This I Believe: Sharon Gooch (2023)

Good Morning. My name is Sharon Gooch. My Pronouns are she/her.

I first found my way to this church in the spring of 2015. I had been seeing a therapist for depression and anxiety for a couple of months. I talked to her about how, as I worked to understand and sort out my feelings, my behavior and actions were hurting people that I loved.  I talked to her about how alone I felt.  She suggested that I “find a community” and recommended that I check out this church. So I dutifully attended every Sunday for several months that spring. I sat in the back pew, trying to blend in the pillar, and the minute the service ended, I hurried out, often beating the ministers out of the double doors of the sanctuary. Obviously, I didn’t quite understand the finer points of “finding a community.”

My childhood was chaotic, marked by domestic abuse, alcoholism, and poverty. My parents had a nasty divorce, and then they both went on to remarry three more times each. Step-fathers, step-mothers, step-siblings, and various other folks drifted in and out of my life. I learned to keep my head down, my mouth shut, and to never, ever  ask for help. This is not a bad strategy when the goal is to survive. However, it is not a great strategy to thrive. Which is how I ended up in the therapist’s office, struggling to understand my feelings and behavior, struggling to do more than just survive.

When my therapist suggested this church, I was deeply skeptical. My religious education as a child was a mixed bag. I was baptized Catholic and attended a variety of Christian churches growing up, including, I think, a traditional Baptist church. I have a vague memory of watching a full body baptism and thinking that it looked like good fun and I needed to figure out how to get in that action. I went through confirmation as an ELCA Lutheran, and later, I got married in an ELCA Lutheran church as well. Beyond that, I didn’t really step inside a church except for weddings and funerals. I was, and still am, an atheist. I didn’t know what a Unitarian Universalist was. To me, church and god always went hand-in-hand, and I just wasn’t sure how I could fit into any church.

So that spring, I sat in the back of the church, and I listened and learned. I learned about the history of Unitarian Universalism, and I listened to sermons about the values of this particular church. One Sunday, Victoria talked about “toxic individualism” and the importance of community. On another Sunday, Luke talked about how to “do church” and the importance of taking an active role in the church community. I felt a bit called out. Perhaps my race to the parking lot after the service was not quite the best approach to finding a community.

Then that summer, I started bringing my husband Minh and my two kiddos, Owen and Logan, along with me. I had originally attended alone because I wanted to scout out the church and make sure I wasn’t inadvertently joining a cult or something. Again, I cannot emphasize enough how little I knew about Unitarian Universalism.

In the spring of 2016, we went through the new membership classes, and we became members of the church, and soon after that, I started teaching the Religious Education classes for my kids. When I say teaching, I was following the excellent curriculum provided by Amy and the UU Association. I know this sounds cliche, but while teaching the RE kids, I was learning about what it meant to be a UU. The curriculum focused a lot on explaining the 7 (hopefully soon to be 8) principles to the kids. A half dozen 10 year olds, with their observations and questions, helped me evaluate and articulate my beliefs.

With that in mind, I want to give a quick shout out to the current Coming of Age class. We learned together when they were 3rd and 4th graders. Thank you for being part of my learning journey!

As these wonderful kids and I worked on learning the principles, I was particularly drawn to the 7th principle. The 7th principle states “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” In other words, we are ALL in this together: the land, the water, the sky,  the plants, the animals, the people. We are a community. We thrive together. As Unitarian Universalists, we are specifically saying “We need each other. We cannot do this alone.” And I love that. I love that we feel that this interdependence on each other is so important that we explicitly state it.

Now I am at a point in my life where I can look back and see that although I was discouraged from reaching out for help and although I felt alone, I wasn’t really alone. So many people and institutions helped me. Food stamps and the free school lunch program kept me from going hungry. Subsidized housing and other welfare benefits kept me from being homeless. Teachers, so many excellent teachers, fostered a love for learning and reading in me. They gently guided and supported me as I navigated the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Close friends provided emotional support in tough times. In my professional life, co-workers and bosses have provided advice, opportunities, and support throughout my career. Even when I wasn’t asking, people were there for me. None of us can really thrive alone.

Over the years, I have worked on engaging in our church community, as my time and energy has allowed. I have participated in various groups and classes. I have met so many thoughtful, intelligent, and kind people here. That said, engaging in our community, any community really, still does not come naturally to me. I often feel awkward and out of place. I take solace in the idea that most of us feel like this from time to time. So I keep putting myself out there and leaning in when and where I can. I have learned that being part of a community is continuous work, but so worth it. Because although we don’t always share the same beliefs and opinions, I like being part of a community of “like-hearted” people. (By the way, I just learned this “like-hearted” terminology this week in the “Trans Inclusion” class that I am participating in here at this church.)

I would like to close by sharing this picture with you all. This was taken on the day my husband and I signed the membership book here at church. You all might recognize the two fantastic kids in this picture. The taller one is Owen, who did the chalice lighting today, and the shorter one is Logan, who spoke about their belief box today. This church, this community, has been a place of these kids to learn and grow, a place where they can be their authentic selves. You all have helped me raise these wonderful young people. And for that I will always be grateful. Thank you.