About a week before Christmas this year, I found myself, strangely enough, in a Catholic Church. Now, anyone who knows me even vaguely knows that this is quite the strange place to find me. A staunch atheist and empiricist, I am pretty much the last person that you would expect to find in a church. Indeed, I was a bit confused about why I was there myself.
You see, six years ago, my mother died on Christmas Eve and as a result, this time of year has always been difficult for me. Since she died, though, I always had a tendency to find myself in a church for Christmas Eve. This seeking of spiritual solace struck me as being extraordinarily symbolic to me in that regard, but nothing out of the ordinary. Recently, though, I have felt a need for this type of thing more than ever.
With recent events around the world, and also those in my own personal life, I found myself looking for a community to call my own; a community that is based in mutual respect, acceptance, growth, and shared values. I found myself consumed; I was searching for a community that would grant me these things in a loving, respectful, and caring atmosphere. In my research, I stumbled across this set of values from the Unitarian Universalist Association:
- The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
- Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
- The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
- The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
- Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
I had found it at last! Well I mean, I already knew about it, but I had always looked upon it with a disinterested air. Of course, I had seen the Unitarian Universalists before. I had seen them marching with Black Lives Matter activists, and I had seen them at every single pride parade that I attended since coming out. I had encountered them when I was working on campaigns for proportional representation with my student union on Parliament Hill, and they were (unknowingly) at my sides when we were marching for peace and reconciliation for Indigenous communities after the Truth and Reconcilation Council report was released. Indeed, the more that I thought about it, the more that I realized that they were one of the only constant presence in a lot of my activist circles; one of the most important parts of my life.
After a bit more research, I decided to check out their website and pop by their church in the Notre-Dame-de Grâce borough of Montreal to attend a service. I walked into their beautiful sanctuary, and was greeted by a rainbow flag in the main window, near an area meant for both quiet reflection and community development. Although I knew the reputation that Unitarian Universalists had about being open and accepting of people of all sexual orientations and genders, seeing this was a very comforting sign; it made me feel welcome in the congregation, and it was wonderful to see the respect that was accorded to the rainbow flag, a symbol of resistance to adversity and a struggle for liberation for the LGBTQ+ community.
The first service that I attended was a winter solstice celebration. I walked into the sanctuary with a bit of trepidation, and I was greeted extraordinarily warmly by numerous different members of the congregation, as well as the Reverend Diane Rollert. The service was one that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to forget. It was radically accepting, friendly, warm, and intimate. It was filled with deep introspection, care for the community, and respect for the multiplicity of experiences of those present. I found myself wanting to stay in that space; for the duration of that service and the time we spent chatting afterwards, I felt welcome in the community.
I haven’t missed a service since. Every service has been unique in its own way, but what they all held in common was a feeling of community, acceptance, and introspection. These services have quickly become one of the things that I look forward to before I begin each week; they ground me in a way that I haven’t experienced before. They make me feel as though I am a part of a real community; one with a theological background that is based in humanistic viewpoints all while respecting the individual journeys of all of the congregants.
At this tumultuous point in my life, I don’t think that there is anything better that I could have done than to walk through those doors. I found a community that respects me for who I am, without judgement or malice, and whose history is steeped in our shared values of social justice, acceptance, diversity, and liberty. I am finally happy to have found a community where I, as a Black, queer, and non-binary skeptic and atheist, can embark on a journey of radical growth, discovery, and self-love with the help of my newfound community.
You can find out more information about the Unitarian Church of Montreal by visiting their website, and you can learn more about Unitarian Universalism by visiting the website of the Unitarian Universalist Association.