Being born a Catholic, I was raised with the idea of self-sacrifice. I attended a Catholic school from Kindergarten through 7th grade, and was raised in a neighborhood surrounded by mostly Catholic people. It wasn’t until I attended a public middle school that the world around me opened up, and the idea that other religions out there existed became a reality.
My mother attended Catholic school her whole life and taught me the values of being Catholic from a young age. It was important to work hard, to love thy neighbor, and to always be truthful. The implications of not following these moral laws meant impending guilt and the need to reconcile in order to clear away ones sins. I always was a good girl who made the best decisions, striving to be Christ-like in my generous ways. I never even considered that perhaps there were other ideas out there worth considering. After all, I only knew what I was raised to know, and only practiced what I was taught to practice.
The middle school I attended allowed me to mingle with people of all types and religions — Jewish, Christians, Buddhists — even Agnostics and Atheists. For the first time in my life, I realized that the extreme differences we all had in our beliefs. In high school I dated a Jewish boy whose mother didn’t like me since I was a Catholic, blue-eyed blonde girl. I found it astonishing that a person could dislike someone due to their religion. I was young, naive, and still had a lot to learn about the world.
In college, I enrolled in a World Religions course. I thoroughly enjoyed this class, as it exposed me to the history of religion, and how every religion revolves around the same main principles. I found myself deeply connected with the ideals of Buddhism. I started practicing my own meditations while my children were napping, and found solace in the few moments in which I could be perfectly still and clear my mind.
Our move in 2007 across country from Michigan to North Carolina separated me from my Catholic up-bringing, dropping me into the bible belt of the south. I was culturally shocked at the strict Christian values of my new town. People truly believed in the fact that others were deemed to suffer, to burn in hell, for not believing as they did. I found this type of thinking appalling, and for the first time ever, stepped back from my own Christian values to challenge my own faith.
In 2009 I started a job providing childcare at a Unitarian Universalist church. I had never heard of the religion before, yet found the environment to be one full of intelligent, creative, open-minded individuals. In fact, it was encouraged for people to have individual thought, rather than follow the same deep-etched thinking as their neighbor. I started attending services on my days off, as a way to introduce myself to the idea of the religion, out of curiosity.
More and more, I found myself pulled toward the Unitarian Universalist ideals. As a person who always considered herself independent, I enjoyed the praise one got for individual thought. I also liked the way in which every person of every religion was welcome to attend at this church, and it seemed to me, that this was the way that religion was suppose to be. An open-minded place where people could allow their ideas to flow — where we could find friendship through the differences of one another.
To this day, I still attend the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wilmington. There are days where I feel a tinge of guilt at the thought that I am not following the traditions of my Catholic upbringing. My children attend public school and have not had any exposure to Catholicism, except for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. I feel slightly saddened about the fact that my children will not participate in their first communions, and have to admit to some old Catholic guilt.
Slowly, I am easing myself into this new role as a Unitarian. I no longer work for the childcare at the church, but I have volunteered to be a Religious Educator this year. I am hoping to learn more about the values of being a Unitarian through my role as a teacher. My husband, also a long-time Catholic, has started attending services with me, and is open to attending path-to-membership classes with me this fall. I never thought I would have never converted religions, yet the more I grow and learn the more open-minded and opinionated I have become. Although it is hard on our families to accept our new religion, it has become a freedom for us to be able to explore these new ideals openly with one another. While converting can be the hardest thing a person ever does, to me, it is more important to explore oneself and connect with something someone can relate with. After all, an important part of growing is learning to accept ourselves for what we truly are.