For the Love of Community
I come from a very orthodox background. I was homeschooled my entire life, no extracurricular activities outside of our place of worship, lived on a cul-de-sac, media heavily censored. Homeschooled k through 12th. Needless to say, I was really freaking sheltered.
We had a LOT of strict rules. Gender segregation in my former community began at age 3. Girls may not sing or dance in the presence of males, except for their fathers and brothers…and even then, it was often discouraged. Girls had to keep their elbows and knees covered in all weather, boys did not. We had laws governing everything we did including how we used the restroom, and when. I could not sit next to my husband at my own wedding. Birth control was only permissible with permission from the congregation leader. But we had community, we were close knit. Everything you could possibly need could come from within…. That way when …. Others… hated us, it was okay. We had one another. Except for when you actually needed something and that community was not actually there.
It was spoken about but rarely seen. Everyone knew it existed but very few people actually got to participate within it. We were warned of dangers of ….others…. and avoided any form of outside help, except to hire them to clean our homes.
Then something happened. I truly needed help. More so than I ever had before, and I couldn’t pretend the community that wasn’t serving me was there. I had just given birth to my second child- born premature with a short NICU stay… and I had a baby, not a toddler, a baby at home. I had two children under the age of one, my husband was fired the day my son was born and I had severe postpartum depression and anxiety. That community didn’t exist- what could I do? I was so ill with depression and anxiety that my husband had no choice, he had to take care of all three of us. We had no income. What could we do? We broke a cardinal rule and reached outside of our community for help.
My husband and I applied for every form of aid we could find. We went to religious organizations and government organizations and slowly we watched strangers, some paid and many more unpaid, actually come help us. Those …..others…. that we avoided for so long…. Came with smiles and helped us get back on our feet. I quickly learned how connected we as a species truly are. One day someone knocked on my door. One of those agencies we applied for showed up and we regularly got visits from him. We saw him every week for over a year and I got to hear these cool stories about some church that held a Passover seder, invited a Rabbi to speak regularly…. And more so! Even had an Islamic Imam speak… and Buddhists…. And I thought “wow, they’re really connected” I heard stories about DND nights and cool friends and flower communion. And then my child aged out of that program. At this point, we were okay. I was healed, we had steady income- we didn’t need the aid anymore. But we still lacked community. I still couldn’t pry it out of what we did have. We weren’t free to explore the Great Mystery.
I explored it anyway and I found the Pagan Gods and quickly found spiritual satisfaction.
That fall I was scrolling Facebook like a good millennial and I saw an advertisement for some inclusive pagan group with a weird name… CUUPS. I messaged the group to see if they were child friendly and was replied to quickly…. I was so excited to find that our former aid was who I was talking to in this Cuups group. I actually shouted out loud. Because if he was part of this group, I know they’re safe. My first CUUPs event was a planning meeting- go figure. I quickly felt like I clicked with them but it was still during the height of the pandemic and everything was virtual. My first in-person gathering involved me, with my two and three year old children, getting into one of their cars. I didn’t bat an eye. I knew I was safe. I didn’t even realize this was our first actual meeting until we had been in the car for some time.
Later that year, we started to attend UU services and were first greeted happily by another member of the congregation. It was the Halloween kids service, and I volunteered to decorate my trunk despite not being a UUer yet. We were welcomed and allowed to exist as we are. We were a little shy and unsure if we would continue to attend at first but within a few months we started the new UU classes and I joined the church formally last year.
We’re a weird family. We lead Pagan ritual but also Jewish Seders and also, we send out Christmas cards and donate Easter baskets to needy families. And that’s okay. We’re good. My husband can participate while wearing his yarmulke and it’s totally normal. But what’s better, we don’t just get to exist here…. We have community. A community that doesn’t regulate us or put strings on our existence. It’s the little things like my kids running around with the other kids. Or gleefully screeching as the congregation president chases them pretending he's a monster. Or helping us change a flat tire. Or wanting to sew together. Or getting up half an hour earlier to bring me and my kids on Sundays while my husband is at work. It’s those little things that don’t seem much, you can’t put them on a pamphlet. It isn’t grand. There will be no hallmark or lifetime movie about these little things, but they’re what matter most. We support one another in our own existence without strings attached. There is no uniform for being a Unitarian Universalist, unless you count kindness and acceptance.
With absolute certainty I can tell you that we truly are part of an interconnected web of life and here my family found a safe and affirming home for not only our spiritual journey but our communal one as well. From that mom with two babies in their cribs, sobbing on the kitchen floor, unsure where to turn or what light was left… to a woman with two now school aged children who have a spiritual home to grow in, our community has been a pivotal role in my journey.