Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Welcoming Raised UUs

The Rev. Christana Wille McKnight wrote a guest post on the uugrowth blog and presented a workshop on the subject at GA 2010.  I wasn't there, but I saw the slideshow from the presentation.  It included a recommendation that we "Educate clergy, membership professionals and lay leaders about appropriate methods of integrating and welcoming raised UUs as adult members."


I vented recently on this subject and received some comments wanting to know more about being a raised UU.  I've written before about all the great things about being reared UU, so, okay.  Time to give a little of the other side.

First, a little bit about some of the negative that I've seen or heard about we "Cradle UUs" as adults.  Let me preface this by saying that though this is irritating when it surfaces, it's thankfully not a widespread issue, certainly nothing that I would consider to be a prejudice.  But it's popped up enough to prompt me to stand up and say, "Please do not continue."

What does it look like?  It looks like the people on the UU discussion lists (and even in a UU seminary class!) who say that they just don't have as much respect for those born UU -- they didn't have to work as hard to get here.

It looks like the curricula and surveys that assume anyone taking them came from another religion.

It looks like a minister who begins a sermon at a UU function with, "Everyone who was raised UU, please raise your hand."  Several of us do so.  Minister scans room and then says, "Me neither."

Ha, ha.  Yes, I get the joke.  But the message is, "I don't see you.  You are not one of us.  You are not a significant part of this religion."

The sermon continues, talking about how brave one must be to find this religion.  And I completely agree.


What is also brave is the kindergartener who is continually told that they are going to hell by their classmates.

The middle schooler who continues to patiently try and explain their religion to their friends.

We are called a chosen faith.  Here's the dill, pickles.  Even if you are raised Unitarian Universalist, this is a chosen faith.  Because we have been raised to go out into the world, explore it, explore our theological beliefs, and make a choice.  With my generation, frankly, I think our parents went a little too far with that.  "She can choose her religion when she grows up," was a statement heard far too often.  Well, of course your child can choose a religion as an adult.  Everyone can.  But sometimes our religious education was a little too heavy on preparing us to make this choice and a little too light on Unitarian Universalism as a way of life.

I'm thrilled that our modern religious education is rectifying that error.

So you've been raised in this religion.  I heard Gini Courter (raised UU) talk about how the one aspect of coming out as a lesbian that was no big deal was the "you're going to hell" part, because she'd already been hearing that one since kindergarten anyway!

In your own way, you've been fighting for religious freedom your whole life.  Explaining it, to kids, teachers, scout leaders, who asked you "What the heck is that?"  Trying to understand why Susie's mom won't let you come over anymore or the Smith family won't let you babysit.  Watching your friends have bar mitzvah parties, receive special Confirmation gifts from grandpa, birthday money from godparents.

You're a young adult, and you go to a UU church ... but you were always in the basement with the youth group, so the service is unfamiliar to you.

You visit other churches as you were trained to do.  Try different religions on for size.

You realize that being a Unitarian Universalist is not just a system of belief. Not just a covenant. It is part of your identity.

You come to church.  And the religious authority in the front says, "Who was raised UU?"  Excited, you raise your hand.

"Me neither," he says.


EmJay said...

It has been my experience that this type of thing happens to anyone who does not have a "bad" religious experience to leave for becoming a UU. As an unchurched person, I don't have a bad experience, I just don't have much experience at all with a religious community. I was once in a group where everyone was sorted out by religious experience at a UU event. I was by myself in the unchurched group and there was one person in the raised UU group. We decided to work together.

I'm raising my kids as UUs and I really don't want them to have to or need to leave their UU identity.

Jeff Wilson said...

I like that you've raised this issue, LE. I wonder if there's a simple (perhaps over-simplified, but it offers an opening point) way we could convey this distinctive experience to our convert UU pewmates. Here's how I might make a first stab at it:

Growing up in a more conservative church, you had an ill-fit with your religion. Inside the church, you were uncomfortable, perhaps even attacked for your questions at times, and had to struggle to find your own way to a better religion. Meanwhile, outside the church, in your public life at school, community events, the grocery store, the workplace, etc, your religion was mainstream and a good fit for the overall environment. You rarely if ever had to justify your religion, explain it, get attacked on the playground or other places for it, and didn't consider it a possible hindrance against your social life or employment. So inside the church walls (and perhaps family) you were uncomfortable, while in the rest of the world you were a fish in water.

Our experience, interestingly, was opposite of yours. Inside the church, we were nurtured and allowed to explore. We were challenged but never judged by our religion, and it fit comfortably, though we had to do lots of our own work coming to understand what religion meant to us as young people, since we were taught how to ask questions, not given answers. It was a lovely, though not necessarily easy, experience, and in many cases we had a similar family environment. Meanwhile, outside the church we were a tiny minority who faced the constant possibility and not too infrequent actuality of conflict and abuse. At school some kids wouldn't play with us, our parents and other adults were sometimes excluded from social or political positions, we sometimes were the targets of bullying, we had to be evasive about our religion in job interviews (yes, people ask, even though it is illegal) and other situations, and even a trip to buy food could turn into a loud public shaming by a fundamentalist screamer. And on top of the overt hostility was the massive plain ignorance of what we were and dismissal of our relevancy or value. The constant message to us was: you don't matter. So while we didn't have to struggle in the church, we had to struggle in all other arenas of our lives. Many gave up and decided to "pass," blending into the dominant (i.e. yours as you were growing up) culture and perhaps dropping UUism altogether. Those who are still here as adults are the ones who struggled hardest and won a UU identity strong enough to withstand the slings and arrows your culture throws at us AND the dismissal of our place/value in our own convert-dominated church.

The common element in our stories is struggle caused by the churches we belonged to. The different element is whether the struggle was caused by being a minority within a mainstream church or a minority within mainstream religion.

Anyway, that's one way to frame the conversation that might get a discussion going. Obviously, there are plenty of generalizations there, and the individual/regional/chronological experiences of everyone won't match up.

Jeff Wilson said...

Oops, my comment got to long, some of it was deleted. I'll just add a slight addendum in that case. Here I am again writing as if speaking to a convert UU seeking to understand the cradle UU experience:

The shared element of our experience is that we both had struggles caused by our religion. The different element is that your struggles were caused by being a minority within a mainstream church, while mine were caused by being a minority within mainstream religion.

Bart said...

Preach it!

As a raised UU young adult, I struggle so often with our faith for exactly the reasons you listed.

How can I be ministered to by a minister who doesn't know (not just intellectually, but spiritually) the faith like I do?

goodwolve said...

You know how I love you, don't you. This is so what my experience is - so much that there have been times I didn't feel like I fit in my own denomination. When there are only two people who are at church with you who were raised UU you start to feel kind of left out. Not only that, without a minister it becomes a free for all of prayer, dream circles, etc making me wonder where the UU is at all. Thank you for saying exactly what I have felt.

ogre said...

Oh yes, yes, yes, yes!


I've felt this (repeatedly!) and dread my sons getting to face it (and one's 18, he's about to...).

M.D. like me said...

Yes, I remember the long nights at middle school slumber parties trying to explain UUism to others!

It doesn't do UU congregations any good to overlook or minimize those who were raised UU, even if it is accidental...

Thank you for your comments and thoughts. I agree with so many things you have said in this post.

Earthbound Spirit said...

As one who "converted" to Unitarian Universalism, I am often sooooo jealous of the people I know who were raised in the faith. On the other hand, with all due respect to Jeff (above), not all "converts" were raised in a conservative tradition. I was raised with no religious training or regular exposure to church. That's almost like being raised UU, if I'm reading your UU upbringing experiences correctly.

kimc said...

I was raised UU.In California, so not so much of the "you're going to hell" as those of you in more conservative places, but in a Catholic neighborhood. I remember trying to explain it to the kids next door.
I don't usually admit it, but it kind of hurts me that neither my sister nor my brother stuck with it. My brother is nothing, and my sister says UU isn't a religion it's a political organization: She's been Jewish, Episcopalian, atheist, and now she's Baha'i.
My spouse feels unwelcomed at church, though she's been attending for over ten years. But I really miss it if I don't attend on Sunday morning.
I wish we would do more to make the kids who grew up UU more welcome into the adult version. Maybe we should let them design the services more than once a year. I also feel strongly that we should be recruiting on college campuses. That's when people are seriously looking for a philosophy that fits their life and their ideals.

Masasa said...

kimc, I know what you mean about siblings.