Given by Steve Costello on September 24, 2017
A few years ago when my wife Eileen and I took the UU History class in anticipation of becoming FRS members, we were asked to bring in an object that symbolized our religious and spiritual background. I brought in an egg. This wasn’t meant to symbolize my soul, nor to illustrate a hard shell that I had built up over years of religious turmoil. I brought the egg because I can still vividly remember the ridiculous number—thousands!—of eggs cooked on the grill for the Easter Sunday Sunrise service at The Hanover Center Congregational Church in New Hampshire where I grew up.
That church is central in some of my earliest childhood memories. One of the more traumatic of those memories occurred when I was five years old. For the first time, undoubtedly, since the actual birth of Jesus, a boy was cast in the Christmas Pageant as an angel, and much to the delight of my three older brothers, that angel was me. I can still hear them jeering, “Little Baby Angel Face.”
Surprisingly, however, that trauma didn’t cause a crisis of faith. My family continued going to church regularly until I was in 8th grade or so, when somehow, with both parents working and four teenage boys on the move, sleep on Sunday took on greater importance. But I always considered myself to be a spiritual person. I give my parents much of the credit for that spiritual focus, as they provided consistent reinforcement of right and wrong, fairness and honesty. No one could classify us as “religious,” but I felt comfortable with my relationship with God.
By the time I went to college, organized religion moved further down the list of my interests. In my senior year, however, I had a formative experience when my father was dying of cancer. It seemed to me that at his ultimate time of spiritual need, the religion of Dad’s youth inserted its dogma between him and his God.
In 1997, I married Eileen, who was Catholic. While she was clearly very much at odds with some of the social ideology of the church, she was still committed to its traditions. It’s here in my journey of faith when I was going to discuss my experiences as a Protestant, former angel, from New Hampshire, in the Catholic church, but Eileen’s mother, aunts and uncles and high school friends in Puerto Rico are going through a difficult time right now and we know that it is their Catholic faith that is helping them to cope and is giving them comfort. Today, I want to show respect for that, as isn’t finding hope and comfort what religion is all about?
At any rate, Eileen and I came to the conclusion that Catholicism was not the answer for us personally, and we entered a period when Sunday skating lessons took preeminence over Sunday sermons. When our daughter was about 9 years old, though, we were having a discussion around Christmas and she mentioned Jesus’ parents, William and Mary. We knew we had been a bit remiss in providing our kids a spiritual experience, so the church shopping commenced.
We wanted to give our children options and information that would allow them to make their own spiritual decisions as they grew into adulthood. One night, discussing Young Church with friends who were members of FRS, we decided that it was time to commit. The next Sunday we went to FRS, enrolled the kids in Young Church and it stuck. When our son took part in the Neighboring Faiths program, we knew we were in the right place. Personally, I was happy to find a place where I could explore my own system of beliefs—a church where asking questions is not only OK, but encouraged. I’ll be honest with you. I came here with strong feelings about Jesus and in a way, I still have those feelings. They’re just different now and that’s fine. This place makes that kind of introspection, inquiry, and growth OK.
I’m not sure where my journey will take me next, but I know I’ll feel comfortable here, taking those steps, along with all of you. Being with you helps to make me a better person and while it’s not easy for any of us to be at our best all the time, especially in traffic on Route 1, all of you provide an example for me. For that I thank you and I look forward to learning, growing, and exploring with you.