Come Into the Quiet
Connecticut College alumna Samantha Herndon tells a moving narrative of the importance UU campus ministry played in her life. -Ed
From my first weeks on the neo-gothic, arboreal campus of Connecticut College, I found myself drawn to the chapel there. Its stern spire and stone exterior gave way to warmth, deep-seated sofas and a calming sense of spirit inside. I had several friends who attended the chapel’s weekly meeting of the Unitarian Universalist group – “Come into the quiet,” the posters featuring chalices proclaimed. I welcomed the thought of a break from the stress of preparing for graduation, studying abroad, choosing and changing majors, and constant reminders that I was 1,200 miles away from my family.
Even so, it took several invitations from my good friends H.W. and P.E. before I came to a UU Campus Ministry group meeting, led by the grounded, supportive, fabulous Reverend Carolyn Patierno of All Souls Congregation in New London, Connecticut. The meetings suited me in a way that was new and welcome.
Raised by an Atheist and a Presbyterian, I had felt spiritually curious yet confused for a long time. In high school I was one of the founders of a group called SANS: Secular Alliance of North Springs, at our Atlanta art and science magnet school. Though I identified with secular humanism, a life devoid of the unknown and the spiritual felt just as wrong to me as the stark and homophobic doctrine followed by many practitioners of the fundamental religions surrounding us in the South. I wanted something else, but I didn’t know what.
In a room in the basement of that beautiful chapel, we gathered on Sunday nights to mark the end of one week and the graceful transition into the next. We celebrated with a moment of silence, lit candles for our joys and sorrows, shared about our week, and discussed issues on campus, in the larger community and in the world. Our group was fortunate to not only have remarkable student leaders, but also to benefit from the spiritual guidance of Reverend Carolyn. We had the gift of another community member who regularly attended, Georgiann, a fellow southerner who always brought a delicious homemade treat for the group. It was so helpful to contextualize the learning we were doing in our classes and in our collegiate lives; Campus Ministry helped to connect us to the outside world, to ground us, and to teach us to live with one another as companions in our respective spiritual journeys.
When I realized that a person could be a UU and also be a Buddhist, Christian, Agnostic, Jew – whatever – or none of the above, it was so freeing. The Seven Principles resonated powerfully with me. I wanted to explore ethical reasons to do what I felt strongly to be right, supporting women, supporting workers, not turning away from struggle. Our Campus Ministry group gave me a way to explore my own faith and to connect with a community that overlapped with but was different from my groups of friends.
Reverend Carolyn’s Sunday night campus ministry helped me to connect with folks from the United Church of Christ, Naturalists, Quakers, Muslims, and members of many other faiths. Through the group we dealt with joys in our personal and academic lives, with tragedy among the student body, and with the coming of age and adult maturity that college students must gain. It was a transformative experience. Without it I may not have connected with another powerful influence in my life, the Unitarian Universalist housing cooperative Lucy Stone in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, where I lived while serving in AmeriCorps after graduating. I value the friendships I made with everyone who passed through our Campus Ministry group, and it remains a highlight of my college experience to this day.