With an atheist father, Buddhist stepmom, Unitarian mom and Christian grandparents, Laura Christenson could have picked from an assortment of religions.
She decided to become a devout Unitarian.
From its eye-opening ceremonies to the welcoming community Unitarianism provides, Christenson feels deeply connected to her faith. Being a Unitarian has helped the St. Paul Central junior define her personal goals as she braces for adulthood.
But what exactly does being a Unitarian mean?
“That is usually the question of the hour for us Unitarians. I actually have a little business card at home with a description of what it is,” Christenson said.
“Historically, if you know the Holy Trinity — with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — we focus on just one holy being, whether to you that’s God or an energy/spirit you have with yourself. A lot of people at our church … look more, I’d say, at the values of being Unitarian, so working towards a common good and discovering your own religious path.”
What is your relationship with Unitarianism?
Well, I could probably go to church more. I think we’re all bad about that, especially junior year, because it’s pretty busy. But I love going to services. Every time I do, the sermon always connects to how i’m feeling. It’s kind of creepy in some ways. Like, I was having a fight with my boyfriend and we went to church together. They were talking about difficult relationships as you get older and progress in them. It’s like, ‘Wow!’ It just opens your eyes. I cry at every sermon because it’s so powerful to me.
I also really like how it’s casual to the point that it’s really comfortable. It really goes down to the roots of love, peace and harmony. I think all religions strive to make you a better person, and this really just focuses on the everyday things that you can do with yourself. It is a really personal thing, being Unitarian.
How do you practice?
A lot of times it’s about day-to-day thinking, about how you can benefit the greater good by looking at your Unitarian credo and morals. I would say that I’m one of the people that says (Unitarianism) is more about being spiritual than anything inherently religious. We don’t really have rules that you necessarily have to follow. Actually, I was Catholic until my parents decided they wanted to try Unitarianism, I was baptized at St. Luke’s. My parents were married there. But I have some issues with rules and religion. For example, we don’t have a Bible or a Koran or anything that Unitarians can reference. We do have like, Christmas services. It technically is Christianity, just the most liberal form. Almost no one would identify it as Christian.
What’s your earliest memory of being religious?
We had a Sunday school type of thing — you’ll go to a reading and derive a moral out of some book. We had a yoga room for awhile. I just remember it being very eye-opening, just from the standpoint of an eight-year-old, like, ‘Wow. I actually really understand this!’ I always felt really welcome and that everyone was happy to be there.
Who are your biggest faith influences?
I have some really close friends who are Unitarian, who I have met just from going to church and also Camp UniStar … My friend Lucy definitely has been one. She’s always been so grounded in her faith, and the most committed I’ve ever seen anyone be. And our ministers. They are just stunningly intellectual. Like, I’m in awe every time I have a conversation. It’s moving to talk to them.
What are the biggest misconceptions?
That Unitarianism isn’t a religion. People will say like, ‘Oh, those are the people who don’t believe in anything.” Like it’s a joke. Also, no one really understands the true definition of Unitarianism. I would love for people to come and reach out to our congregation and sit in on a service.
How do you deal with those misconceptions?
A few of my friends came to a service and were so confused. And I told them to look at it through more of a moral standpoint. What can you do to be a better person and be reminded of that? We go to church to be reminded of that and hear other people’s viewpoints on that. I think family is a really strong thing in our church, too. There are a lot of gay and lesbian couples, and it’s really cool that they feel welcome there. It really stresses community. Like, I wonder with other religions if it’s easier to get lost. I could see people struggling to understand like, ‘Why am I not allowed to date this person?’ I’ve never once felt that way with Unitarianism.
How do you think your generation views religion in general?
I can ask people, ‘Do you believe in God?’ And it seems like it’s either, ‘I don’t go to church, I don’t want to talk about this,’ or ‘Yes. I definitely do. It’s been a part of my life since I was a baby.’ I have a Lutheran friend who hates going to church, and I think it’s because she doesn’t feel that connection. It is a label sometimes. I think a lot of people say they believe and I don’t know if they really do.
Is there anything you would change about your faith?
I wish more people knew about it, knew what it was. And didn’t have misconceptions about it. And I wonder if it almost pushes people’s comfort zones with religion. But I wish that they could know that it’s … just so welcoming.