What got me here?

Good morning!  My name is Robyn Salvin and I have been fortunate to have been a member of this church for about 12 years.  This is my dad.  He likes to be different and is very good at pushing the envelope.  I didn’t always know this.  I thought he was totally normal!  I didn’t know that most middle class kids didn’t sit at their family dinner table to eat a lovingly prepared meal with lit candles on the table and, depending on their father’s whim, classical music, bagpipe music, or music from the opera Nixon in China playing (blaring?) in the background.

My spiritual journey involves my realization that my dad was a nonconformist.  I was blessed to be brought up in my mom’s family church – the North Ridge United Methodist Church – in a rural town near Lockport, New York.  My parents were very active in our little cobblestone church.  They were the senior youth group advisors from before I was born until I went to college.  My mom was at church at least one night a week for one of the many committees she was on.  I loved my church.  I attended Sunday School, was active in our Youth Group, and, of course, sang in the choir.  We spent a lot of time at church.  I knew and loved every inch of it (except for the creepy part of the basement – no thank you!).  It was a big part of our family life.  And it was there that I first saw my dad go a little against the grain.  He was once delivering the sermon as a lay leader and I will never forget the sucking sound of the older ladies of the church as my dad plastered an Army bumper sticker on the front of the pulpit that read “Be All You Can Be.”  But I also remember the beauty of his message to the congregation to put their all into everything they did.

I also remember the utter confusion in that congregation when, on our family’s turn to host the monthly “Donut Sunday,” a tradition rivaled only by perhaps taking communion or … you know … praying, we served bagels and cream cheese rather than the beloved donuts.  This was the 80s – before bagels were cool.  I remember my dad unapologetically and exuberantly holding a stick of butter like a marker, painting it onto the bagels before they cooled.  My mom, sister, and I followed suit.  And we embraced being a little odd.  Side note – the congregation came to love the bagels and eventually looked forward to when our family was in charge of “Bagel Sunday.”  At least, that’s what we like to believe.

Fast forward to my adulthood.  My husband was raised Catholic so we compromised on an Episcopalian church when we got married in Maine and moved out here to Alplaus.  But when the Episcopal Church divided on whether to perform or respect gay marriage, Dan and I knew we needed a more liberal church – one that refused to discriminate.  And so here I am.  I was brought into this church by a message of love and acceptance.  I fell in love with the church when I realized that the music is really THAT good EVERY week!  And I am centered and moved every week by the message of the church.  It was here that I was finally comfortable enough to admit that I am an atheist.  I finally have absolute conviction in what I believe and how I approach the idea of religion.  While I do not subscribe to the idea of god, I fully appreciate and respect those who do.  If one is doing good in the name of religion then I am a fan!  I do understand that an atheist who is active in her church may sometimes baffle my friends but I know that it never baffles my family.  They get it.  It’s a little outside the box and that’s me.

So it was really no surprise to me at all when my dad, living 260 miles away, outside of Rochester, decided he wanted to become a member of this church.  I will let him tell you what brought him here but I am proud that, among our many similarities, we both rarely tread on the well-worn path.

What got me here? (Ralph)

The family I grew up in was never particularly religious or even spiritual. Aside from walking to vacation Bible school during my grade school summers, my first connection with church was when I was baptized as a Methodist at about age 12 so I could proceed with my God and Country award as a Boy Scout. I became active in Methodist Youth Fellowship, but must admit, it was mainly to be with friends, both boys and girls. It was through a Methodist youth connection that I met the love of my life who later became my wife, in a marriage that has lasted 50 years so far.  Eventually finding my way to Ohio State University, I sat in an intimate Philosophy 101 class with five or six hundred other clueless students where we witnessed the professor waving his arms around explaining that this (waving arms in circular motion) was everything there is, and this (motioning right hand side) was religion, and this (motioning left-hand side) was science. Over the course of history, he continued, science had taken up more of “everything”, making less room for religion. This paradigm left an indelible impression on me and has set the framework for a substantial part of my thinking ever since.

As married college students, Beth and I taught a senior high school Sunday School class, so when we said, Goodbye Columbus, and returned to Western New York, it seemed only natural that we continued to work with senior high kids, even as we raised our own two girls. I eventually became Lay Leader and occasionally delivered the message and assisted in the Sunday service. My messages inclined toward the temporal rather than the liturgical, as I struggled to internalize the notion of “salvation”. I must admit, that I never got it. Being a labor negotiator for most of my career, I maintained a healthy skepticism, and that spilled over into my spiritual side.

Retirement, and a permanent move to our cottage on the shores of Lake Ontario, found us in a Presbyterian congregation, where Beth became an active member. One Sunday the pastor, a  retired African-American Buffalo City Schools principal, included in her invitation to communion, a preface setting the bar for being a committed Christian: a belief in the resurrection of Christ and of our resurrection likewise. Having profound doubts about this concept anyway, this proved to be the spark I needed to seek another level of spirituality.

Robyn and Dan had found a comforting home here in what was then FUSS, and I convinced the membership committee that I could be a satisfactory member, even though I resided a couple hundred miles away, and would be able to attend services only a handful of times each year. I try to educate myself on UU concepts, studying non-denominational prayer, and having read most recently Scotty McLennan’s treatise on the need for continuing the dialogue with traditional Christianity.

My journey may not be over, but I have found peace here, and hope to grow, and as I can, to serve.

Robyn Salvin and Ralph Smith