An atheist in Divinity School. A Urantia Book reader who wants to create community for the unaffiliated. Someone who loves attending high church services who identifies one day as spiritual but not religious and the next as agnostic and the next as questioning and the next as a potential Unitarian Universalist and the next as confused. A humanist who is in the process of fellowship for ordination as a Unitarian Universalist minister. What do we all have in common? On the face of it, nothing. And we call ourselves the Nones.
You may be familiar with the phenomenon of the rise of the “Nones.” The fastest-growing religious group in American society is those who mark “None” when asked to indicate their religious affiliation. According to a recent Pew survey, “one-fifth of the U.S. public—and a third of adults under 30—are religiously unaffiliated today.” Meanwhile, the same survey shows that “two-thirds of them say they believe in God.”
Many identify as spiritual but not religious, as atheists or agnostics, or as freethinkers, or find themselves between or beyond religious categories. Maybe they grew up Catholic or Jewish but don’t go to Mass or Synagogue anymore and yoga and gardening are more spiritually fulfilling for them, connecting them to what they consider to be holy or divine. Unaffiliated people may have grown up in a religious tradition and left for any number of reasons, or may feel uncomfortable with aspects of organized religion and religious traditions. Some unaffiliated people aren’t looking for spiritual community. But others want a community and don’t know how to find it, since they do not identify with a particular religious community.
Being at HDS, we unaffiliateds in search of community have the luxury of knowing there are others like us. And we don’t have to worry that talking about our spirituality or even our religious beliefs will make others uncomfortable, because we have the benefit of knowing that everyone here is willing and excited to talk about spirituality and religion.
Our student group, the HDS Religious NONEs, is just one of many emerging communities for the religiously unaffiliated in the US. We started as a Humanist group but quickly realized that using that term made some people feel as though they didn’t identify with the group, and we wanted to foster a space where everyone who doesn’t feel like they have a place are welcome. We spent many of our early meetings trying to define ourselves, trying to figure out what we have in common and how we want to exist in community with one another. We still struggle with calling ourselves “nones,” defining ourselves by what we’re not, but as one of our members pointed out, this means that we are uniquely open to learning from one another as we develop our own identities.
So what do we do together, our eclectic collection of unaffiliated people?
We sing. A LOT. We find it draws us together in community with one another. Sometimes we sing religious songs, sometimes we sing other things. We like to sing in rounds and parts and make beautiful music together.
We share. Each week, we open our meeting by going around the circle and sharing with one another a joy and concern, a high and low, a rose/bud/thorn, or just how we’re doing that week. We love to share in each other’s happiness and gladly help carry each other’s sorrows. We give each other support, hugs, smiles, and love each and every day.
We eat. Community is often created over a table and a shared meal, and we’ve found that is a good way for us to draw together. Whether it’s snacks during our meetings or meals at other times, we like to eat together.
We welcome others. In April, we hosted a Noon Service, sharing with the HDS community who we are and what we do, inviting them to join us in our community, and thanking them for inviting us to the table as a quirky group that often needs explanation. And what did we do during our noon service? We sang, we shared, we ate. In creating our noon service, we had nothing to start from, no tradition to draw from. In some ways, that was hard, because we had to start from scratch. In other ways, it was easy, because we could create a service that was absolutely meaningful to all of us.
If you’re not sure if there’s a community for you at HDS, or if you’re interested in who we are and what we do, get in touch, come visit, come join us. Come, come, whoever you are, as a song we like to sing says. Come join our community, share, sing, and eat with us. We welcome you!