— The Derecho Storm, “Nones,” and Grant Deadlines

July 12, 2012 at 9:00 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 4 Comments

This fallen maple toppled over Great Falls St. two blocks from our house. It smashed a car and damaged a house. A sister tree repeated the same amount of damage around the corner. Photo by June Herold ©2012-13

The derecho storm that ripped through the Washington DC area a week ago slammed six-story 150+ year old trees across streets in my neighborhood smashing cars and impaling a few houses. No one to my knowledge was hurt. Meanwhile, a heatwave of 105+ degree weather baked the area for several days after the 60 mph winds. Forgettabout power. I’d forgotten what it’s like to sleep on a portch, or in a hammock or in an army cot in the yard. It ain’t fun if transformers all around in the neighborhood blow every two minutes or so.

It didn’t occur to me to turn to my church as things got worse. I’ve been perplexed by this oversite and contemplating reasons for it. Is it because I’m still too new to organized religion to deeply understand that the church is my home, my safe harbor?

I’ve stopped to consider all this because of a discussion this week with three other church members. I learned that a few people slept at the church and came together for support and for electricity to juice up phones and computers. Meanwhile, members helped each other out at their homes as well. And from it all, a new effort to resurrect and update the 911 emergency plan arose.

It was created at the time of the attack on the Twin Towers in NYC and on the Pentagon, which is within two miles of our church. The surrounding communities poured into the church at that time. And many who were served then eventually became members. They experienced, first hand, the healing powers and sacred presence of community.

I love my church. It is home. It’s were I was married. It holds parts of my life and people I love with whom I have been in pastoral relationships.

During the storm and aftermath, Heather and I did check on elderly neighbors, my elderly parents, and people physically around us. But neither one of us thought to check in with church.

I can easily come up with lists of distractions that side swiped us: We couldn’t drink the water unless we boiled it, and with no electricity, that wasn’t gonna happen. So what are we going to do? Gas stations weren’t open and driving to find groceries became a problem. No phones; no internet. Our electric bikes were charged but not enough to get us to my parents assisted living apartment and then back home.

Does my oversight mean that the meaning of church still hasn’t sunk into my bones? Is it because my pre UU life (everything before 2009) didn’t include even a hint of organized religion, meaning I had no religious identity?

The questions bring me to the “Nones” and to lapsed UUs. The label “Nones” refers to young adults who do not self identify with religion but believe in values that align to our UU principles. Many of them blindly disdain organized religion. Lapsed UUs are those among us who identify with UUism but for many reasons do not want to go church.

UUA Prez Rev. Peter Morales blogged recently about “Nones” and how the values they hold align directly to UU principles. His blog also discusses lapsed UUs, a subject that I also find interesting.

I’m 51 and not in the young adult demographic of the Nones. But “noneness” is something I struggle with and will for the rest of my life.

Our principles and values are easy to identify with and our congregations seem comfortable to experience. But when we join UU churches, it can take many years to begin to understand what radical hospitality means as a practice and not just as a value. It takes a while to understand how deeply religious practice can enrich our lives.

For me, intentional practices are the only way I know to arrive at oneness, and to escape “noneness.” It ain’t easy — especially transcendance, which I happen to find harder than forgiveness.

The religious reasons we come together, the sacred presence of us in community as a religious body and not just as a kind of municipal community center, is something that “noneness” may be “wired” to resist.

I believe we need to consider first how we unravel noneness. Not where – whether it’s in an emerging church, community ministry, a brick-and-mortar congregation, or online. But how.

First, we need to listen and ask many, many questions of the “Nones” and not rely only on sources of data and research conducted by other organizations who are not accountable to the specific needs and interests of UUism. That information is a good backdrop. But I doubt we will learn what we need in order to create a strategy and tactical plan for engendering oneness. We need to cultivate large groups of Nones to collaborate with us on how to make church potentially meaningful to them.

The storm had unexpected religious significance for me. It also had consequences from which I’m only now emerging: I lost several weeks of grant work. Meanwhile, I was already about three weeks behind in writing all of the documentation.

Despite surge protection and a back up server, I lost key sections of it and the associated notes and research. The last backup of my server occurred two months prior. Live and learn. But..ouch. I’m rewriting it and will begin to post portions of it toward the end of July with the goal of it all being up by mid August. I am now also backing everything up to a thumb drive. If we lose power again, I’m grabbing it along with our computers and an air mattress and heading to my church.


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  1. I completely relate to this post. I find such comfort in the UU church, but I have realized there is a difference between intellectual comfort and emotional comfort, and UU satisfies the former in me, not so much the later. Of course, this isn’t a short-coming of the UU community. I know should I need emotional comfort, there are arms open and waiting for me to simply walk into them. Yet somehow, I find this hard to do.

    Our UU minister once did a sermon on the religious baggage so many UUs have and it really resonated with me. I’m not sure where my baggage comes from — I never had bad experiences, and except for a few weird moments when an older sister dragged me to her charismatic church after she became born again (a cult she has since abandoned, thank goodness), it was never forced on me. And yet, organized religion and the notion of God have always made me feel uncomfortable, so much so that I really had to get over some of the more traditional feeling rituals in our church including hymn singing.

    • Thanks so much Michelle for sharing.

      • ooops. Somehow the last part of my comment got cut off … here’s the rest of it:

        But hearing that sermon, and going through our UU new member program has really opened me up in a way that I hope one day will lead me to indeed walk into the arms of the UU church for emotional comfort during times of need. In the mean time, I am grateful for the immense impact it has

  2. […] a former “none,” June Herold writes about her struggle to unlearn individualism and learn to live in religious community . The religious reasons we come together, the sacred presence of us in community as a religious […]

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