It was exactly three years ago today that I stood before the congregation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent and declared openly my willingness to become a member of the church and to accept the seven principles of the UU faith as my own. Today was our annual pre-Thanksgiving communion service–which is the same service at which I was welcomed into the UUC Kent community three years ago–and I had a bit of a spiritual experience. In the middle of one of the hymns early into the service, I realized I was actively singing while also swaying rhythmically to the melody. I didn’t care who heard my (really bad) voice; I felt comfortable expressing my enthusiasm for the song by moving with it. This is huge. Monumental, in fact, because it shows that I’ve lost some of my self-consciousness enough to really get into the moment of the service. I’m no longer worried that everyone is looking at me or passing judgment about my singing. Because I’ve let go of those little fearful voices in my head, I’m an open vessel to the community and the spirit.
As I realized what I was doing–which, of course, momentarily took me out of the moment–I wondered what had allowed me to let go like this. Was it my sudden enthusiasm for music lately? The service I wrote about U2 has rekindled within me the need to hear music–not just U2 music but all music. I’ve been filling my iPod with new music from artists I’ve been exploring or, in the case of R.E.M., rediscovering. My head is buzzing with lyrics and melodies and I find myself humming tunes whenever I’m stuck in silence. My body vibrates to the sounds of the many songs in my head. (Gratuitous U2 song quote: “You got my head / Filled with songs” – “Do You Feel Loved”)
Or was my new freedom from self-consciousness caused by having delivered that same sermon I wrote before the entire congregation? Do I feel closer to everyone in the sharing of myself? From the many people who came to me after the service to share their own stories? Perhaps it was just the mere fact that I stood in front of the congregation and delivered a sermon at all–regardless of what I discussed–which has to be the scariest and bravest thing I’ve done in a long while. After that, my pew neighbors overhearing me sing (off-key) is nothing.
I also wonder if because of the nature of what was shared in the sermon, I’ve completed some sort of vital exchange between my fellow congregants that is required to build a relationship. Many of them have also led services in which they shared their own very personal stories. For me, this sharing was always one-sided because I didn’t openly contribute. Now that I’ve delivered my own sermon, the circle is complete. Do we, in return, feel a little mutually closer to each other? Is this the “right relationship” my church speaks of in their covenant?
It’s funny because recently I realized that I’m a little less of the discrete, shy girl who sneaks in and out of the church on Sunday. There is another woman in the church who shares the same first name as I do and people are constantly getting us mixed up. Previously, she was the only Heidi so people got used to referring to her as simply Heidi without last name. So when my service was just an idea on a paper for approval, several people even mistook her for me. Both the worship associate and the musician who sang “Where the Streets Have No Name” at my service remarked that when they originally were asked to help with my service, they thought it was the other Heidi. So, knowing this, at the meeting, when we were asked to introduce ourselves, I remarked, playfully, “I’m Heidi E. Not to be confused with Heidi S.” One of the women in my group smiled at me and said, “Oh, Heidi, we all know who you are now. You’ve done a service.”
It’s kind of validating to know I won’t be confused with someone else anymore. I admit that. I really wasn’t annoyed that I was mistaken for someone else. It just doesn’t really happen all that often to you when you’re named Heidi (it’s never been a hugely popular name). So I just wasn’t used to it. But it’s nice to know that now, for some people in the church, I’m not just that faceless person in the middle rows (I always strive to blend in by sitting in the middle). There’s acceptance within the community when people actually put your name to the face.
I’m getting to know more people in the church too. I’m feeling more and more comfortable. Leading the service certainly helped me feel more comfortable as well as introduce me to people I only knew in passing. I’m starting to know some of the hymns and can sing them without the hymnal. Because I’m spending less time focusing on my fears, I’m allowing the spirit of the service to fill me up. I love when I get into the moment and live it. When goosebumps rise on my flesh in agreement to the wonderful words being shared. When I totally and completely let go of the thoughts that hinder my mind–the chores I need to attend to after church, the bike ride I want to go on, the argument I may have had with someone recently–so that I can listen to these words.
Today was one of those services where I found myself really getting into the moment. Communion–a rare UU pleasure–and meant in the sense that we share food in community together. The service is a little different every year. This year, we had an assortment of breads from which to choose and apple juice. I felt as though I were reiterating my own decision to join this church as I ate my piece of (gluten-free) shortbread and washed it down with the apple juice. When I started at the UUC Kent, I was a lot more unsure of my decision to join the world of faith again. I was embarrassed about mentioning to people that I went to a church. I didn’t want to be one of those “church-going” people. I would even say “church” in a hushed tone lower than the rest of the sentence. And now, three years later, I find myself proudly admitting to attending church. I’ve told people that I’m Unitarian Universalist (even if they don’t know what it is). I feel confident now that I’d not only made the right decision, but I found the religious home I was looking for even when I didn’t fully realize I was looking for one. Yes, I still feel that I’ve come home.