I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist all my life. I’m used to people asking me “What’s UU?” all the time, so by now, I’ve got the speech down. But what I didn’t know was that by coming to Grinnell, I’d have to ask myself the question in a whole new way.
I’ve had to (and chosen to) sort through new issues arising from contact with new experiences and different people: UUs, Christians, Pagans, Jews, agnostics, and others. Tons of different religious groups exist on campus, but even beyond the groups, people always have something to say or ask about religion. And being around all these new people makes you think about where you stand, and why others choose to stand differently. So all those late night talks/really-anytime-you’re-interested talks really do happen because we’re a curious, open, and opinionated bunch.
I joined the UU group right away when I came to Grinnell and started co-leading it my second semester. This year, I still lead, and I’m a part of the worship team we’ve created. We gather over Thursday night dinner every week. We share news about our weeks, light the chalice (our religious symbol), sing some songs, and discuss issues that are important to us. We have a small and lively group and we’ve even made puppy chow (a college staple containing Chex cereal, chocolate, peanut butter, and powdered sugar).
I’m also a member of other religious groups on campus. I attend the Grinnell College Christian Fellowship events, and I’ve gone to some of Chalutzim’s (the Jewish student organization) Friday night services. I am part of the Religious Life Council, which includes a representative from each religious student group on campus. We host events throughout the year to promote interfaith dialogue at Grinnell. I am also in the pre-seminary group, because I plan to become a minister at midlife. I’ve consistently found many venues to explore religion here. The groups are both intentional and open, meaning people consciously gather to reflect and act on their beliefs, and at the same time they’re welcoming to others who see things differently.
You may have heard that Grinnell is a pretty liberal school. And that’s true, but it certainly doesn’t mean that people here don’t believe in anything or don’t have values or don’t like to talk about religion. We tend to engage each other about what we believe and why, on religious issues and non-religious issues alike. We aren’t afraid to be challenged or vulnerable, and we are also committed to avoiding ignorance. So we ask questions and seek out dialogues in order to understand.
People always tell you that you learn both in and out of the classroom, and since being at Grinnell, I’ve realized it’s true because we make it so. Learning certainly does go beyond the classroom, and even beyond the student groups, because we engage each other in ways that are both purposeful and comfortable. So we keep on asking not just “What is UU?” (fill in the religion of choice), but also “Why do you choose to be one and how does that impact the way you act in the world?” Then we all keep on learning.
Amen to that!
Ariel Herman '09 is an Independent major from Oak Park, Illinois.