I grew up in a small church in Southern California called Shepherd of the Hills. I think it’s one of the most important influences in my life, even today. I never actually believed in anything, but that wasn’t unusual: Shepherd of the Hills belongs to the United Church of Christ, and just like Ethical Humanism, there is no creed. We might talk about different things when we’re together, but your beliefs are your own. Community was the most important part of our experience. We all came together with different beliefs and different religions—even if some of us more closely identified with the idea of non-belief.
Even though I didn’t believe in anything, I was a devout little heathen: I made sure to attend church every single week, and even insisted we find churches to visit when we were on vacation. For me, church was a family—we took care of each other in whatever way we could. We helped out, and were helped when we needed it. I knew I wanted that to be a permanent part of my life, and it felt fitting that I got a glimpse into what church meant for other people when we were traveling. Of course, I learned to keep some of my more controversial opinions to myself outside of Shepherd of the Hills.
Shepherd of the Hills taught me that I didn’t need a higher power to live a moral life. I felt better knowing that my values came from my own experience, and that the only way to train that experience was communing with others.
So even though I still don’t believe in anything, I’ve always wanted a community. I want a place where we can gather and talk about things that are important to us. That’s been hard to find in Missouri. I’ve always found groups where I can feel welcome regardless of my beliefs, but I wanted something a bit more. I wanted a place where I could bring my whole self, and the entire expectation is that everyone else does the same thing, and we understand that we’re all in this together.
The Ethical Society of St. Louis is the first time I’ve felt the way that Shepherd of the Hills made me feel. I don’t need to convince you, and you don’t need to convince me. It’s okay that we disagree: in fact, I think that’s a good thing. Even in this weird year where communication means opening up Zoom, or Slack, or just texting each other, I’m glad I’ve found a new home.