For some of us, attending church as a child or young adult brought a sense of community and ritual that we miss as nonbelievers. Now there are options for holding onto that tradition, even after we’ve lost our religion. Morgan share her insights and experiences as an atheist member of the UU church. I hope it will help some of you who feel a loss and were considering whether church is right for you. Thank you, Morgan, for taking the time to write this excellent guest post!
I don’t believe in god, but I am a member of a church. I even teach Sunday School.
Now before you say that’s a contradiction, this isn’t a typical church. It’s a non-creedal Unitarian Universalist, or UU, church. The tagline is that we agree to be together, not to believe together. And my current Sunday School class isn’t typical either. I teach a comprehensive sexuality education program for teens – more on that in a bit.
We joined First UU Church when our daughter was born because we wanted to have a community that would support her and our family. However, being an atheist who goes to church can feel a little unnatural, even if it’s a church where many of the members are atheists. My partner had an especially difficult time feeling comfortable using “the c word.” While she grew up in a secular family, she experienced a lot of anti-Semitism from conservative Christians in school.
But we’ve come to the conclusion that being atheist church members can be subversive. After all, if an atheist lesbian couple can go to church and teach kids about safer sex in Sunday School, doesn’t that disrupt the very meaning of church? If you can take god out of church, and still have a meaningful experience, doesn’t that say something about church?
If you’re considering becoming a church-going atheist, you may wonder what it will be like. Since all of the humanist, UU, and other similar congregations vary extensively, I will just say what we’ve found. And that is a space to meet people who share our (secular) values. A space to find support and to provide support to others. A space where everyone is able to define his or her own beliefs.
Perhaps most important to us, we’ve found a great youth education program that is really relevant to kids’ lives. Right now, I’m teaching a sexuality education program that I know I would have benefited from so much as a kid. This is a yearlong, in-depth class that covers everything from the basics of anatomy to healthy relationships, from LGBT rights to safer sex. Other classes focus on learning about different religions, and there is a “Coming Of Age” class in which teens spend a year exploring their beliefs as they currently are.
Of course, church isn’t for every atheist. But if you’re looking for a community, I wouldn’t count it out. For our family as least, believing in the value of our church community doesn’t have anything to do with believing in god.
Morgan lives with her partner and almost three-year-old daughter in Columbus, Ohio. Together, they attend First Unitarian Universalist Church. If you’re interested in more information about UUs, visit www.uua.org.