They love this congregation where they are moved by music, our teens said. This is a place where people can think deeply, calm themselves, serve people in need, feel accepted, embrace diversity, be with friends.
The list came at the end of a long discussion, in answer to the question: What do you love about this, your congregation? The youth sat around a plate of glowing candles. When the hour had opened, each of them had lit one, for something or someone they had on their hearts. We had gathered them to talk with our minister, Victoria Safford, about the family of faiths, exploration, and their own spirituality.
The 7th-8th graders spoke about
recent visits with the Little Thunderbirds Native drummers, the Cathedral of St. Paul, and the Temple of Aaron – and about trips still to come to Hindu, Muslim, and African Methodist Episcopal congregations. Older youth reflected on visits years past – including the warm way they were celebrated in some congregations, including gleeful remembrances of food shared at the Jewish and Hindu temples.
We have three aims in bringing the teens to the worship homes of other faiths. The first is to forge connections across religious differences, asking not whether a faith is right or wrong, but rather: What do we have in common? The second is to help our young people be religiously literate, in a complex world where mutual understanding is sorely needed.
The third is to put them in touch with the sources of UU faith, which include wisdom from the world’s great religions. What do they find, we ask, among people of faith and good will, that enriches their own searching or teaches a way of being that tips them toward humanity’s most noble aspirations such as kindess and truth? What speaks to them? What brings them into right relationship with the divine, with the world, with others, with their own spirits?
Victoria asked, “What did you see, on your visits?” Sensory experiences at the Cathedral, they said – candles, smoke, icons, the beautiful dome built to echo heaven itself. The insistent drum, holy to the Ojibwe leaders whose song and rhythm called listeners to dance and sing. The protection of precious ancient Torah scrolls and sung prayers that have given Jewish worshipers continuity across countless generations.
And the bare wooden walls of White Bear UU Church, they said. The soaring wall of clear windows that seems to say that nature belongs right here, teaching and comforting as we worship. When we worship in this place, Victoria noted, we do so with the same spiritual impulses of all people of faith: to be present with one another, to mark the important moments of our lives, to find meaning and comfort. In each house of worship, or under the sky if that is our tradition, we move and breath in the language and practice of our unique faiths.
Here, she said, we are given “the gift of an hour” as we connect with something larger than ourselves. Victoria assured the youth that WBUUC will cherish and support them as they define that something for themselves. “Who knows where you will travel,” she asked, “in your longing for community, as you seek to identify a sense of where and how to pray and speak and live?”
Consider: What do you love about your congregation, and how does it connect you with people of faith and good will? In what ways does your faith help you build bridges with others?