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[Chalice] Growing up as a UU [Chalice]

Presented May 7, 2000, by Kristina Mathieson

When I was asked to do the talk for the youth Sunday, the first topic that came to mind was "Growing up as a UU." Several of you who have come from different religious backgrounds are now raising your children in the Unitarian Universalist church. So my thought was that I would give you some idea of what my experiences were growing up in this church, and give those of you who have been UU's all your life something to compare and contrast to.

I'll start with my young childhood, as far back as I can remember. I believe that childhood is the absolute most important time in a person's life in terms of religious education. You'll notice that I did the children's time this morning, and I have done past children's times in other Youth Sundays. The reason for this is that I think the children's time is the most important piece of every church service. What children hear at church is the basis for the set of moral rules that each child will develop for him or herself. Children that go to church are very likely to believe firmly in whatever the minister or any other elder tells them is the truth. It is at this point in a person's life that he or she can be the most seriously led astray.

When I was a young child I came to church here in Quincy almost every Sunday. In the summer time I usually attended the Disciples of Christ church in my hometown of Canton, and during the holidays I would often visit whatever Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Lutheran church that the friends or family I was visiting attended. Though I visited other churches, I was always made to feel that the Unitarian church was my "true" home. Every Sunday I would go up to the front of the church during children's time, and I always listened to what the speaker was saying. Even as a young child I noticed that the messages at my church were often very different from other churches. For one thing, at churches I visited the children were told what the message was, and told that it would be a very good idea to believe this message exactly as it was presented to them. At my church I was asked what the message was, and given the choice of believing the parts of the message that rang the most true for me, or believing that the message was stupid and shallow and totally disregarding it.

Another thing that I noticed was different in my church was that the children were often asked to participate in conversations. In other churches the children followed the old rule that "children should be seen, not heard." In my church I was always asked my opinion on the subject we were discussing. The person giving the children's time would often ask the children what they thought, and my parents always asked me what I learned from children's time and Sunday School every Sunday.

Now that I'm older, thinking back on the times when I was the one listening to the children's time instead of giving it, I realize how helpful my church was to my religious education. Growing up in a church where I was allowed to make my own religious decisions enabled me to go to other churches and decide what I wanted to believe even if the speaker at that church told me what I was supposed to believe instead of asking me.

As I got older I moved from the Sunday School group to an R.E. class for Junior High and High School aged students. This presented a new setting completely, because I now came into contact with other kids in my church who had not grown up as UU's. When I was a young child, anyone who would be in my Sunday School classes would be close to my age, and would therefore naturally be in the same situation as I; they were also growing up as Unitarians. However, by the time I reached Jr. High I began to meet people who had not grown up in my church, and had not grown up in an environment where it was O.K. to think differently from everyone else. Anyone who I would meet at my church would obviously be somewhat of a free-thinker; otherwise why would they have left their former religious situation for a new one? But even those people who were fairly open-minded often still needed to hold onto some tiny remnant of their former religious background. They had not grown up in my church, so they weren't completely used to the idea of thinking for themselves.

Meeting people who weren't used to freely forming their own opinions or who were only used to forming their own opinions based on something they were told as a child was inherently true was rather a shock to me at first. I had come into contact with teens like this outside of my church, but I had never known young people to act this way in my church. As time went by and I got to know these people better I started to notice that the way they were thinking was quickly changing in a UU environment. Even those who had grown up in an extremely strict religious environment started to realize that it was O.K. for them to decide what was right and what was wrong, even if this new point of view conflicted with the point of view of their former church.

Entering into Jr. High and High School also brought me into contact with other teens outside my church who had had enough time to form opinions on life. Many of these people, even those who have become my very good friends, I found to be frighteningly closed-minded. I met people who had mind sets that were totally different from mine, and if they found out that I thought they were wrong they would do everything in their power to try to change my mind. In these situations I often found that if I argued back with them, using reasoning that made perfect logical sense, they would often get very angry and irrational (especially if I made a point that conflicted with theirs and they couldn't explain why I was wrong). Even my more rational friends didn't like to talk about religion with me, because if I did ask them a question that their religion couldn't explain, they would get extremely uncomfortable and do something like make a joke or change the subject. They just chose not to think about questions like that. I quickly learned that if I wanted to keep any friends at all I needed to be the flexible one; I needed to be the one who didn't get angry, I needed to keep a cool head and just accept the fact that other people didn't always see things the same way I did. I also needed to be the one who accepted that it's O.K. for other people to see things differently. I had to learn that it was just as bad for me to try to change their mind as it was for them to try to change mine (even if I was "right!").

Growing up as a UU helped me to deal with other people's opposing opinions. I think that the reason I am now able to accept other people's religions while still deciding what I want to believe is that I had a good religious upbringing in a church that nurtured independent thought.

The idea of accepting other people becomes more and more important as I approach adulthood. My religion is different from any other religion I have come into contact with. The reason it is different is that I don't have a certain set of "rules" that I have to follow in order to be a member. UU's don't have to believe only those things that fit into their concept of the truth and refuse to believe anything else. This can cause problems when I try to come up with an exact definition of what a Unitarian Universalist is, if I'm trying to explain myself to a non-UU, but it is also for this reason alone that I am able to belong to this church; after growing up in the environment that I have I could never spend my Sunday mornings turning off my mind.

And now, as my time of growing up in this Unitarian Universalist church comes to a close, I realize that my time of growing in the Unitarian Universalist tradition will never end. My upbringing in the UU religion was strong, and it will enable me to decide again and again that this is the only religion where I can be happy. My upbringing in this church will let me accept others for who they are, to listen carefully to what they say, and to learn from them. Growing up as a UU will allow me to live a thoughtful life in which I do my best to practice tolerance for others; therefore growing up as a UU to this point will allow me to grow up the rest of the way.

©2000 Kristina Mathieson

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article:
Mathieson, Kristina. 2000. Growing up as a UU, (accessed July 9, 2020).

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