Today I took part in a lovely, and moving, service at Chorlton Unitarian Church. At this "Membership Service", myself and 2 others were formally accepted as members of the church.
Some of the congregation choose to be members, some do not, but I felt that it was a step I wanted to take.
I said a few words, as did the other new members, about why we had chosen to take this step. I thought I would share with you what I remember of what I said:
I thanked the church for accepting me as a member, and I told them what had led me there - in a nutshell it is that they are willing to let me in, with total acceptance and non-judgement, where most places of reflection/worship will not.
First stumbling block: I don't believe in God. I cannot believe in the Christian God, a conscious omnipresent being. I have been to services run by many different denominations of the Christian church, and they all seemed to regard belief in their God, and acceptance of Christ, as a pre-requisite for joining - I respect and understand this - but it isn't me. And it seemed to be the story across the board - theistic churches/temples/mosques don't really welcome atheistic agnostics with open arms.
And then I found the Unitarians. They will let anyone in! Well, that's not quite true, you need to support their aims or "objects". But there is no dogma. No requirement to believe anything in particular. Simply to respect and understand that the other members of the church are each "fellow travellers", engaged in individual and collective journeys in search of "truth and meaning". Some Unitarians would call themselves Christians (the movement arose out of "free thinking Christians" who believed in God but not the trinity. But Unitarians seem to include all types of theists, atheists, humanists, philosophers, theosophers, Buddhists, pagans, spiritual and non-spiritual people. All coming to reflect, together, on what it means to be human, and how best to live out our time on this planet.
After reading excitedly about Unitarianism, the first Unitarian church I went to, in Altrincham, disappointed me a bit I loved the idea of Unitarianism, but the format of the Dunham Road church's Unitarian service seemed very Christian, with quite traditional prayers and hymns, and not much of a nod to other belief systems. Yes, there was the odd reading that wasn't Christian, so I was pleased at the hint of acceptance of other paths, but I didn't feel it was a place where I could totally be at home. I intended to go back, but somehow couldn't find the motivation.....
But then, about a year ago when I moved back to Chorlton, I tried out Chorlton Unitarian Church. It was like coming home! The services sometimes include Christian texts, but seemed equally likely to include readings from any other religious/spiritual tradition, or philosophical text, or from anything that the leader of the service considers to be thought-provoking and meaningful. I heard a quote from Winne the Pooh during one service!
There are 'hymns' but not in the way you might think: these are often meditations or poetry set to music, or otherwise thought-provoking songs, as well as more traditional hymns.
And although the word 'God' does come up from time to time, we are each free to choose to interpret that loaded word in any way we wish. One fellow-church go-er told me that whenever she hears the word 'God', she mentally replaces it with the word 'nature' and that works for her.
There are 'prayers' too - and some people do treat them as a prayer to their supreme being, but others treat them more as a 'meditation' or a 'reflection' that speaks instead to their heart/mind, or to their subconscious or something. I am very much in the latter category!
So, at last I found a place that wouldn't ask me to believe in God, or ask me to believe in anything in particular. No dogma. Free-thinking. But still a place I can come to a couple of times a month (weekly if I choose to) to reflect on life, how I want to live it, and what it is all about.
Second Stumbling block: Polyamory. This is another 'test' that any place of spirituality had to pass. As I explained to the congregation this morning, I am polyamorous. For me, romantic love is not a limited resource. I have a lovely fiancé Tim, who I will marry in February. We have an open relationship. I also have a boyfriend John. And I may have other partners as well in the future, who may include women, as I am also bisexual.
Everywhere else I have been to has been unable to deal with this. Responses from other people in congregations (including worship-leaders) have ranged from "sorry but what you are doing is wrong, against God's law, and you will burn in hell" through to the more tactful but equally un-accepting "I respect your decisions but I am sorry to tell you that what you are doing is wrong - how can you possibly love 2 people.....?"
Cautiously I confided in one Chorlton Unitarian church member that I loved more than one person. I was so relieved when his response was pretty much "whatever". And I added a couple of other church members on facebook - neither of them said "what's this weird thing you do then?" ;-) Don't misunderstand - I have no problem with people being curious and asking questions - it is nice to be asked about it, in a non-judgemental way, by people who are genuinely interested and curious. I just don't like feeling I have to justify it to people!
I can't tell you how liberating it felt to be amongst people who didn't pass some kind of judgement on my polyamorous way of being. Who wouldn't tell me, however respectfully, that their God thought it was wrong.
I could tell that here, finally, I had found a welcoming group of people who shared my desire to reflect on life, and accepted my atheistic polyamorous nature without any judgement of it.
I am very grateful to all the people at Chorlton Unitarian church for making me so welcome, first as part of the congregation, and now as a full member of the church. I am sure I will be a member for many years to come, and I would encourage anyone who can get to Chorlton to come along to a couple of Sunday services and give them a try!
Website for more info is here:http://www.ukunitarians.org.uk/chorlton
And the facebook page is here:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chorlton-Unitarian-Church/273515549358423
Do hop over and give the facebook page a *like*
The service is 10.30am - 11.30am-ish, with tea & coffee afterwards. And the church is behind a block of flats on Wilbraham road, between Sibson Road and Maidstone Avenue, (a large green sign in front of the flats makes it easier to spot, as you can't see the church from the road). The address is: Chorlton Unitarian Chapel, (Behind Regency Court Flats, 548B), Wilbraham Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, M21 9LB
To celebrate becoming a member of the church, I sadly won't be drinking champagne, as I am participating in the Dryathlon.
So instead of drinking a toast with me to celebrate my membership, do please instead donate the price of a couple of glasses of wine to my Dryathlon sponsorship page here:http://www.justgiving.com/dryathlete-mary-perkins
Oh, if you haven't found me on facebook yet, you can 'friend' me here:http://www.facebook.com/MaryRPerkins
Thanks for reading, and in doing so sharing my special day with me.