Stories of Joining Unitarian Universalism

Bill Elwood:

“This is my 35th year as a member of the church. I started in the early 70s and started coming because of the minister at the time, John Cummins. He’s still alive and is now a minister emeritus for our church and comes periodically. John went down and participated in the Montgomery civil rights march. When he came back, there was an article in the Minneapolis paper about the fact that he had gone down there with a group of Unitarian Universalist ministers, and I recall picking that up in the paper, and thinking “Wow, this is cool.” Having been a Lutheran for 20 years and not having a lot of social activism, and now here’s this minister doing this, I thought ‘hey this has got to be a pretty interesting church,’ so I went over and began to attend services and a few years later, I joined. It was basically because of John’s activism and my interest in activism.1

Stan Sattinger:

I came from parents who didn’t take us to church or Sunday school. When I was a kid, a Presbyterian minister approached my folks and said, 'You’re kids outta have religious education.' My brother and I went off to Sunday school. I fell out of church attendance by my twenties, and years after that, I didn’t do anything till my kids came along, and that propelled us to do the right thing, so that’s how we got involved. We’re very glad to be involved here. It feels good.”2

Polly Talen:

“Actually, my female partner and I were looking for a place to have a ceremony. We lived up the street from a church and she said, ‘I really like the space down the street because it doesn’t have pews--it has moveable chairs. We can arrange them however we want.'

I asked, ‘Well, what denomination is it? She said, “Unitarian Universalist.” And I said, “I was raised Unitarian Universalist!” We went to check it out. This was in 1987. I was 32, and I hadn’t been to a Unitarian church since I left high school.

My partner had been raised Dutch reform Calvinist-- very strict. She knew the bible backwards and forwards. They went to church every Wednesday night. They went twice on Sundays. Really, really strict. She had really rejected that. It didn’t fit her values as a feminist, as a lesbian, as a progressive democrat. It didn’t fit any of that. But she hadn’t gone in search of another religious community.

We called these ministers [at the First Universalist], a husband-wife team, and they were so affirming. They were nicer to us and more affirming of our choice to do this than anybody else in Minneapolis. We chose it because it didn’t have pews-- how funny is that?

Then the tail end of that story is that we have the ceremony and a good friend of mine, her son said, 'Oh mom, it was so different!' She asked, 'Really, how was it different?'

He said, 'Well, we didn’t sit on benches.' That was his whole orientation to church. It had nothing to do with it being two women getting married.”3

Michael Dotson:

“When I was introduced to the Unitarian Universalism, I was with a friend wondering what we would do on a Saturday evening, and she said ‘let’s go to my church.’ The church lobby was open, with the intent of having teenagers gather there. She was telling me something about the various beliefs that people held and could be accommodated by the Unitarian Universalist church. I was just fascinated in that point in time, and twenty years later, I went looking for a Unitarian Universalist after being unchurched for twenty years.”4

This was well before gay marriage was legalized, so having a supportive network as a couple in a society where that wasn’t well recognized really meant a lot to us

Channing McKinley: 

"I grew up in the [First Universalist] church starting when I was in 6th grade. Before that, we went to my grandma’s Lutheran church on holidays. We didn’t go regularly anywhere. My mom found the church and liked it so we started going. 6th grade through high school, I was in this church. I went to college, came back and went to services here and there. I moved back here in 2002 and had two kids and started coming again in 2009. I had always liked the religious education I got growing up, which to me was about learning about different belief systems, different cultures, different religions and having the time and space to come up with what resonated with me--what helps me through life. I thought that was great approach. But what I found was that when my kids were asking questions at four years old, I found myself wanting to give very general answers: ‘some people believe this, others believe this.’ It wasn’t particularly age appropriate. At that age they need to know, ‘what do you believe?’

I looked at a couple churches. I looked at Unity in St. Paul. I tried a UCC church. It was too much Jesus for me. I’m not against Jesus. He’s a great guy, good stories, but not my central focus. I like multiple stories. And I came to church here one Sunday and by the end of the service, I was crying. They were playing the Beattles with a rock band or something. I thought, ‘okay, we’ll try this.’ It was like coming home. We started coming regularly, and we became members in 2012."5

Peg Mitchell:

I came to this church in 1987; my partner at the time and I went looking for a spiritual home together. I’m a big believer that relationships require a much larger community, and this was well before gay marriage was legalized, so having a supportive network as a couple in a society where that wasn’t well recognized really meant a lot to us.6

I came to church here one Sunday, and by the end of the service, I was crying

Joy Throm:

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my parents rented a rental property in Great Falls, Montana to a man who was doing graduate work with the US geological survey. This man and his wife were in Montana from Virginia. Anyway, I overheard a conversation of my mother and the woman discussing religion, talking about Unitarianism, and I sat there, and it made a lot more sense to me than what I’d been learning in my presbyterian Sunday school, and I decided when I grew up I was going to be a Unitarian. So at age seventeen, I went to my first Unitarian Universalist fellowship meeting. I moved here in 1992 from Philly and went to to the Minnesota Valley Unitarian Universalist fellowship my first weekend in town. It was the end of my second marriage and I’d just moved here; I’d taken a transfer with my employer, and a welcoming couple suggested I go to the First Universalist because at that time they had an active singles group. So the next weekend I came to First Universalist, and then in February, 1993, I joined. So for twenty-two years, I’ve made a commitment to this, my church home. I moved a lot in my life growing up, so other than this church, I had my first years in a lovely Presbyterian church in Montana where my mother was memorialized. That church was my original roots, but this is truly my church home.7

  1. Bill Elwood, interview by Natalie Jacobson, April 17th, 2016.

  1. Stan Sattinger, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, April 17, 2016.

  1. Polly Talen, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, April 24, 2016.

  1. Michael Dotson, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 8th, 2016.

  1. Channing Mckinley, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 8th, 2016

  1. Peg Mitchell, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 22, 2016.

  1. Joy Throm, Interview by Natalie Jacobson, May 15, 2016.