Thoughts On Unitarian Universalim, Grief, and Beloved Community

from Ximena Meissgeier

About a year ago, I attended my first Unitarian Universalist service. I watched Rev. Gretchen speak candidly but gracefully about progressive issues. I laughed when Rev. Sean made a Beyoncé joke, and I was engulfed by the way the church had notes of my past traditional religious life, but yet it had its own spiritual energy. When the song “Come, Come Whoever You Are” was sung, it struck my core. I was what the words said. I was a “wanderer worshiper, lover of leaving,” and then I knew that this was now my church, my sanctuary, my family.

Since then I have had many religious experiences. I volunteered with the congregation on numerous projects, I listened to many services that healed my wounds, and felt the emotional support I had so desperately needed. One thing I had not experienced however was the death of a loved one as a Unitarian Universalist. Then my childhood friend passed away in a traumatic and unexpected way this past July.

I was drowning in grief. He was a bright and lively 20-year-old. He was the first person who told me Santa Claus didn’t exist, and he snuck me out to my first party in high school. How could this happen?

I remember attending the services following his death. I was so angry; how could these people be praying to a God who didn’t save this beautiful man. Didn’t they realize we were gathered here because their prayers didn’t work? I went through the motions of Christian ceremonies but was not present. The priest officiating the service said that now was our time to turn to our faith in Jesus and become strong through him. That did nothing to alleviate my grief. My mother assured me he was in a better place. All my friends posted Facebook pictures saying that they will see him soon. I even became jealous because as an atheist, I lacked the comfort that my Christian friends had. The following days were some of the lowest in my life.

Then came Sunday, and it was time to go to the UU service. While I was away, I had emailed Rev. Sean, about my loss, and he forwarded my information to a grief supporter named Karen. I had never met her before, and I wanted to thank her for calling me and checking up on me as the days passed. Those calls meant a lot to me. I have yet to come out as a UU to my family and I could not express my thoughts on death with anyone. But she listened. She texted. She was there.

As I walked into the church, I bumped into Christopher Lamb, a lifelong UU who is about to become the interim minister in Boulder. I had previously spent a lot of time with Christopher and his wife Amber at the Spirit Quest Camp. I often tell my husband that they are my #marriagegoals because of how they treat each other and how they treat the people around them. I told Christopher about what I was going through, and he looked at me like he cared. Which I knew he did, by the way he listened with patience and offered his condolences. Later, he sent me an email with resources about the grief process.

After church, I finally felt like I could start to breathe again.  I don’t know if it was the way I was greeted when I walked through the doors, or how my spirit was at ease after singing with the congregation. Maybe it was hearing my friend’s name during the service, how his life was acknowledged within my own church walls. Through my pain, I have only felt closer to the church. I have read more about the core UU belief and have felt a greater sense of connection with the faith. I know what type of UU I want to be. I want to be daring like Rev. Gretchen, fighting for my beliefs. I want to make people smile the way Rev. Sean does. I want to volunteer my time like Karen, with a service that might not be exciting or fun, but nevertheless crucial to the church, and like Christopher I want people to know that I will always be there for people when they need it the most.

The UU principles look great written on paper. They were written with lots of wisdom and they truly made a unique faith. But the UU principles embodied by real people are beautiful. They are what keep me coming back to church every Sunday.

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