Good Morning. I’m Jonathan Wolf, here to describe to you my spiritual journey. As some of you who came to the special meeting on fossil fuel divestment a few weeks ago know, the last phase of the journey so far ends with a terrible case of poison ivy, both arms covered in blisters, and my left eye swollen shut. After hearing about my journey, you may think it’s karma.
Unlike for most UUs, my spiritual journey started against my will. I didn’t volunteer; I was drafted, at age zero. My dad grew up here in Belmont, going to First Church, and became a UU minister. So there I was.
His first church was in Caribou, Maine, which is the first place I can remember living. Most of the neighborhood kids were Catholic, and quick to tell me, when I was 5 years old, that I was going to hell, apparently some fiery place underground. I convinced my sister we couldn’t drag our feet on the swing set any more, lest we break through and burn to death. But one day my dad was digging up dandelions in the yard, using a poker. I followed behind him, hands clasped behind my back, peering into each new hole he created. At some point he looked up at me, I pointed down, and said, “There’s no smoke!”. He said, “What?”. I said, “If hell is down there, there should be smoke.” Thus ended my belief in hell, and the Catholic girl from next door.
Shortly after that we moved to Falmouth, Maine, where my dad was minister of a new church in Portland. I went to church every week, of course, plus potlucks, Halloween parties, Ferry Beach weekends, church fairs, etc. And people from church called our house at all hours, which could be pretty funny when my voice changed and people thought I was my dad.
In almost every way that church in Portland was the opposite of our church here—a brand new, modern-style building; a smaller congregation drawing from many towns, with a warm but almost “anti-god” mentality that maybe came from its Universalist roots. There were no bible readings, no fancy organ, no stained glass that I can recall, and my dad never wore a robe. But the church grew very quickly under enthusiastic leadership. It was an exciting place full of vibrant people.
Spiritually I was a complete rationalist, which led to an emotional crisis when I was 11 or 12 years old and I concluded that my death was inevitable, and that there was no afterlife. As if that weren’t bad enough, shortly thereafter I took an earlier version of the OWL course—taught by my own parents and their friends. Yikes!
I relished my role as church hellion, escaping from classes and occasionally distracting the congregation during a service. My dad would get even with me, sometimes turning my antics into fodder for his sermons.
Fast forward –I graduate from college, rent a house Belmont, and meet Leslie. No church. We marry, have kids, they’re out of diapers, and she utters those words, “Maybe we should go to church”. I growl back, “I’ve done my time.” But, we meet these great people in Belmont, mostly through our kids. She keeps saying, “You know, they go to First Church”. I resist. My mom wisely tells Leslie to go without me. She does.
But finally, I do go, and I like it. I like the people, the community, the history and sense of connection—the opportunity to transcend yourself.
Someone asks me to join the Membership Committee. I go to circle dinners, run some events at Sandy Island, work on lighting for the yearly musicals, and get asked to be on the ministerial Search Committee. I enjoy being involved. I eventually join the Parish Board, then the Finance Committee. I even sometimes help my good friend Bob Corning change the light bulbs in the church parking lot (we did two yesterday). One of those lights was, until recently, covered with poison ivy. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was planted by a Catholic girl from Caribou, Maine.