Stephanie and I weren't religious people. We had both been raised in Christian churches, and we'd both walked away intentionally. We were agnostic or atheist, depending on our mood, and we didn't have much to say to any god. But one sunny Sunday morning in Missouri, we went to church.
Why? Well, we'd been living in Kansas City for a couple of years, and we hadn't yet made any friends. Acquaintances, sure, but friends? Nope. Being introverted people, making friends was always difficult, and we thought maybe we'd find some potential friends at church.
This wasn't just any church, though. It was the Unitarian church. Perhaps you're unfamiliar with the Unitarians? We were unfamiliar, but we did our homework before strolling in the doors. We learned that Unitarians don't have strict doctrines, like other churches. Compared to Methodists or Catholics, the Unitarians are much more relaxed.
The biggest difference is Jesus. Ask any Christian of almost any denomination, and you'll be told that Jesus was (and is) God, and/or the son of God. Unitarians don't believe that; they say Jesus was a good guy, divinely inspired, but they stop short of proclaiming that he was God Himself.
They also don't believe God sends sinners to roast in Hell for eternity, which I found appealing, since I burn easily on hot summer days. They don't believe in the Trinity — that God exists concurrently as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They don't believe that every word and every story in the Bible is literally true, and neither did we.
What we found most appealing about the Unitarian Church was that, if you disagree with their doctrine on these or other points, it's not a big deal. You can believe Jesus was God, or not. You can believe in the Trinity, or not. You're still welcome, and nobody's going to scold you for your beliefs.
We weren't sure we'd be welcomed, since if anyone asked about our religious beliefs we'd have to say, "We don't have any." We weren't sure we'd feel comfortable in a congregation, but we thought it was worth a try. So we got dressed in our (relatively) fancy duds, and walked four blocks to the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.
We were welcomed. We were so darn welcomed it was a bit surreal. Half a dozen people wanted to shake our hands and meet us, wanted to engage us in conversation about where we were from, what we did for a living, how long we'd been married, etc. One otherwise very nice lady asked Steph whether we had children, and seemed only mildly nonplussed when Steph replied that we weren't going to have children at all.
Sadly, that's a bigger and more common issue than you might think. A lot of people believe marriage means bringing babies into the world, and on several occasions people simply freaked out when we said that wouldn't be us. And the worst freak-outs were in Kansas City, a rather Republican place. So when this stranger was only mildly nonplussed and quickly changed the topic, we took that as a good omen. Maybe the Unitarian thing could work for us.
And then we went into the sanctuary, took a seat, and endured the service. I've been to thousands of church services, and this was far from the worst. It was mostly encouragement to live a good life, do the right thing, and be kind to others. The preacher didn't have much of anything to say about God, which sounds like what we wanted, right?
Only problem is, it was very, very boring. "That sermon was a fine collection of platitudes," Steph said as we walked home afterwards.
"Yeah," I said. "I squirmed a lot. There was nothing to disagree with, but also nothing we didn't already know. No particular insight or inspiration."
"I've been more inspired by a good episode of South Park," Steph said. We laughed, and talked about maybe giving that church a second try some Sunday, but we never did.
Disclaimer: Please don't take any of this as a put-down of the Unitarians, or of any church for that matter. Quite the opposite, we admired the Unitarians' warmth and welcoming, and their easy-going doctrine. But the one thing that brought all those good people together every Sunday morning was their shared belief in a sympathetic god who created and oversees the universe, and that's something we couldn't share.