but as you get more involved in the work of the church, you also get more involved in the faith of our religion, and in living our principles and beliefs. 
Committees aren't for everyone.  You can attend a forum, or perhaps host a forum; to teach something you have to really know it, and to share it you become wiser.  Or, you can offer to write for our blog or speak at a Sunday Service.

     Growth in wisdom in our church means we can view our lives, our beliefs, and our values from the perspective of reflection and choice.  Our growth in Wisdom comes from knowledge we acquire and experiences we share in our open and free search which allows us to enrich our spiritual lives.  We do so with the help and respect of others, and the safety to be ourselves.  Ultimately we first define, and then transform our wisdom and character and put our moral choices into action.  

     How grateful I am to grow in wisdom each week and each year in this wonderful community, with you. How grateful I am to find meaning with others that I, too, can encourage.  And how very, very grateful I am that my children have learned to think for themselves while gaining the wisdom to allow others to do the same.

Grow in Strength—
Jill Wallace & Zac Cooper

My name is Jill Wallace and I have been coming to this church for 12 years and I’ve been a member for 10 years.

And I am Zac Cooper, I have been coming to this church since I was three years old and have been a member for two years.

The strength of any church community is its people. Without its people, a church dies. Now, people go to a church for different reasons. Some people go out of habit. Some go out of guilt. Some go out of moral responsibility.

My experience at this church is that people don’t “go” to church as much as “come” to church. People come to learn something. People come for stimulating conversation. People come to reflect and meditate. People come to take a stand, to march, and to declare. And, people come to feel.

A church requires the young and the old, the ideas and the knowledge, the developing and the historical. To me what makes this church unique is its focus on people of all ages. The elders are as much of an important piece as its youth. It is amazing to me that I have found a home here where Jill’s voice is heard, Jean McCollum’s voice is heard, and my voice is heard. We are all heard because we all contribute. We contribute our time, our energy, our talents, our thoughts, our ideas, and our resources. We all have a voice.

My experience here has been focused in youth programs and programming. I started facilitating high school youth group, I taught, I served on the Youth RE Committee, I sang in the choir and now I mentor, I host, and I attend various auction and committee activities, and serve as Vice President of Spirituality.
Photo Credit: Ruth Elliott
                                                          Zac and Jill              
I grew up attending religious education classes. I currently participate in the high school youth group, Summer Assembly, Midwest Youth Leadership School, and Interfaith Service Training through the UUA with Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core. I am now a senior youth caucus leader at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly.

Everyone’s experience is unique. Some people only attend the forum and some only the service. Some avoid both like the plague and choose to volunteer with the children. Some people’s attendance is dependent upon the weekly topic listed in the newsletter, whereas others come every Sunday to enjoy the music.

Photo Credit: Ruth Elliott
DuPage UU Church Choir
Some come to participate in outreach work, to eat popcorn and enjoy a Friday Flick, or just to hang with friends. Some attend classes, support groups, or discuss books over coffee. Some come for the Art Show, to the Auction, to Chalice Circles, and on weeks when there are brownies for sale.

Some purposely avoid all-ages services, which, if you ask me, is a huge mistake. The all-ages services are like watching Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, they may be aimed at kids, but are planned, written, and executed for adults.

Whereas others specifically attend transition services, such as the Transition, Affirmation and Graduation service for high school juniors and seniors, the middle school Coming of Age service, New Member Inductions, and Dedication services.
Photo Credit: Ruth Elliott
Annie Doyle
This is a healthy congregation.

We have young and old. We think, we share, we care, and we evolve, as evidenced by our ability to revisit everything. We revisit our belief statements, our mission and vision statements, our Sunday morning rituals, and our own elevator speeches.

Whatever your reason for attending is, each one of you personally, is the most important resource we have. Your time, your energy, your talents, your thoughts, your ideas and your resources are the most valuable thing you can contribute to this church. Please keep coming and please keep contributing.

Grow in Action—
Kat Gelder

     Good morning! My name is Kat Gelder, and I am going to tell you about one of my earliest memories of being a member at DUUC. Long, long ago--back in 2009.
It was late February or early March, and I was loving my new church family. I had found a community that affirmed my values  and welcomed my deeply spiritual Humanist beliefs. Not only that--I was having fun! People at my new church were cool to hang with! They played Scrabble and did Henna tattoos and talked about their time in the Peace Corps! I was pumped!

     So, things were great. And then one Sunday morning, I walked into church and saw this by the front door:

     I asked someone about it, and they told me that Cardboard City was a project to raise money for local groups that work to end homelessness. People—particularly youths--agreed to sleep outside in a sleeping bag and a cardboard box and to raise pledge money for doing so.
Of course, I was ecstatic. I loved that DUUC wasn’t afraid to have a big cardboard box sitting on their front lawn, that social action was that important to us, that we were encouraging our youth to become involved in the struggle for a better world.
Now, I love social action—I was a student leader of the Gay Straight Alliance in high school, and after college I taught in rural Arkansas with Teach for America. So I hear that my new church has this Cardboard City program? This is awesome, I thought. Of COURSE I would live in Cardboard city! YES!

     Later, I would remember how cold it got at night in March and I would think through this adventure more carefully. Oddly, though, I became more and more committed to it every time I told one of my friends what I was doing. “You’re going to sleep outside?” they exclaimed. “In March?” Every time, my “Yes!” became more resolutely cheerful.

     However, the experience of sleeping out in Cardboard City gave me a depth of reflection that I hadn’t achieved before. The night was cold and the ground was hard. I woke up to find myself covered in cold dew and aching in muscles I didn’t know I had. I was still glad I had slept out, but I was feeling it.

     I went inside to get some breakfast; the meal was simple, arranged cafeteria style like at the PADS homeless shelter. I watched a man helping his son, five years old, mix his oatmeal in a mug. The boy was stirring earnestly. He looked a little tired. All of a sudden, it was all too real. I was overcome by a terrifying awareness of how vulnerable we all are.  And not just me—my whole church family, the people I had come to love so much.
Since then, I have come to think of social action as a spiritual practice, like praying or meditating. Not just something taxing that I do for the sake of duty, but an intentional action that I perform regularly because it puts me in touch with the deeper truths of the world around me.

     What I love about our church is the many ways that we engage in social action as spiritual practice. We make sure that the coffee we drink comes from farms where workers earn fair wages. We choose to recycle and compost to help keep our Earth healthy. We stand in solidarity with people of all genders to declare that we all have a right to reproductive justice. When our church does these things, we are acting in a way that recognizes that life is full of both injustice AND hope for the future.

Photo Credit: Ruth ElliottKat Gelder (right) 
with husband Chris Brown
And what excites me most about our future is the commitment our church has made to becoming a PADS-ready facility. When we finish the basement portion of our new building, we will be able to house people in our community who need a safe, warm place to spend the night. And here is the message that our action will send to our community: We love you. And we cannot feel truly at peace while anyone in this community lives in need. Please, let us walk with you.

Text from speeches originally presented at Celebration Sunday,
March 10th, 2013