Ever wonder on a Sunday morning during service or in Fellowship Hall afterward, what spurred some of these women and men to pick up the pen and sign the Membership Book of the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis?
"I've never met a Unitarian Universalist who comes to our church because of fear...a fear of hell, of sinning," Keith Sawyer, a member, pointed out in a sermon in October 2012. You won't encounter religious commitment rooted in fear at First Church. Rather the commitment you will discover sprouts from the need for community: a community that challenges you to grow, a loving community that supports you through life's challenges and along your unique path forward. Our theology is about creating community, and there's no community without commitment. You can read Keith's full sermon here.
As additional stories are received, we will shuffle them in and out.
Path to Membership in First Church (1992)
I'm one of the small group of people who have been life-long Unitarian-Universalists. I recall Sunday school classes in Bismarck, ND and still have pictures of the Christmas Eve programs of song and verse that I participated in in the mid 60's before we moved to the Chicago suburbs when I was 9.
Although I have been raised in the Unitarian Universalist church it doesn't mean that I did not have my period of adolescent rebellion which involved a community congregational church's youth group in high school (they had a coffee house) and a UCC young adult group in college (they had less "fringy" programming than the UU college ministry). I forced myself though the ritual of adult baptism in high school to join the congregational church but I have never since been able to join these other churches. I was happy to participate and support them financially, but I just couldn't bring myself to say an oath or creed at the front of a church and "before God" that I didn't fully believe.
It was sometime in that questioning period that I came to the inescapable conclusion that I really am a UU. I tried an ecumenical fellowship in graduate school, but they began to feel too limited and too interested in coercing good behavior through the need to be pure enough to participate in soul-saving communion. I find the seven principles to be common sense and they were part of who I am before they were formally ratified. After I accepted that reality I have never looked back. I always seek out the nearest UU Fellowship, Congregation or Church whenever I move. I even had to be part of a group that was trying to form a Fellowship in Sault Ste. Marie, MI in the late 80's-I wonder whatever became of them?
Needless to say when Jamie and I moved to the Central West End in 1992 I found First Church, signed the book within three months, and am now hopelessly enmeshed in the life of the church and I wouldn't have it any other way. This is home in all the senses of that word.
Tom and Judi Crouch
How We Became Members of First Church
Judi and I have been members of First Unitarian Church for a little more than two years. We could be called "cultural Christians," having grown up in families with Methodist and Roman Catholic backgrounds, over several generations.
Starting in the late 1980s and gradually culminating in the decade following the events of 9/11, we both felt increasingly isolated from the "Christianity" seemingly being subscribed to by most Americans. This "new" interpretation of Christianity probably reflected the larger societal and world-wide trends of that time. Orthodox fundamentalism was increasing not only in Islam, but also Judaism and Christianity. The combativeness towards dissenters to this orthodox interpretation played out int he nightly TV news headlines. Equally dismaying were the apparently popular ideas among American "Christians" that evolution, global warming, and other well-documented scientific studies were false. The line of thinking proposed seemed to be that the Bible could be interpreted in a literal fashion, explaining everything about our past, present and future. The beliefs of this "fundamentalist" variety of Christianity had permeated the "political right," and had become a divisive instead of unifying force in our national life. Some of the theological trends even seemed to be gaining influence in formerly "mainline Protestant" denominations, such as the United Methodist Church. Under the guise of reversing declining membership, some churches were adopting different worship styles and more literal interpretation of the Bible. It was our perception, too, that our own, local Methodist church, were we had been members for over 30 years, was growing more conservative, theologically.
The larger, societal events described above had made us more skeptical of Christianity, and religion in general. This growing personal skepticism on our parts was especially strong during the Easter season. When our minister declared, several years ago on Easter Sunday, that only those believing in Jesus' physical resurrection were "Christians," our eyes were opened. This statement conflicted with our own interpretation, over the years, that much of scripture was allegorical, and not to be taken literally. Weekly recitation of the Apostles Creed also made us uncomfortable, and helped us realize that we were no longer suited to the religion that we had been a part of for so many years.
During this time of questioning and search, I noticed an article in the "New York Times" about the death of Rev. Forrest Church of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York. It described his life and beliefs, and I was amazed that his ideas and the beliefs of Unitarianism addressed many of the ideological frustrations we had recently been encountering.
On our way to a Sunday worship service, about three years ago, we impulsively decided to give First Unitarian a try. Interim minister, Sam Schaal had an understated, low-key, cerebral approach to the service, and everything we read, said or did was meaningful! We were delighted by the thrilling organ music, the beautiful songs of the choir, the readings from diverse philosophical and theological sources, and the equally moving and relevant words of the hymns. Instead of a creed, there as a statement of shared ideals. The sermon was well thought-out and articulated. The whole experience felt genuine to us and promoted harmony and brotherhood among all people and the world's religions, focusing on common ideals. It seemed consistent with the teachings of Jesus and other learned religious leaders of the past. We loved the inclusive view of humanity as only one component of a very diverse natural world, and the respect for scientific knowledge.
In short, we felt a renewed sense of excitement, and look forward to each week's church service. We enjoy our involvement in the Partner Church Committee, adult Sunday School, UU Essentials filmgoers, choir, and the Women's Alliance, and feel like a part of the church community. The library has proven to be a treasure trove of insightful books helping my continuing search for my own "spiritual truth." We are so grateful for Unitarian Universalism, and First Unitarian Church!
The Oriatti-Bruns Family (Mark, Janet, and Kids)
Although we had been married by former First Unitarian minister Danny Reed in 2000, we did not begin attending services until after our children were born. Having a spiritual home for our kids was important to us-as a means to give them moral and ethical guidance, a sense of a larger purpose (god/love/whatever they end up calling it) as well as the tools to combat fundatmentalism. Neither of us considered the faith in which we were brought up as the best fit to do so, so we started attending First Unitarian in 2006. Here ,we were all welcomed. Our kids learn the framework of our UU principles and are guided in beginning their spiritual journeys. Meanwhile, we have reconnected with our own faith and spiritual journeys in and out of involvement in the life of the congregation. Janet teaches RE, we occasionally provide music for services and congregational events, and both of us have served on committees. Most recently, both of our kids have joined Hope Choir-yet one more step in their deepening connection to First U.