Given by Katherine Sheehy on Sunday, May 19.
Good morning. My name is Katherine Sheehy and I am a graduating senior. I am lucky enough to be able to say that at age 18, my journey of faith has been 18 years long.
I don’t remember life without the Unitarian Universalist community. Aside from the fact that going to church school meant leaving my mom for a little over an hour every week, I have always liked church. I liked driving there in the morning with my mom and sister Hannah, singing to “Acoustic Sunrise” the best Sunday morning radio station. I liked how, if my sister and I pulled ourselves together early enough, we would go to Greta’s Great Grains and get a muffin before church school started. I liked how the hour always went by faster than I thought, and how there were always a few kids who had funny joys and sorrows. I liked how Julie would tell us a story, from her memory with no notes, every week. She paced slowly around the circle and talked with her hands while she spoke—I practiced doing those things when I got home, pretending to be her, and then Hannah and I would practice hymns from our copy of “Singing the Living Tradition.” Yes, that really happened. I liked how when church school was over, I would weave through crowded coffee hours, seeking out the best cookies. I liked how adults would stop me in the middle of that mission to say hello or ask how school was going. At this young age, I was used to a world where adults looked over me, figuratively and literally. Here, I have always felt seen. I especially liked the Young Church Sunday. I would always pick the job of reading the morning announcements, and I loved looking into the crowd and seeing my family, especially my dad, who usually came to church just for special events.
From as early as I can remember, I have felt the strongest sense of belonging here. I knew that there were people here that would always be there for me, whether it was Mr. Mercer, taking pictures of all the young church members; CC, who would take me and Hannah to see movies during the boring hours of the book sale; or Ted Stedman, who made church school ridiculously fun. Now, just seeing Mr. Mercer jaunt over to his car in the parking lot makes my heart feel lighter, and when CC volunteers to help me in nursery, my week is made. Ted is someone I know I can talk to about the ups and downs of my life, and his birthday is still in the calendar on my phone.
As I got older, I continued to like going to church for the same reasons, but like all angsty teenagers, I started questioning everything around me. When my grandfather and great grandmother died, I remember feeling kind of frustrated at the fact that I was Unitarian because I had no concrete answers to some of the questions I couldn’t stop thinking about. During the “Big Questions” unit of young church, I was jealous of my friends who had these “Big Answers” just handed to them. It didn’t take me long to realize the immense value in being at peace with the fact that not all abstract questions have concrete answers, nor should they. My journey of faith has been just that—a journey, and I know that I have this community and faith to support me through it. I have now realized that although I don’t have concrete answers, I have more things that are much more important. I have a deeper understanding and acceptance for other religions, and other people, around me. I don’t see the world as black and white, and I know that no matter where I go in life, I am free to change and adapt and truly be myself and believe what I believe without feeling any sort of shame or any diminished sense of belonging. Harold Babcock was quoted a few years ago in our wayside pulpit, saying “I am convinced that it is faith in this life, and not the next, which must be the ultimate salvation of the world.” I think about this quote often and believe in it wholeheartedly.
Not many of my friends know what Unitarian Universalism is about, but I am always excited to answer any of their questions when the topic comes up. I tell them the basics—we are based off of acceptance, equality, and peace. We value the worth of every person. We allow each other and ourselves to define our faith as we choose and have utmost respect for each individual journey. When my friends hear this, many of them have responded with something like “Oh my gosh, when I’m old enough to believe what I want, I want to be Unitarian.” What a magnificent virtue it is to have been able to do that from the start.
At the current moment, pretty much every component of my life is ending in some way. I am being forced to say goodbye to people and things that I am not quite ready to say goodbye to. It is comforting to know that this community is one I will never have to say goodbye to because it will be with me forever, and I am endlessly thankful for that.