By late 2005, I had grown very bitter against Christianity. I stopped going to church(except when visiting family), because I became tired of hearing the same hellfire-and-brimstone sermons I'd been hearing for my entire life. And nobody ever talked to me. If I were going to make the effort to go to church, and nobody acknowledged my existence, why bother? Church, to me, is supposed to be about meeting people of like mind and like faith and practicing that faith together. I had finally realized that I was neither of like mind or like faith with my fellow congregants, for I knew I didn't fit in, and was adamantly opposed to most of the opinions I heard in church.
I remember once, around that time, I was at a bookstore with my good friend Ashley. We happened to end up browsing the "New Age" section of the bookstore. Due to a combination of an active imagination and hearing stories of my great-great-grandmother, who was our town's local fortune teller, I had always been interested in such things - I would regularly quickly glance through the New Age section of bookstores as a kid when I went; and aside from the regular sitcoms, if a TV show or book didn't have magic, mythical creatures, ghosts, and/or aliens involved, I likely wasn't interested in it. So anyways, I recall making a comment to to her that "if there were such a thing as Christian Wicca, I would be it". I was actually pretty much joking, and was simply referring to my interest, at the time, of the paranormal and supernatural.
Later that night, out of sheer boredom and curiosity, I typed the phrase into a search engine(I believe I mostly used Yahoo at the time). To my surprise, there were many, many links, mostly by those who claim to be Christian-Wiccans or Christian Witches. Now, I have an opinion on such labels and religious paths(not a disrespectful or necessarily negative opinion, mind you, but an opinion), but as this blog entry is not about Christian-Wiccans or Christian Witches, that topic is another entry for another time.
In any case, I began talking to my friend Natalie, whom I would later come to date for a year and a half. She was a Jew from Russia, and proved to be the most dramatic(whiny addendum: and, kind of unfortunately, the most recent) relationship I've ever been involved in. One of the few things I took from the relationship, was the courage to regularly assess my beliefs, and to be comfortable being honest about what I really believe. She gave me the initial push I needed to figure out what I really believed, rather than simply reacting to the Christianity I had been exposed to all my life.
So, after a good bit of contemplation and study, I began considering myself a Christian Witch. By that time, I had discovered Unitarian Universalism as well, and began looking for Unitarian churches to visit, and became more active in their Church of the Larger Fellowship, an online resource for UUs who don't live near "brick-and-mortar" UU churches, as well as it's young adult counterpart, The Church of the Younger Fellowship, of which I still participate in today.
For me, being a Christian-Wiccan was kind of "transitional" path. It allowed me to ease away from Christianity and shed myself of the fundamentalist, conservative guilt that I had been raised with, and discover and embrace a new faith. Eventually, I shed the "Christian" altogether and decided to become Pagan. I learned and grew in my faith as a Pagan. I became, in essence, polytheistic, being drawn primarily to the Celtic pantheon of deities. I did not go to a UU church all that often, due in part to distance, but also because while I loved(and still love) UU, I found that while I agree with them on most of their social stances, and on the concept of (respectfully) borrowing from other religions/traditions/practices as I felt compelled(and in fact many UUs, as well as many Pagans, and even many liberal Christians, do just that), I also needed some kind of common starting ground, a spiritual starting ground, that UU did not fit for me. So, I didn't go, and still longed for some kind of connection to others like me.
When I moved to Charleston, one of the first things I did was visit the historical downtown touristy sites and architecture. I even visited a couple of the churches. One of which was the UU church. I even became a member of the local CUUPS(Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) chapter, and I still am a member of the overall CUUPS organization, even though the local chapter no longer officially exists, to my knowledge. But they only met twice a month, and I usually couldn't go because of work; and the church's Sunday services brought most of the same "not fitting in" feeling as the other UU churches I had been to for the aforementioned reasons.
Then I came across, and decided to visit, Circular Congregational Church:
I was drawn, like a lot of things in downtown Charleston, to its architecture and age. I learned about its' history. Located on Meeting Street, it is one of the oldest and longest-running Congregationalist churches in the south, being founded in 1681. It has always been a "dissenting" church, and the original building gave Meeting Street its name. Even now, it lives up to that reputation and history. Most of its members seem to be very liberal, religiously and politically. In fact, if I remember right, one of Circular's members was a major player in Charleston's first ever Gay Pride event in May. Circular is a member of the denomination the United Church of Christ , which is known for its liberal stances, and in fact turned out to be just what I was looking for: the liberal social/religious stances of UU, but with a more spiritual focus. The UU and UCC partner in many different aspects and events - for example, UU has OWL(Our Whole Lives), a sexuality course/program for teens, which many UCC churches, including Circular, also use. For that matter, Charleston's UU church originally split off from Circular.
Visiting Circular opened my eyes to a new form of liberal Christianity that I had not been exposed to very often at that point. I knew there were liberal Christians, yes. In hindsight, I was a closet liberal for years before my spiritual journey went this direction. And when I lived in Chicago, I visited a liberal Episcopal church near my apartment. But at that time, the wounds were still too fresh, I still had bitterness towards Christianity. I needed time to heal, to shed myself of the anger I felt toward conservative Christianity, which took a lot of time, especially since I was also simultaneously healing from the wounds of a bad break-up. Circular compelled me to take a fresh look at Christianity, free from that anger. That was around when I began studying Gnosticism more in-depth. Throughout all these years, I had been interested in Gnosticism, and in fact had studied them some as a Christian-Wiccan. But now, the timing was right. I felt called back to Christianity, via Gnosticism, and was able to glean more from them without feeling a twinge of anger every time I read anything remotely related to Christianity. Gnosticism became the perfect spirituality, a merger of the Christian elements I still believed, and the Pagan views I still felt drawn to. And the fact that Druidry was a spiritual practice(akin to Zen meditation), more than a religion, and there were enough Gnostic Druids to warrant its own organization, was just icing on the cake. I attended Circular's 5-week course for potential new members, where they taught Circular's history and its stances/views on various things. I emailed the minister with my concerns about how I might be accepted at the church with my "unorthodox" views, and he assured me that nobody he knew of at the church would really have much problem with it. I joined the church. And for the most part, I have greatly enjoy it. None of the members there really know of the specifics of my beliefs, but that hasn't been so much out of a fear of rejection, so much as I haven't gotten to know most of them well enough due to my sporadic attendance to get into such conversations. My family has even visited a couple of times, and seemed to enjoy it - though their reaction when someone in the church referred to God as "Mother" is priceless!
That is my current biggest pitfall - I still very sporadically attend church, even though I finally have one I want to go to and be a part of. I still feel guilt on days(like today) where, for one reason or another, I sleep in and don't go. If my mom can endure excruciating back pain to go to church(due to what she finally found out last week is two herniated disks that's she's had since Feb.), why can't I get up in time, even if I've been working a lot(like when I had two jobs) or am in an insomniac phase(like now, apparently). I'm unsure if the guilt is a remnant from my upbringing, or feeling like I'm not putting forth 100% effort into something I've chosen to be a part of. My guess is a little of both.
I swear these posts will get shorter. If you read this far, I commend you on your patience. This time I close with a portion from a hymn from the Ginza Rba , a hymn of the Mandaeans , the only Gnostic sect that survived persecution and still exists today(albeit in small numbers) in Iraq and Iran:
"Before the Wellsprings were transmuted
Before the Awakening without,
Before ye were in existence
I was in the world.
The Voice of living waters (Water of Life),
(Waters) which transmute the turbid waters.
They become clear and shining
They gush forth and cast out impurities."
- Ginza Rba, Hymn # 121