Given by Bob Higgins on April 14, 2019.
A little over a year ago I attended my first service here at FRS. Stepping into this beautiful space I saw a jazz band on the altar and thought, “How cool is that? Live jazz every Sunday!”
Eventually I realized the jazz service was in fact an annual event, but I was already all in on this amazing congregation. And my life was changed forever.
So how does a 60-something man of minimal introspection or self-awareness, who seldom gave religion or spirituality more than a passing thought since childhood, and who avoided thinking deeply about anything emotional or spiritual, find himself up here in this sacred place talking about a “Journey of Faith”?
After all, my wife was “gobsmacked” that I even attended that initial service.
A brief history: Irish Catholic family, attended Mass every Sunday — even in the heat of August, altar boy, sang in the folk group, even taught Sunday school. And resented just about every minute of it.
When Rev. Rebecca recently talked about the power of words I remembered many. Confession. Contrition. Penance. And we had Holy Days of Obligation.
And that’s what religion meant to me: obligation.
I left for college and left Catholicism behind but for one glorious day, our wedding 34 years ago. Because in Boston where else could a Higgins marry a Kennedy but a Catholic church?
Raising our two children after moving to Seattle we felt an obligation — there’s that word again — to do some church shopping, ranging from a Christian mega-church to a UU service, but our hearts weren’t in it.
Fast forward 40 years when we moved back home to Massachusetts, and life gave us many joys: This beautiful city; landing good jobs in our 60s; two remarkable children who became kind and successful adults despite our spiritual shortcomings; our son’s beautiful wedding to a woman we adore.
And of course sorrows: a third member of my wife’s family diagnosed with ALS; family members facing addiction, cancer, and other health issues. And I finally facing up to an undiagnosed ADHD that I now know has stunted me in so many ways, including personal relationships, professional success, emotional, and yes spiritual growth. It’s beyond challenging to think deeply about spiritual issues when your attention is being hijacked by the nearest shiny object and you have no idea why.
Working from home and knowing few people in town I felt lost, isolated, disconnected. If it were just about making friends I could have joined a bowling league. I wanted something more.
I heard about interesting speakers and activism at FRS. Online I read about the UU principles, about acceptance, justice, the shared search for spiritual growth. Not a word about “obligation.” It felt right, and I took that first step.
What has FRS meant to me since then? Foremost, meeting so many kind, compassionate, smart and welcoming people has helped me put myself out there, to take chances and to be vulnerable in ways I seldom have. Seriously, it was outside my comfort zone just to stand awkwardly at coffee hour, to try Buddhist meditation or attend a Fellowship Dinner.
But to join a Chalice Circle? Open up to a room of strangers, trying to think deeply about spiritual concepts I never have and listen closely to others doing the same? And then to be standing here before you this morning? Again, unimaginable a year ago, and it speaks to the trust, acceptance, and safety I feel here.
Beyond that, I look forward to each Sunday’s service. It is anything but an obligation. Being here calms me, gives me focus, and I always leave with something meaningful to sit with and share: a prayer, a personal story, a song. Usually they are words from our minister, whose love, heart, and intelligence inspire and challenge me. I freely admit how often I’ve been moved to tears in this sanctuary.
It has taken me many years to travel a short distance on this journey, and I have no idea where I’m headed. But I am so grateful to be pursuing it along with this remarkable faith community, and I thank you all so, so much.