The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, New Jersey, to which I belong to, follows the Soul Matters themes. This May, the theme is “Story.”
During the pandemic, I joined our weekly Drop-in covenant group. This month’s questions focused on our own story, including how we handled the pandemic, our ancestors and our childhood.
One question addressed change. I could not help but think of two of my biggest ones – how I discovered Unitarian Universalism and leading UUCM Sacred Wheel CUUPs within a single year.
I should start from the beginning. Although I was raised Catholic, I was never spiritual or so I thought. In 2000, I discovered that Paganism is a real religion. My story began to unfold. I did not know what path I wanted to follow exactly, but I knew that earth-based spirituality made a lot of sense to me.
I was solitary for a few years before I joined Three Fires Grove, a Druidic online teaching community. Two very knowledgeable teachers, the Rev. Foxxy (Sher) Pullen and her late husband Hermotimus “Herm” led many free classes. Although it is a Druidic grove, they teach the basics so when ready we can choose our own path. Lucky for me, my elder’s path – Druidic felt right for me.
I spent 2001 to the present, learning from them through an online chatroom forum. Although we were together as a community, what you get from an in–person presence was missing. Zoom was not a thing until 2013 and Discord not until 2015. It really was not until the COVID-19 pandemic those platforms really became useful tools for houses of worship and the Pagan communities.
A few years after studying with the grove, my elder told me to look for a local CUUPS chapter. I searched but the closest chapter was over 50 miles away in Princeton.
I continued as somewhat solitary, studying with the online grove and finding yearly gatherings in my area, usually for Samhain and sometimes for other sabbats. While this is nice and all, I wanted a place where I can meet face to face with other like-minded people on a regular basis.
In 2017, a new chapter in my story developed. Two ministers – Rev. Anya and Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael moved to Montclair from Virginia to serve as senior co-ministers of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, working together as a married couple for the first time. I am a journalist and that very same day I received an email requesting press coverage of their new journey together when my editor asked me to start the Houses of Worship section for our newspaper.
During the interview, on the advice of my elder, I asked if the congregation had a CUUPs chapter. They told me no, however the congregation celebrated the Wheel of the Year and they invited me to their Mabon ritual.
The following month after attending the ritual and feeling welcomed, I went back to the congregation for a sound bath and concert, led by musical artists Woven Green, a musical couple who are friends of the ministers. It was an amazing experience. Two months later in November, I decided to attend a Sunday worship service to see what exactly UU was about, and before I knew it, I was on the road to becoming a member.
It is quite funny to me how quickly I became part of the community. Before I officially signed the congregation’s membership book, I was creating the Sacred Wheel chapter. This was a huge step for me and it took some time to process, after all, I never led anything. The minister had to tell me that it was my group before it sank in. I only suggested the congregation start a chapter, I did not expect to be leading it but I am so happy that I am.
One year later, UUCM Sacred Wheel became an official chapter. We are the only one in Essex County and the second in New Jersey. Moreover, this past December I wrote the homily for our Sunday service for the Winter Solstice. I look back at these accomplishments – becoming a leader, forming a chapter; just how far I have come, all that changed and how better I am because of it.
I tossed my Bible in the attic right after Confirmation and thought I would never open one again. This month, I took up the second Bible study class my congregation offered since I have been attending. As my elder Foxxy says, how can I defend my Pagan path if I have no knowledge of Christianity? There are still people who interpret the Bible in their own way, insisting our path is evil.
In addition to my personal development, having a local chapter is important to help the community grow. The support of CUUPS enables networking. Interacting with other chapters, with other UUs is vital. CUUPs helps get your group out there in the public so Pagans can easily find you. Being solitary is fine, but having discussions and ritual celebrations with others who think as you do is in my opinion necessary. We need a community to lean on for support; we learn from each other, especially our mistakes.
After becoming a chapter, our celebrations grew. Advertising our events in print and social media drew more people. People seek us out through the CUUPS website and Facebook. UUs from neighboring congregations started coming to our events. Pagans who did not know what Unitarian Universalism is join us and ask questions about UU Montclair, some joining the congregation. Additionally, now during the pandemic, we are all virtual and drawing people from other states. My elder lives in Ohio, now joins us regularly. My congregation intends to keep the virtual aspect when we go back to meeting in person. This helps both our chapter and congregation grow and it makes us accessible for those who are disabled.
The two paths – Unitarian Universalism and Druidic work well together work for me. The open-mindedness and friendliness made it comfortable to be there on a Sunday morning. The rest fell in place.
This is my story of how I became a UU member and started our CUUPs chapter. Share your story and strike up conversation with your chapter.