The centerpiece of my life in Chicago was a little spiritual community called Wicker Park Grace, and I’m about to go out of my mind trying to replace it. Wicker Park Grace filled a deep spiritual void. I had always been rather overtly religious, an adherent to dogma that was more or less unquestioning. I say more or less because no matter what dogma I was following at the time, I would always end up questioning it and challenging it, no matter how often I was told that I had to clam up and just believe, or my wonderful, loving god was going to toss my soul into an eternity of fire and brimstone.
I ultimately found myself following three religions in my life, confident through all three that it was the right one. In all of them, doubts crept up, and I kept trying to suppress them, confident that all of my questions would be answered on the day of my own judgement. Well, for two of them I believed in a day of judgement. My third and final religion was atheism, which comes with expectations of beliefs all of its own, complete with dogmatized ideas and people who evangelize and admonish you for thinking anything different. I still refuse to acknowledge the existence of any god, but after reading about the de-baptism ceremonies so many atheists are subjecting themselves to, I called bullshit, it’s now a religion, over and out.
Wicker Park Grace was the first place I ever knew that allowed and encouraged me to ask my questions. I had stumbled into the place trying to get to a meeting with a political organization I was with. Since the organization didn’t have a home at the time, it was switching its meeting places regularly, and I showed up at the wrong place. Not wanting to take the walk back home through the cold at the time, I accepted an invitation to a prayer service by the minister, Nanette, who I had actually met a couple of months before. I learned at that service that I wasn’t the only one who had the urge to ask questions about the scriptures and traditions my church and mosque had fed me. That day I began another journey of the soul, one which destroyed every boundary my mentally programmed divinity had ever erected. I questioned and pondered without any fear of any god’s wrath for the first time in my life, criticized every scripture and belief which I had tried to rationalize before, and was encouraged to do it by Nanette herself.
Many of the people at Wicker Park Grace had been hurt, lost, and otherwise angered by faiths they had tried hard to believe in. They became my good friends and supporters. At my final service at Wicker Park Grace, I was given a public sendoff blessing, a ritual which was truly touching.
This movement, called the Emergent movement, is relatively new, and that means it hasn’t popped up in a lot of places yet. The loss of Wicker Park Grace was a hard blow because it started me on a path I want to stay on. Each Emergent church is different, and so I realize that looking for a place exactly like Wicker Park Grace is a dead end. My newly set path requires open-mindedness to other religious formats. One of the first things I did when I arrived in Buffalo was begin a search for a like-minded spiritual community.
Last week, my folks were kind enough to take me to Trinity, a church on Delaware Avenue. At Wicker Park Grace, we had a service called Jazz Vespers in which we recited poetry and had musicians play meditative jazz music. The service at Trinity that day used the same basic idea and layout, only they had used a real piano to play the music, and my mother said she enjoyed watching me talk to random people after the service. I would like to visit another place called Unity, which is considerably further north on Delaware Avenue, but as I’m currently in the suburbs, I have to be patient and wait for my chance.
This is more than about just finding another Emergent community, though. It’s also about finding an Emergent community that’s right for me, and trying to force something that isn’t there will just cause the same sense of unease I found as a Christian, Muslim, and Atheist. And so, as I set into the newest chapter of my spiritual life, I’m nervously looking forward to the people I could meet in Buffalo, finding a community where I’m free to ask any question and practice any ritual without repercussion.
I’m never going to forget Wicker Park Grace. The message, openness, and friends I made there left the largest void in my heart after leaving Chicago. It’s because of Wicker Park Grace that I’ve learned to embrace spiritual skepticism as my primary spiritual identity. I was lost through three faiths when I walked into that first prayer service. Wicker Park Grace didn’t show me the light, but it showed me that being lost may be the best way to see clearly.