A year ago I began to pull away from the Unitarian Universalist church I had been a part of for over six years. My reasons were various, but mostly had to do with the realization that the social environment of the congregation was becoming increasingly toxic for me. Quality of social interaction is of critical importance to me. While there are plenty of very nice members in that church, my experience was dominated by social interactions heavily peppered with gossip, triangulation, behind-the-back sniping, and flat-out rude, thoughtless, obnoxious behavior. I had developed such an aversion to the place and to certain members that I would feel my stomach roil at the thought of it. It was bad for my spirit. To me, this was not church. In my view it was, to a large extent, a dysfunctional social club.
A few months later, the minister of the congregation sent a letter of resignation to the members, and at that point I decided to resign from the church. I don't fault the minister, and I'm still a UU. All groups of people, religious or otherwise, can develop a toxic element unless the group has the will to do something to prevent it. Unfortunately this is the only UU congregation in this area, so I've been without "church" for about a year.
We can choose. We don't have to subject ourselves to people and behaviors that lessen our quality of life. And so I chose. Things have been much better since, and my stress levels have been lower. I am more focused, because my energy is poured into what matters most to me and to my family.
Besides the church, I've been a part of a wonderful Pagan group for thirteen years. While they are like an extended family in a way, we only meet once every six weeks or so, and the feeling of community is a bit more elusive and less personal there for me. Each of the meetings is like a little reunion, but it's not a part of daily life.
As a result of my separation from the church a year ago, my spiritual practices have been in transition. At first, we intended to do almost exactly what we had been doing, but scale it down and do it for the family only. I had been a member of the CUUPS chapter within the church, and they gathered to celebrate the Wheel of the Year, to drum, and for part of the time kept up a monthly spiritual program around the moon cycles. For a while after leaving the church, I maintained a home Sunday faith development program for the kids and observed the full moons with my husband, but the programs and methods that we had developed for the public didn't meet the individual needs of my family members. At times it seemed there was something forced and insincere about it, and with exception of the home Sabbat celebrations, my "homeschool faith development program" eventually fell to the wayside.
We also joined the "Church of the Larger Fellowship" in a trial membership, but that didn't quite do it either. There was no interaction with the minister, no Sunday service, no annual congregational meeting that we were aware of, no democratic process, and no review of the budget. When they asked for money, I honestly didn't know how to respond. I realize that there are costs, and that the UUA needs money, but I'm accustomed to being told how the money will be spent when they ask for it. There were some some monthly articles and pod casts on the website, but they didn't take the place of real worship. There was a monthly newsletter that arrived in the mail, but the topics didn't seem relevant to our life. None of the faith development programs were appealing to us, and my husband and I realized that we can develop our own self-directed programs and get the results we want. In fact, we probably visited the CLF website three times in six months, and listened to two podcasts in that time. We never really felt connected, and it didn't do much for us.
More recently we decided to redesign our family room around faith development, study and crafts, and the work involved in that has sidetracked us. I guess you could say that painting walls and moving furniture has been our faith development work lately.
With the approach of Mabon and the anniversary of my "pullback" from the church, I realize I'm over the grieving and self doubt that plagued me for the last year after resigning. I would like to join another church where I can be a Pagan and be a part of a higher purpose, and it must be a community where the quality of relationships between members is very high. That isn't likely to happen any time soon.
In the meantime, I'll take another stab at giving some goals and purpose to the spiritual education of my children and my own continued spiritual development.
Family Sabbats are easy. It's a simple matter of sitting down with the children and reading the Sabbat stories to them, reinforcing the stories with little rituals, making crafts, and cooking foods of the season. I feel that when we observe the Wheel of the Year, we are celebrating our human relationship with our earth, and the old traditions that brought us to where we are today.
Lunar observations are a bit different. For me, these are highly personal. They are about finding one's sense of purpose, the reason we are here, and our own true will, and then, in addition to concrete physical action, working with nature and with spirit to help create our reality. This practice does not replace taking action, but reinforces it.
Weekly faith development is a simple concept. It's about teaching the kids the things they can't (and should not) learn in school due to the separation of church and state. In addition to teaching values, my goals in teaching our children is to help them have a foundation that prepares them for choosing their own spiritual path, and that will help protect them from cults and fundamentalist indoctrination.
Lately I've been working more to shed the compartmentalization of my spirituality. Everyone knows this, and everyone says it: Spirituality isn't just something you do in church. It isn't just something you do in a circle of friends under a full moon.
Peter Mayer says it well in his song. "Today the only difference is, everything is holy now." I would add to that, everything is holy now, all the time.