After a long journey getting 2017 rolling (and traveling to New York in March only to miss services to care for Austin during his unfortunate flu-ridden weekend), I was able to take a quick mid-week drive up to Chicago, Illinois. Having been stationed at Naval Air Station Glenview in the mid-1980s, it was a look back at my past while making an honest inquiry into my future attending seminary.
I was visiting Meadville Lombard Theological School for their 25 Hours @ Meadville Lombard – Prospective Student Conference. The conference included time with current seminarians, staff, faculty, and the school president, while also enjoying the company of other prospective students from around the country.
Highlights of my visit:
Architecture: Just the modern Spertus Building itself is a reason to tour. With the views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan, one tucks themselves among the stacks of historical leather-bound books in the Wiggin Library.
Fahs Collaborative: The Fahs Collaborative is a “laboratory that brings people together to explore and create innovative ways to deepen faith through educational encounters” (a Meadville Lombard program).
Vespers: Wednesday evening service on “Covenant,” prepared and led by Meadville Lombard seminarians attending spring intensives.
President’s Dinner: Excerpt viewing of the film, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War,” followed by open discussion with President Lee Barker, Provost Dr. Sharon Welch, and Historian/Meadville Lombard Archivist John Leeker.
Lecture: As prospective students, we were warmly welcomed into Dr. Mike Hogue’s class, “Cosmos & Ethos – Climate Justice & Theology,” joining in discussion and group thought on questions about systematic and constructive theology.
Congress Hotel: Although the weather wasn’t cooperating on the rainy Wednesday, the stay at the Congress Hotel, with direct views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan, were nonetheless amazing and inviting.
But, with all the glamour and intellect, it was the spirit of the people that brought kinship to us all in our endevour to learn about becoming Unitarian Universalist leaders through lay leadership and ministry. Atherton, a shared space with a view, brought safety, warmth, and the belonging feeling that one relishes in a place of acceptance and diversity.
— Special thanks to Jim Proctor, Officer of Recruitment, for the relentless planning and warm welcome, and to Seminarian Jon Coffee, Meadville Lombard Regional Coordinator & Interim Chaplain of Pastoral Care at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee. Jon was the first to greet us and the last to hug us as we left on our separate ways.
Still with the goal of seminary swishing around in my thoughts, I decided to take some graduate courses in literature. With my bachelor’s degree in English, I chose a liberal studies program focusing on gender, religion and social issues, while also working to improve my writing skills.
Needing to write about an epiphany in my life, I was facing a deadline and had settled on something plain-Jane to get the job done. But when I began writing, the story was not so plain at all.
What fell onto the page was my early steps to finding my own religion, or even so, finding Unitarian Universalism.
From my early years as a veritable latchkey kid, spending more time tromping between school and (insert name of the latest-independent-fundamental-Baptist-church here) than I did getting my ass home.
It all spilled out, bouts of brimstone by greased old men in cheap suits, missed Sunday evenings with Mickey and The Wonderful World of Disney, and years of over-involvement, prayers for heathens, and groups of righteous people joining to discuss the second coming while eating ambrosia salad with tater tot casseroles, always ending our prayers with the name of Jesus because only heathens prayed only to God.
It was the awareness of an awakening. A growth that I hadn’t acknowledged. The discovery of my faith in the joining of words, in poetry, in writing, in essays and speeches, and my transcendence beyond the faith of my fathers.
I was 16-years-old, and I had taken the first step to my own freedom of religion.