Our church warmly welcomes new visitors. The following story was written by a visitor recounting her first experience at the U.U. Church of Elgin.
New to UU
“Did we pass it already?” Map and Directions
“I don’t think so. The web site said just past these railroad tracks.”
A few seconds later and around a bend, our destination comes into view. As we pull into the parking lot, a beautiful flowery garden with a trellised arbor beckons to the right. The building on our left looks remarkably like a barn. While its stature is impressive, it is not at all intimidating.
With some slight trepidation, we pass through the entrance into the foyer. A friendly greeter smiles and invites us to sign the guest book. We get our stick-on nametags and program for the day. The greeter makes us feel welcome and explains to us where the service will take place.
A few people are standing around talking. Laughter and warm conversation cause us to pause in the hallway. Our family stands together for a few minutes shyly wondering whether we should go up right away. To the left, we see a large communal kitchen and meeting room. To the right a few offices and what appears to be classrooms. Colorful quilts adorn the walls. Somehow, seeing a kitchen right off the front hall and the home-sewn artwork makes me feel at home. Feeling silly about standing in the hallway, we slowly move down the hall to the back stairs. We pass by the cloakroom and the kids are impressed that someone installed coat hooks at their level.
Up the staircase, we encounter more smiling faces. People greeting each other and sharing news. By the time we sit down, we feel as if we’ve come here many times. We are unsure of what will happen next but our uncertainty is reduced to a mere undercurrent by all the good energy apparent in the room.
Ah the room! Look up! Spacious vaulted ceilings proudly displaying rough-cut beams. They have obviously been used somewhere before and speak of a life now past. The geometric patterns of the beams and small stain-glass windows here and there, live in harmony with the windows showing all outdoors. Our children ask about the black raven perched high above and are thrilled to find their parents do not know what it is for. The mysterious beauty grown from simplicity deepens as we begin to experience our very first service.
We are a little nervous. Having never been to a church before, our kids have no expectations but as adults, the two of us are wondering what the sermon will be like. Will it be too preachy? Will it be too political? We’re really hoping to fit in here. I flip over the program and read the mission statement. It sounds wonderful. It sounds like we will fit in here but…
Music draws our attention. It is beautiful and poetic yet highly accessible. The Reverend Dan Brosier lights a chalice and I am touched by the simple words. He asks us to greet one another and we meet our first Unitarian Universalist friends. They introduce us to the congregation and we blush as everyone claps. Then the Reverend calls us all to share our joys and concerns. One by one people step up to the chalice and light a candle and share with the rest of us something astounding in their lives. We sit quietly listening understanding how we have been taken in to something sacred. It is here that the true heart of this church comes forward. We are being trusted with pain and laughter of an intimate nature. We are all here to explore life together. As we read and sing the words to Voice Still and Small for the first time, we feel truly a part of something.
The announcements and offering come next. They do not deter from this feeling of sharing. They are simply the business end, the practical side. We hear of classes and seminars, workshops and quilts. We realize these people aren’t here just to ponder life. These people are here to live life. These people are not just concerned with each other for a couple of hours once a week. These people are here to help out the neighborhood, the earth, each other. Through the nuts and bolts of announcements we learn these are people we’d like to know better. These are people we’d like to become.
When the last basket is collected, the Reverend reads a few words to introduce the topic for the day. The words roll around in my head making connections with incidents from my life. Sparking new ideas. Music follows and carries my ideas along. All hint of nervousness has disappeared. I feel as though I have been meditating. When the Reverend stands again and begins to speak, the things I’ve been thinking blend in with these new words. He is funny and serious and though he does not know the answers, he asks the questions well. These questions join my thoughts and send me spiraling even higher. When the music comes again, my own thoughts and questions have created my own sermon. We listen as people begin to share their own insights and reflections. Some of them are along the lines I have been thinking and some of them are far away. But that is the beauty of this place. We do not have to believe what someone tells us. We only need accept that they believe it.
When everyone that desires it has spoken, a circle closes everything. The whole congregation joins hands and sings a closing song. Our nervousness returns a tiny bit but only a tiny bit. People spill out into the hall and make their way down to the kitchen. They stand around in small groups and though we know no one, we do not feel uncomfortable. We feel peaceful.
We walk outside to our car smiling to people we pass. Soon we’ll know their names. We’ll know their history and they’ll know ours. We’ll make friends here. We’ll grow roots.
“So what did you think?” I ask as we pull out of the parking lot.
“I really liked it. Let’s come back.”