Dear "Spiritual But Not Religious" person,

I'm encouraged by the interest in spirituality -- in spiritual growth and development. There are lots of ways to walk a spiritual path: books, classes, spiritual directors and counselors, practices you can undertake by yourself, guided by a teacher, or books, or youtube videos.

Even without intentional cultivation of spirituality -- without any books, classes, counselors, teachers, or videos -- "being spiritual" might just mean that you're open to, and value, those intimations of wonder and peace when they come: seeing a sunset, hiking in the woods, or strolling on a beach, say.

My path happens to be more the intentional kind. I find that following some disciplines helps me be open to wonder. My path also includes congregational life as a central aspect.

Congregational life brings some unique features to one's spirituality. Some of these features may not be all that attractive -- so I can understand a decision to be "Spiritual But Not Religious" (where "not religious" means "not participating in a congregation"). For better and for worse, congregational life includes these five features you generally won't find on other paths of spiritual development:

1. Self-governance: involvement with committees; democratic participation in, and approval of, the budget process; deliberating about policies, procedures, bylaws; creating and leading programs. Yoga classes or sessions with a spiritually oriented therapist don't include giving you a role in running the institution. I know that the prospect of being on a committee may not be very appealing. For me, spiritual community that is run by the seekers themselves offers a unique level of richness, meaning, and connection. The activities of self-governance form an inseparable and integral part of my path of growth and deepening.

2. Group Identity and Belonging. Again, this may not be much of a selling point for you. In fact, the “tribalism” of religious groups may be a big part of what turns you off about "religion." I have found, nevertheless, deep satisfaction from being a member of the Unitarian Universalist “tribe.” Belongingness in a community of care and concern is a deep human need. Many such communities -- including Unitarian Universalist ones -- work at mitigating the negative, insular aspects that some communities develop. We want to ensure our identity as “UUs” doesn’t exclude other identities. UU Christians, UU atheists, UU Buddhists, UU pagans, UU Jews, UU Humanists, and others, all find belonging as Unitarian Universalists.

3. Family membership. Adults and their children share in congregational life. The concept of family involvement in a faith institution -- belonging together as a family rather than as separate individuals -- is an integral feature of congregational life. You don't get that with a spiritual counselor or a yoga class.

4. Caring for each other. Call it shared pastoral ministry: the love and care that congregation members show to other members – building friendships in church, visiting each other for social occasions and when one of us is sick. These things will naturally happen among a circle of friends, but congregational life affords the chance to have a bigger circle. It’s nice to care and be cared about by people that know you well. Caring and being cared about by group members that may not (yet) know you all that well adds a rewarding layer of meaning to life.

5. Social justice action as a faith community. You don’t have to be in a congregation to work for social justice, but in congregations justice and spirituality are integrated. This may not be so true in some denominations, but it tends to be the Unitarian Universalist way. Working with fellow congregants on justice projects is an essential part of our spiritual path.

I find these to be essential components of a rich and empowering life. That's why I choose to be Spiritual and Religious.

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