My UU Story
Lars Poulsen - 2020-05-20
My minister at
Live Oak UU Congregation in Goleta California suggested that people should write down the story
of how they came to join our congregation. I have done some versions of
this before; around 1995 I participated in a workshop called "My
Spiritual Autobiography", but it may well be time to do it again.
I could do this the short version or the long version. Today I will do
the long version. It falls in several chapters:
Each of these is a chapter below.
- My childhood faith (Lutheran)
- Young adulthood (rebellion against naive doctrine)
- A wayside pulpit in Copenhagen
- Finding USSB in 1982
- Married with a child
- Finding the nascent Live Oak
My childhood faith (Lutheran)
The farm where I grew up
I was born in the farmland of Denmark; my parents (with some help from
my maternal grandfather) bought a small 30-acre farm the year I was
born. Since 1536, the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Denmark has been
the state religion, and when I was a child, 90+% of the population were
members, with the Roman Catholic Church a distant second at about 3%,
about 2% baptists,
and maybe 0.2% jews. My parents attended church every month or two, plus
when there was a baptism, confirmation, wedding or funeral in the
Picture file IMG_1711A.jpg not found - cwd=.
Outside the major cities, the church buildings tend to be romanesque or
simple gothic building from the 12th and 13th century, and indeed so it
was in the parish where I grew up.
Because Lutheranism is a state religion, basic religious instruction has
always been part of elementary school, with a weekly lesson called
"Christianity Knowledge", beginning in the first grade. History did not
begin until a year or two later. This religious instruction was mostly
the benign "bible stories" well known in America, too. As elementary
school progressed, bothe the bible stories and the history stories
gradually linked up within each subject.
In the 7th grade (age 14) we went off to a classroom in the parsonage
next to the church for confirmation lessons. Parents by then could
request that their kids be exempted if they were not Lutherans and their
kids were not going to be confirmed.
My local farming area was exceptional in that it was one of only two
rural areas in the country where there was a baptist settlement numerous
enough to form parishes with a baptist parish church. Our local baptists
had a (boy) scout troop, which I joined, and with friends from there the
teen-age me went to youth group events, including winter revival camp
week. My dad worried a bit that they might try to baptize me, but I was
never tempted. They did, however, have some friendly girls.
Young adulthood (rebellion against naive doctrine)
I was always an intellectual, a reader. It was pretty clear to me that
there was a lot of superstition in the Christian religion, and it felt
irrelevant to me. Sometime around age 15, I rememer listening to a
public radio program about atheist humanist jews, and the way they
talked about religious heritage made sense to me. But since I was not a
Jew, I assumed that was not available to me.
A wayside pulpit in Copenhagen
Picture file CWP_9028.jpg not found - cwd=.
In my early twenties, I was living in Albertslund (Western suburb of
Copenhagen) and commuting to work at the University of Copenhagen
science campus near Faelledparken. Every day I got off the metro (S-tog)
at Oesterport station and walked by a small romanesque building next to
the US Embassy. In a glass case by the sidewalk a sign said (in Danish):
"You may be a Unitarian and you just do not know it yet".
I did not know how true that was until 10 years later!
Finding USSB in 1982
In 1980, I moved to Santa Barbara. As a farm boy, I felt a need to
connect with the land/landscape/history of my new home. I enjoyed
walking on the trails of the SB Botanic Garden, and an old couple on a
bench with a great view told me about the Sierra Club and the weekly
hikes in the foothill trails, so I started going to those.
One morning, at the end of the hike, a woman named Elise Foladare told
me she had been to a Passover seder that week, "but not at the
synagogue, it was at a kind of church called the Unitarian Church".
The more she talked about it, the more I knew I had to go and explore
this place and those people. And from my first visit, I knew these were
Married with a child
A couple of years later, I was dating a woman I had met at work. She had
lived in Russia for a while, and while there, she had converted to the
Orthodox church in order to marry the artist son of a priest. After she
moved back to the US, the marriage fell apart. We it it off, but I
worried about the differenes of religion. I ded=cided, I needed to take
her to a singles week-end at Camp De Benneville Pines to see how she
would fit in with UUs. It worked out just fine, and we were married by
Tony Perrino on the deck behind the house where I still live.
Finding the nascent Live Oak
After my daughter Katherine was born, we felt less welcome at the
Unitarian Society. People would tell us every Sunday that "We do have a
nursery, you know", when Katherine was sleeping at Debra's breast during
the Sunday service. This was shortly after Live Oak had formed, and one
Sunday we went to visit a service at the Human Relations Institute - a
victorian house on Hollister Avenue. We were delighted that they loved
children and included the children in the main service, with a "Message
for All Ages".
Soon we had switched our allegiance to become members of Live Oak.
In time, Debra became the Director of Religious Education (as it was
called back then). She also joined up with the yoga class that morphed
into the Sangha. Much later, after our divorce,
she became an ordained buddhist nun in the
Thich Nhat Hanh affiliated "Order of Interbeing".
Third Time is a Charm
Picture file IMG_0012H.jpg not found - cwd=.
When I found my current wife Colleen, I had made my UU faith a prominent point
on my dating website profile, and one of our earliest weeek-ends
together, I took her to Live Oak. Rev Thomas Anastasi was in the pulpit,
and to my delight, Colleen had the same
"homecoming" experience that I had had.
(End of page)