Beloved Community Staff Team note: As we continue the work of living into our Ends and creating an anti-racist, multicultural spiritual home, we are being called to explore more deeply the important role of culture and the sense of welcome and belonging we create -- as individuals and a community -- for newcomers. What we experience as welcoming or unwelcoming is informed by cultural identity, and how well we communicate across cultural differences. This month the Beloved Community Staff Team shares Mary-Margaret Zindren's story of what brought her to Unity Church and where she found connection. We know there are many stories that speak to our individual experiences as newcomers. If you are willing to share your story, please email email@example.com; we would love to hear and learn from you.
I learned about Unity Church in a roundabout way from Gary DeCramer, my then professor at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School. He had invited a community activist from India to speak at my graduate seminar. The activist was profound and inspiring. I asked why he was in Minnesota and he mentioned he was invited to speak at Gary’s church. That intrigued me. A church that was giving this man a platform seemed like a place I should check out.
I hadn’t stepped inside a church for nearly ten years. My mom was Catholic and I attended Catholic schools growing up. My father was somewhere between agnostic and atheist. At a certain point I came to question nearly everything coming from the pulpit. At Catholic services, I bristled at saying words I didn’t believe.
So, it was with some trepidation that I arrived at Unity Church. That trepidation was elevated by the fact that I literally couldn’t find the door.
This was before the entrance was transformed; there was still a cloister around the church. I must have been late, because there wasn’t anyone to follow. The actual way in didn’t look like a door at all — more like a secret entrance on a wall.
Once inside, I was greeted warmly by someone with a “welcome” button on their shirt and directed to where I should go for the service. The church was beautiful. I was grateful I could sight read music and was able to sort of follow along with the opening song. When I sat down, I sat on a Kleenex box.
There was an invitation to greet our neighbors. I was used to the Catholic version, saying “Peace be with you,” but in this case people were using their own words, which moved me. There was a swell of noise and you could almost feel the connections growing around you. After the minister reined everyone back in to continue the service, that feeling of connection remained.
And then it happened — the Embracing Meditation. It felt like a calling in for those within and beyond the church walls. The minister said, “Your gifts and your wounds are welcome here.”
It felt like these words had been spoken directly to me. The fact was, I was wounded. I had been grappling with PTSD following a trauma and wasn’t doing well. It was probably why the idea of returning to a faith community seemed like a good idea for the first time in a decade. I started to cry. And then I remembered there were tissues right there waiting for me.
At the end of the service, I stood in line to thank the ministers. I think I actually hugged them. I went to the Parish Hall and there were donuts. And there was coffee. And there was Gary. He introduced me to people I now consider friends.
Attending services has been hard for me sometimes. It may have to do with that first visit. Hearing “your gifts and your wounds are welcome here” brings me back to that difficult time in my life. But I would never want those words removed from the Embracing Meditation. There is someone out there who, upon attending Unity Church for the first time, may hear those words and feel that they have found a home. We should keep the Kleenex boxes, too.