By Julia Ramsey || Contributing Writer
This semester, Interfaith Student Council is going to focus on and feature a different religion each week, with the goal of increasing religious literacy and highlighting the role faith plays in students’ lives. Through this project, the ISC hopes to expand students’ understanding of the religious diversity at Franklin & Marshall and provide an opportunity for students to learn about the backgrounds and practices of their fellow peers.
This week, the ISC is focusing on Unitarian Universalism and will be distributing flyers around campus with interesting facts about the religion. My student profile interview is with Hazel Bess, a member of Interfaith Student Council, who is Unitarian Universalist (UU).
JR: How would you describe Unitarian Universalism to someone who’s never heard of it before?
HB: The goal of Unitarian Universalism is to allow individuals to search for truth while being supported by the community of the church. Individuals share their own experiences and ideas, and guide one another in developing their personal theologies. It’s casual and personal, and centered around democracy and allowing each voice to be heard.
JR: What does being Unitarian Universalist mean to you?
HB: I became a UU in middle school, a time when (for most people, I think) it feels like no one is listening. I was painfully shy; I think it was months before I opened my mouth at all in Religious Education (UU Sunday school involves learning the basics of other religions, primarily Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism) but I worked up to it. I saw the way that the other kids were paid attention to, their ideas given serious thought by the teachers as well as the rest of the class, most of them lifelong UUs. When I started to talk, to contribute in classes and make friends, I found that people really listened to me, gave my ideas weight and serious consideration.
In ninth grade I went through Coming of Age with the rest of the kids in my class. We spent the year learning about the history of Unitarianism and Universalism, and their eventual merging. We travelled to Boston to see where it began. This was when I started to understand that religions don’t come out of nowhere, they come from people who want to see the truth and beauty in the world. Religion was once described to us as a room with many differently shaped and colored windows, and the light that shines through them all is the light of truth. People gather together under the windows that appeal to them, absorbing the same truth. None of them are right or wrong, just different ways of seeing. I felt that I had found a place under one of these windows.
At the end of the year, each member of the ninth grade Coming of Age class delivered a personal credo. Each of us stood up in front of the congregation and declared what we personally had come to believe in. I had never felt heard in this way or so valued for my opinion. I had never seen my peers in this light before, so wise and so thoughtful.
I’ve become a better listener, a better speaker, a better community member.
JR: What do you think is commonly misunderstood about your religion?
HB: There is often some confusion about whether Unitarian Universalism can be considered a real religion since it doesn’t necessitate belief in a deity or any kind of higher power. UUs believe that developing a personal spiritual relationship with the world with an open mind and heart is the purpose of religion, and that’s what we set out to do.
(Interested in learning more about the Interfaith Student Council? Email ISC@fandm.edu!)
Junior Julia Ramsey is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.