Last year I started attending a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. It’s extremely liberal, open-minded and active in social justice circles. They welcome people from all faiths and walks of life and have created a unique spiritual community.
I love it because no one bats an eye when same sex couples or people of different nationalities walk into the service. Families and kids are welcome, and although the leadership is serious about serving the community, no one takes themselves too seriously. Yes, we often laugh or chuckle in church. Life is funny, after all, right?
I understand that this formula doesn’t work for everyone, and those who are comfortable with a religious tradition may not be comfortable in this flexible and diverse setting. But, for me, it’s exactly what I need.
Since the UUs are so open, they often talk about a variety of religious faiths and teach us about the history and significance of holidays and traditions celebrated around the world. Many of us are Christian and have Christmas and Easter down pat, but are fuzzy on Hanukah or Diwali. Let’s just say I’ve learned a lot!
Anyway, in the spirit of openness, our church recently hosted some folks from a local mosque or masjid. I happened to be laid up with the stomach bug that day, so I missed the talk given by the Imam. Lucky for me, the Imam turned around and invited a group from our church to visit for Friday prayers, called Jumu’ah Prayers, last week.
I was nervous because I knew very little about the Islamic faith, but I was super curious. I googled appropriate attire and went to visit, eager to learn something new. I have to admit that I didn’t learn all that much (about Islam). I already knew Islam was a peaceful religion that revered the prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing upon Him), and that women and men often worshiped separately. I attended the service and couldn’t really follow what was going on, so there was no divine enlightenment about the religion, per se.
But I did learn something that day. The congregation welcomed all of us, their curious visitors, graciously. We stuck out like a sore thumb, but were greeted and welcomed, and were treated to a private group Q & A session with their learned Imam. They even thanked us for covering our heads! I was told it was not required, since we were visiting, but that it was appreciated as a show of respect.
So what did I learn? There wasn’t much difference between me and the woman guiding us into the service. We all lived in Philadelphia. We were all interested in joining communities and learning about each other. We all had a lot more in common than I would have expected. I’m pretty sure I could have swapped stories with the mom and little girl attending the service next to me. It’s really just the details that were different.
Believe me, I know that the human race is not one big happy family singing Kumbaya, but I’m guessing many of us have more in common than we realize. I hope we all can remember that when we go out into the world.