This I Believe: Rachel Xydes (2021)

When I think of the word god, the way that I feel when I listen to stirring music comes to mind, or the awe that I feel when I walk in the woods…the love I have for my children. When I think of the word god, the childlike fascination I experience every time I learn something new, comes to mind. The excitement for knowledge yet to be obtained, the unknowing and the mystery, the feeling when I create something with my hands. When I put something beautiful into the world. That feeling of being in community. And what happens when an individual or a group of individuals work together to do something important. The feeling of sitting in a room with others and just being.

To me, god is everything. God is in the connection between things. The cycles we see in people, in the planet, in the universe. And there is this great mysticism that we as humans all tap into, like an underground river that we access through the various moments and experiences that stir us. White Bear UU became a fresh well spring for me. A new point of access. Another way to tap into god. And by the way, I don’t often use that word. But for the purposes of my story, it works.

I knew when I walked into the building for the first time that there was something for me in that place. The natural light, the beautiful art. I remember stepping into the sanctuary and looking at the trees through those windows and thinking yes. I can feel that river under my feet.

But commitment to a community has to go beyond that for me. I can find god in the woods, in my morning cup of coffee, in a conversation or a radical act of justice…I only need to be paying attention. So I was pleasantly surprised to open the sanctuary doors and hear a call to action. My first Sunday visiting, Victoria was speaking about trans rights and expressing a call for inclusion through the community.

I was taught by my father to always walk in with questions. And to be clear I don’t mean criticisms. Questions for the sake of knowledge, understanding and growth. One of the biggest for me walking into a new church, was will this community not just bind me together with a diverse group of individuals that share certain crucial beliefs, but also stir in me the drive to go beyond what I’m already doing. To not become complacent, too settled, to not live in a belief that there’s nothing more to be uncovered. To continue to see my privilege and use it appropriately without doing harm. To lift up others. To always be healing. Wow that’s a lot to ask of a church. And a lot to ask of myself. But I knew that White Bear had the potential to help with those journeys.

This is not the first Unitarian Universalist Church that I’ve called home. In addition to trying several others in the twin cities, I attended a UU youth group in high school. My father is a Methodist minister and he was often the guest speaker at a nearby UU Church. I had other friends who attended there and my father encouraged me, as he always did, to experience something new. So I did. And while the very reasonable sermons appealed to me, I quickly realized that I was no longer tapping into my spirituality at that particular church.

So I went back to the Methodist community that raised me. A small congregation known as Trinity Church of Austin. A place that my father had been appointed to in the mid-80s. He’s still there and will be retiring next summer. For any of you familiar with the operations at a Methodist church, you might be wondering how a Methodist pastor could end up in one congregation for 33 years. The answer is that my father made good trouble. He spent his career making good trouble knowing, as he put it, that his children were watching him. And we were. He also knew that his bishop would not be willing to risk moving him to potentially “corrupt” another congregation. Which is why I was fortunate enough to grow up with many of the same loving church members, instilling in me a gratitude for community that still beckons me back from the woods and into the church today.

My father, the man that was my example of integrity growing up, was a person who spoke out, a person who marched, a person who risked his career many times to make a space for those in the world who had none. He took a small dying Methodist congregation and compassionately helped it to evolve into the first reconciling congregation in Austin, TX. And by the time I was in jr high school, I fully understood why he had to be the person to speak out and get arrested and take risks. Because he had the privilege to do so and he had a belief that as a Christian, he was called to follow in the example of the man Jesus and fight for those on the margins. As he says, the mythology he chooses to follow is one of resurrection. Of new beginnings. Of radical change.

I grew up in a church with drum circles, Wiccan priestesses, a food pantry, and eventually a fully functional homeless shelter. I grew up in a church with my silly singing, rainbow flag wearing, good trouble making activist dad and a large number of members from the LGBTQIA+ community. I know I took this for granted when I was younger. When I had a Wiccan/Christian hybrid confirmation ceremony in a Methodist church at age 12 because the code Harm None But Do What thou wilt felt in line with my beliefs above all else….well I definitely took that for granted.

Also being surrounded by a rainbow of individuals in a faith community that celebrated them in the early 90s. I know I took that for granted when I eventually came out to my parents, and did so with very little fear because the example I had been given was of love and celebration. That example also gave me the strength to look past my mother leaving and the difficulties that it created in our home so that I could feel joy for her knowing that she had finally found the courage to come out to my father as a lesbian and find a love that made her whole for the first time in her life.

Needless to say, my adult search for a new community has been challenging. I knew what I was looking for….and I was no longer taking for granted the importance of the unique community I’d grown up in, especially knowing that I wanted my own children to have what I had.

When I sit inside of our sanctuary, I feel community, I feel good trouble being stirred up. I see growth and pain. I see moments of peace. I see my kids playing. I see new friends that I love dearly. I hear For the Beauty of the Earth echoed in the congregation’s love of this planet and in the sermons our ministers give to us. I feel the trees and the cups of coffee and the reach we have into our neighborhood community, our city, state, country, planet. And I feel hope and clarity when I experience all of this.