What Belonging Means to Me: UUFA Members/Friends Share their thoughts – Sunday Service June 7, 2015 – led by Roberta Roberson

On Sunday June 7th we explored what “belonging” means to us as congregants of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens.
In discussing her protracted struggles at finding a new church home after a move, Ellen Painter Dollar writes: “We hoped to find a new community that would look a lot like the one we left behind. We never did. But we found what we needed most, which is a place where we belong. We learned that belonging isn’t about shopping around to find a group of people just like us, or a place where we can check off all our requirements for an ideal community. Belonging is mostly about showing up, becoming disillusioned, and staying anyway. ”
Even a cursory look at our own lives reveals that we all–each and every one of us–long to belong. It’s part of what it means to be human. The reality is that we cannot survive without one another. It is impossible do deny the (psychological/emotional, physical, spiritual) benefits of belonging to a group–think about the joy that being with family and friends can bring! But, the truth is, being together–belonging–is not always easy. It is often anything but neat and tidy, pretty, clean, or cut and dried. It’s complicated, messy, and sometimes it hurts.

Understanding these “dynamics of belonging” can offer us ways to see past immediate hurts and reveal deeper unmet needs in our church family… It’s really important to understand that this is a process, NOT an event! We work towards creating a space where we each and all belong by examining our notions of belonging and how it is we put those notions into practice. It’s also about responding honestly and compassionately to any “disconnects” between professed values and action.

Here’s what our congregants had to say about belonging (There were a couple of responses I couldn’t read–my sincere apologies):
“It’s about cultivating the courage to be both strong and vulnerable. Being willing to speak up and trusting I will be heard. Belonging means doing what we can to love one another into compassion when things go wrong (as they sometimes do!). It’s about rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in the physical work of our fellowship. It’s also about knowing that I can rest in the comfort of helping hands when I need them. ”

“Committing time and energy to help others, knowing they do the same for you. Enjoying time spent in the presence of others because of who they are and mutual commitment rather than because of individual profit”

“Being willing to be engaged and genuine in our presence, with acceptance both given and received. I need to be willing to accept those not yet ready to risk being genuine.”

“Commitment, come what may and of course, not just to one another but also our principles. Hiding nothing, equal giving and receiving, mattering and responsibility… don’t have to ask for permission to belong.”

“Belonging is being genuinely welcomed and accepted for who you are–not about status, wealth, political views, gender etc. Feeling a part of the whole, needed by the group, encouraged too in growing creatively and spiritually.”

“Belonging is knowing that no matter how much or little people have in common on the surface, they are rooted together. Each part contributes to the others and the whole. Though they may grow in different directions, they are all accepted and valuable.”

“I resonate with the quote about not expecting a group to be perfect or meet a checklist but belonging to the group ANYWAY. I have tried to get folks who have stopped coming to understand this concept so far without success.”

“Belonging means: coffee hour and potlucks; a parking lot with minimal risk of breaking something; a way and place to stand up for those in need; someone to bury me.”

“Belonging–‘of’ is the key word. Defining belonging, I am ‘of’ the group, organization, congregation, or polity. I accept the individuals and the group. They are accepting of me. Support, understanding, neighborliness, are reciprocal. We may not, if ever, agree completely–we may actually have severe differences in thought and personality but agreement to acceptance is critical. We support, work, sup, and play together.”

“For me, the most important part is feeling the love and caring I feel for those I see in the congregation. It makes me feel alive and connected.”

“Belonging means being wanted by the people you want to be with.”

“Belonging: being in a place where you can be accepted without having to change who you are as a person. The reality of being loved and trusted without being judged when expressing your thoughts.”

“For five years in my 20’s my “church” was a Muslim study group. I made it clear from the outset that I would not, could not, share my group mates beliefs but could offer attendance, compassion, honesty, and sometimes, cookies. They made it clear from the outset that that–that I–was enough. So I belonged.”

“I’ve struggled with the idea of belonging my entire life. However, my biggest tribulation occurred when I took a leap of faith and moved to Florida to complete my undergraduate studies. It took me nearly a year to cope with the fact that everyone and everything I had ever known and loved was so far away. I knew no one, not a single soul. The key to accepting that [and to feel as though you belong] is to let go of your ego and give yourself to everyone you encounter. You’ll find your place!”

“To belong is to be: accepted, encouraged, loved, forgiven, embraced, comforted, and celebrated.”

“Being accepted. Being heard. Continuity. The opportunity to grow roots. Having a place in the mission and future plans. Having a way to contribute a meaningful presence.”

“Belonging means looking forward to activities with group of people whom I consider my chosen family as we are closer than friends.”

“Belonging is having purpose, being able to give to the community, being recognized for your abilities. It’s equal giving and receiving. It is not about people being on the same journey or having the same destination but about supporting each other where we are.”

“Accepting others and being accepted, for all of our flaws and strengths. Sharing gives our lives meaning. Belonging helps us learn from each other and grow. Belonging gives us a shared sense of purpose.”

“Acceptance, comfort, giving/receiving, sharing, support, commitment.”

“Belonging means I am part of a group and do not have to ask permission to belong.”

“Hiding nothing.”

“Who on Earth belongs? and to what? and why? Is belonging membership in some religious group? Is belonging remaining loyal to a Boy Scout group? Belonging means more than that to me. Belonging means with each bird, each flower, each mountain and each tree. Belonging means a loving connection between you and me.”

“The sense of welcome and companionship–the hugs of greeting!”

“Belonging…Mattering-I matter and others matter. Responsibility (stewardship). Sanctuary and solitude. Spiritual expression. Community.”

“Belonging means everybody knows your name and you have an interest in everybody and they have an interest in you. Those who belong care about the others who belong and they care about you.”

“Belonging means seeing what we have the potential to be as a community and being willing to say we can be better. It’s social justice beyond these four walls, it’s change for the betterment of people we haven’t met yet. It’s opening our doors wider, it’s more than acceptance, it’s dismantling our own perceptions of self as individuals and as a community–it’s recognizing that what we are is better than what we were, and that what we can be can be better than what we are. Belonging is where love and justice finally meet, where both self and the group finally meet–through both voice and action.”

“Belonging is feeling that I am a part of something, that I have responsibility for maintaining that thing and making it the best it can be. Also feeling that I am missed if I am not present, and loved whether I am present or not.”

“Belonging is about sharing, being open to new thoughts, being accepted not judged, feeling part of a healthy community, celebrating likes and differences.”

“Belonging, to me, is a place inside my heart. It is the sense of peace, happiness, and warmth I feel when I am with friends, helping others, putting my skills in service to others who cannot do the same. It is the heartfelt appreciation for those gifts I can give and forgiveness for those I cannot.”

Forging a place where we feel as though we belong is an ongoing process. Thank you all for your time and insights! It is a pleasure and privilege to work with so many wonderful folks at the UUFA who are so thoroughly committed to doing the sometimes difficult, but totally rewarding, work of defining and building a community of belonging!
With deep gratitude,