By Ellen Chaddha

My religious foundation began when I was a child growing up in a small town in Southwestern Virginia. My earliest memories are as a child of about 5 years of age when my parents would take me to their small Baptist church just down the street. My father, along with a few other men, had built the small wooden church. The minister and his family were friends who lived down the street. Later on a larger church was erected in the neighborhood.

Memories include:

  • Sunday mornings and evenings attending Sunday School class and church services;
  • One instance of an elderly woman seemingly in a trance jumping around and speaking in non- understandable language (known as “speaking in tongues under the influence of the holy spirit”);
  • The Bible Christmas story presented in drama, followed by a Christmas goody bag for all of the children;
  • Being bored once and dropping my Bible out an open window, and after finding that it had been scratched, feeling very guilty;
  • Participating in a challenge by the minister to congregants to see who would be first to find certain verses of scripture in the Bible;
  • Attendance at a country open-air tabernacle during the summer followed by a picnic for everyone outside;
  • Attending a tent revival in North Carolina led by Oral Roberts where he “healed some people”; Being present when my parents were baptized in a flowing stream of cold water;
  • My own baptism by immersion in a church baptistery and how significant it was; Singing in the church choir;
  • Teaching in the Vacation Bible School program for younger children; Feeling loved and appreciated by the older members of the church; Being honored by the Women’s Auxiliary;
  • Participating in the Baptist Youth Association during my college years and arranging for a group to come to my home church for a “Youth Weekend”;
  • Attending the Baptist Youth Convention in Toronto with about 500 attendees; Speaking at my church one Sunday evening;
  • Up to this point accepting, believing, and following the tenants of the Baptist faith which consisted of a belief in the “trinity” – although I really couldn’t comprehend “the Holy Ghost” part;
  • Attending a course on World Religions during my college senior year;
  • Meeting someone from India and learning to appreciate other cultures and accepting that Baptists might not hold all of the answers;
  • Questioning how God would reveal himself to Protestants (and maybe Catholics) and not reveal himself to people around the world of different faiths;
  • Believing that there is a God who loves everyone and is not going to condemn ALL of those who do not believe as I was taught;
  • Introduction to Unitarian Universalism and finding the openness and acceptance of many paths to God;
  • Seeing Joseph Campbell on TV and listening to him on the radio and appreciating his message;
  • Participating in Hindu rituals on special occasions;
  • Visiting religious sites of other religions;
  • Wondering if God created the world and everything in it, WHO created God;
  • Accepting the scientific explanation of evolution; but also coming back to the same point – if everything evolved – WHAT was the beginning – WHERE did the building blocks come from?
  • Conviction that IT IS ALL A MYSTERY!
  • Realizing that the beliefs of atheists and agnostics are as relevant as those of others; Religion seems to depend on “faith” rather than evidence
  • The belief that we need a new religion that says mankind is one family – ALL men are my brothers and ALL women are my sisters and ALL children are my children;
  • Religious books and rituals are not as important as how one lives in relation to others;
  • Ethical principles found in the Biblical laws and scriptures of other religions provide a basis for interacting with mankind BUT they are principles which do not cause one to adhere to a particular religion.

My spiritual, ethical beliefs are simple:

  • Respect other people,
  • Help those in need,
  • Make your own life one that is truthful and wholesome

Appreciate the love, health, and joy in your life, Marvel at the beauty and mystery of it all.