Hello, my name is Fred Boreali and I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist for about 35 years. I was born and raised in Schenectady, when Schenectady was a very different place. Just for curiosity, how many of you were born and raised in Schenectady, if you could just raise your hands?

I grew up in the Bellevue section of Schenectady and attended the city public school system. I’m second generation Italian-American, and was baptized into the Roman Catholic faith.   .

My “Connections” talk concerns my journey in becoming a Unitarian Universalist and the role that this Society played in that journey. In developing this talk, what stood out in my journey is how small seemingly inconsequential events, conversations, and interactions, were the foundation and motivation for becoming a Unitarian Universalist.

In childhood, I went through the education process in becoming a good Catholic. We were required to recite the catechism without really understanding what was being taught. Questioning was not encouraged. Other faiths were looked down upon as being started by men and not by God! We were also taught that, “God was an all loving and knowing being” and that Roman Catholicism was the one true faith. “Woe” to all my childhood friends who were not Roman Catholic!

My mother, though a good Catholic, told the story of a priest at the church we attended, who during a sermon to the congregation, pointed out that our church was for Irish Catholics only. “There were other Roman Catholic churches for other ethnic groups” he stated. Not everyone in the pews that day were Irish Catholics, some were offended. My mother was dumbfounded and repeated this story a number of times during my childhood.

The Schenectady Unitarian Universalist Society was clear across the city from where I grew up. My first remembered introduction to this congregation was through the Model United Nations. This was an educational and fun event for teens during summer vacation. I actually remember being very impressed that this congregation would allow a community event to be held in its sanctuary. I was accustomed to events in church being for the church’s own benefit and not for the larger community. I didn’t fail to notice the symbols of many religious traditions in the sanctuary either. Something else I remember, is that we teen attendees were allowed to make purchases at the congregational bookstore. The bookstore had some awesome books!  But what I especially remember was that purchasing the books was on the honor system. Being a stranger to this congregation and a young teen, I felt that I had been paid a sincere compliment. I can’t stress how much this made an impression. Here we were strangers using “their” sanctuary, and they respected us enough to let us use the honor system in payment for the books we bought.  I attended other community events here, and was equally impressed with the community orientation of this sanctuary.

In high school I became acquainted with a few UU’s my age. Although not my closest friends, they were intellectually bright and a bit bohemian to my mind but friendly and interested in the world and people around them. They also made an impression.

I gave up Catholicism early in college and began looking for another faith. I explored Baha’ism. I would have joined that idealistic faith but decided against it when I discovered that certain rules had been temporarily relaxed for Westerners. At some point these rules would be reinstated. The rules involved arranged marriages at an early age.

At 30, I was still looking to find a faith that I could believe in. I started instruction in Roman Catholicism, once again. I explained to the kind priest, who agreed to work with me, that I had trouble believing in the divinity of Christ and the resurrection. I had fallen away from my faith as young adult and wanted to reexamine it.

It was during this time of active exploration that I was invited to a house party. A friend of mine was dating Rudy Nemser, the Minister at the Schenectady Unitarian Society.  The night of the party, I took myself over to Rudy and was introduced by my friend.  I already knew he was a Unitarian Minister. After some small talk, I told him I was curious about Unitarianism and asked him what Unitarians believed in. I expected a long litany of beliefs which identified Unitarians, instead Rudy eyed me nonchalantly and shrugged his shoulders. (Shrug)

In hindsight it could have been his way of saying, “Go away kid – quit bothering me!” this was a party after all and he was with a date.  Or he could have been trying to be profound, like a Buddhist koan, his shrug being the equivalent of “the sound of one hand clapping.”  Or his shrug was just an abbreviated Unitarian elevator speech, I really don’t know. At that time however it had an impact on me. It was exactly what I was looking for, “here was a faith I could finally believe in.”  (Rightly or wrongly, I actually believe this was his elevator speech, and a nifty one.) I appreciated that he didn’t rattle off a set of rote beliefs like my catechism classes. Nor was he sitting in a corner acting more pious than the pope. He seemed to be enjoying himself, maybe enjoying some wine and not setting himself apart.  He was just one of the party goers. He was being human, I liked that; his shrug was what I was looking for.

I went on to attend services at the Albany Unitarian Society, the congregation I lived closest to. Attending, I learned much more about UU’ism and eventually joined that Congregation in 1982.  Becoming a UU was one of the wisest things I’ve done. UU’ism has enriched my life in innumerable ways through community, friendships, learning, and growth as a human being. It hasn’t always been easy, but  it has been very rewarding.

Sometimes, it is the small things that  leave lasting impressions, whether it is in treating someone respectfully, or a well timed shrug, or  just being yourself and living your values.

I do believe that the best thing we can do for this “hurting” world is just to live our UU values.

Fred Boreali