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Scott Thompson

Scott Thompson
Unlike many of you, I came to Unitarianism as a teenager rather than as an adult. It was 1973 and I was 13 years old.

We were a protestant Christian family prior to that, but the concepts of God, Jesus, and the idea that all you had to do to secure a place in heaven was to be baptized and repent before you die (not too soon to miss the fun and not too late that you died before you repented) –– these were not concepts that resonated with me. As you might expect, my mother’s declaration sometime around 1973 that she did not believe in God was a tremendous relief for me, but not for the reasons you might expect. I wasn’t relieved because I agreed with her or because it was an emperor’s-new-clothes kind of moment (although both of those things are true). I was 13 at the time. I was relieved because it meant that I didn’t have to go to confirmation class at the Presbyterian Church and wouldn’t have to have a confirmation ceremony. I was absolutely thrilled.

My mother’s declaration was radical at the time –– at least to me –– because I didn’t realize then that I had a choice as to my religion and my religious beliefs. I always assumed that religion was something you were born into. Jamie Kenvin was Catholic because his parents and his parents’ parents were Catholic. Kevin Kravitz was Jewish because his parents and his parents’ parents were Jewish. And I was Protestant because that was what my family believed. So I went to church on Sunday, prayed to God when I was told, and memorized the Lords’ prayer and if I remembered to repent before I died for all the bad things I did –– and I was told I would do some very bad things –– I would go to heaven just like Jamie Kenvin, but not the way the Kravitzes would because Jews don’t get to go to heaven. They were the chosen people and they had their own place to go. Religion was also something you did on Sunday mornings –– but only if you had to. By Noon or so on Sunday it was all over and you could forget about it for another week. That is, as long as you didn’t have to go to confirmation class. You see, confirmation classes were during the week, which broke the social compact I thought I had with religion. Having to go to church during the week was a deal-breaker, or at least it would have been had I thought I had a choice as to my religion.

My mother’s declaration was also radical because it was her declaration. It was not my father’s. He was crystal clear: He did believe in God and to the extent a 13-year-old understood, he was at least initially devastated by what my mother had the temerity to say. I remember him asking her, “So you don’t believe in heaven?” “No, there is no heaven.” “You don’t believe in hell?” “No, heaven and hell were things we created here on Earth.” This was radical stuff –– My parents did not agree on something so fundamental as what we were.

But it also meant that I could tell Jamie Kenvin and Kevin Kravitz that I was not going to heaven. When I died I would rot in the Earth just like dogs and cats. But most importantly, I could tell Jamie, who had CES classes during the week for his confirmation, and Kevin, who had to go to Hebrew School during the week for his Bar Mitzvah that I didn’t have to go to a religious school during the week. That was definitely the best part of this new thinking in our house.

At about the same time that my mother made her radical declaration, she also announced that she was going to go to the Unitarian Fellowship, but no one else had to go (not even my Dad). She told us that it was a place where you could believe anything you want (which of course is not true, but it made sense to me at the time) and, most important to me, there was no confirmation, no Bar Mitzvah and no religious classes during the week.

Although the idea at first was that she would go there alone, my father at some point decided he would go with her and Jodi, my younger sister, and I would go too, but only if we wanted to. I also remember not going with my parents in the car the first time (or maybe they walked, I don’t really remember), but I rode my bike to at least the first services, which meant that I could get the hell out of there if it wasn’t something I liked or wanted to do (or if it was creepy and atheists really did have two heads like I had once believed).

Lower Bucks Fellowship was not creepy and the people who went there did not have two heads, both of which was a relief to a 13-year-old no-longer-Christian kid who did not have to go to confirmation class during the week. So I didn’t need to use my bike to make a quick exit. I also had to go to the adult programs at the time (which is a bitter story for another day), but I found that I liked the adult programs and I kept coming back despite that I didn’t have to.

While Unitarianism started out as an alternative to going to religious classes during the week, it obviously became much more than that. So, Unitarian–Universalism means . . .

  • That I have to think. I am allowed to think and I have to think because there is no creed to memorize, recite, and put away for the week. The issues that UUism raises are issues that we need to think about and embrace every day.
  • Social justice issues. What we need to do to make the world a better place. And our vision of what that better place will look like.
  • Our underlying social compact. Although some of us believe in a traditional God, which is of course a legitimate choice for those for whom those issues resonate, others of us do not. If we don’t have a shared vision of heaven and hell and divine redemption to reign us in, what will?
  • Our view that each person has value and our struggle as Unitarian-Universalists to acknowledge the value in the religious traditions we left, to accept those who remained behind, and to accept and embrace those whose political beliefs are different from the UU mainstream: Unitarians who are pro-life, Unitarians who are Christians, and Unitarian Republicans.

But Unitarianism, and Lower Bucks Fellowship in particular, is more than all of these things. It is where I brought and raised my children, and where I grew. With more than a few gaps in time, when I married, went to school and then worked outside of the area, and when I tried another UU church for a couple of years –– despite these gaps in time, this is where I grew from a 13 year old who wanted to get out of confirmation classes, to an older teenager with all the answers, to a parent of teenagers who didn’t have a clue, and ultimately to a nearly 50-year-old who knows where he has been and understands the value of this very special place.

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