Throughout history and across the world, people have asked questions about where the world came from, who they are, and what their purpose is in life. These questions have different answers for different people. Some say that there is more to life than just the physical world, and some say that by living life in a certain way the answers can be found.* I was raised in a Christian (Methodist) home. Ditto for both of my parents’ upbringings, though the religious denomination differed in their first-family homes. When I was in high school, I remember asking our church pastor questions about what happened to people who get to Heaven who weren’t Christian (e.g., millions of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and others) or people who had never even heard the story of Jesus (e.g., lost tribes in the Amazon jungle). She explained those people will, just after dying, receive one last chance to recognize and receive Christ as the only pathway to God and Eternal Salvation. My interpretation was “believers” would presumably moon dance backwards through those Pearly Gates, while any skeptics or downright nonbelievers would be dragged down to fiery damnation by winged, evil demons. I believe my detachment began then, though there were many Sunday mornings in my 20s when I went to service at Moody Methodist Church.
When I moved to the Florida Keys in my late 20s, I visited several churches but couldn’t get past my disappointment when I never saw a participant in any of them anywhere near my age. I quit going. My parents blamed the whack-a-doodle I was dating at that time. They were partially right. He was a whack-a-doodle, but he was not entirely the reason. During this span of my life, I spent a lot of time traveling and working in the beautiful outdoors.
Religious people would say that although the spirit cannot really be described, its presence can be felt. It is what gives something its innermost essence and distinctive character.* My spirit was re-nourished when I spent time outdoors. My church was Nature. A quiet swim in a calm ocean. Watching sunsets. Hiking in forests. Beachcombing. Looking for birds. Recognizing smells of flowers. Listening to birds. Learning native plants. Exploring. Working to protect and conserve land, plants, and the ocean. These moments became my Zen. I wrapped up their essences and adapted them into my personal ethos.
Fast forward to the present scene where I’m a single mom of two kids living in G-Town and wanting to imbue some religious, historical, and architectural culture into our lives. What to do? We began a tour of religious services on this island and two years later, it continues. The congregations, history, leaders, architecture, rituals, and music have enriched our lives, even if my 12-year old son doesn’t yet see that. From the west end of the island to the east, we have traveled to different buildings of worship and there are many, many more to be visited. Our memories include Tiffany stained-glass windows showering in colored strands of light into the downtown Presbyterian church, while a giant clam shell rests near the altar of a Presbyterian congregation on the west end, serving as the perfect vessel. We admired the austere and magnificent Gothic-Revival structures of Trinity Episcopal Church, received blessings at Sacred Heart’s Catholic mass, and admired the woodwork and outside green space at B’nai Israel. We went to Reedy Chapel, Texas' first African Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1886, and also the Islamic Center’s masjid (mosque) for their Friday afternoon Muslim prayer service. Every place of worship and its people inside welcomed us at their service.
What the kids and I have talked about after our experience-gathering visits is how different religions share some of the following attributes:
A supreme power
Prayer and meditation
Because I was raised in a church family, I recognize these elements above can be both powerful and helpful. It has made me seek out ways my children can experience some of them in a congregation that best aligns with my values and beliefs. Here in G-Town, that congregation has been the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (http://uugalveston.org/beliefs.htm) whose vision states, “Love is the spirit of this church, and Service is its gift. This is our great Covenant: To Dwell together in Peace, To seek the truth in love, And to help one another.” Walking through their butterfly garden, watching my kids play in their intentionally native green space, eating yummy food at their monthly potlucks, and listening to the speakers that rotate through the pulpit are what keep me going back. It’s my holy time. Anything which helps people get closer to the spiritual world is said to be sacred or holy and is treated with respect.*
Our tour of religious buildings and services hasn’t been a quest to find a “place to land” so to speak, but a way to seek places on our island that will enrich our lives, engage us to serve, educate us about our island’s history and architecture, nourish our spirit, and connect us to our communities in Galveston. I call what we’ve been doing theology, or the study of religious belief. And it’s been really cool. Thanks, G-Town.
*The Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions by Susan Meredith and Clare Hickman. 2015 - a book I recommend children and adults reading.