Cultivating a sense of belonging in a community is crucial to feeling at home. But it’s not always easy to lay down roots when you move to a new place. There can be challenges – different ones at every age and stage of life.
When I moved to New Westminster eight years ago, I had no connections. It took some fumbling around to figure out how to create a network of friends and acquaintances. Over the course of my life, I had already made two solid homes, first in Toronto and later on Bowen Island, BC. In each case, leaving the web of relationships had been painful.
How could I rebuild a life in an unknown city now? With both children in the process of flying the coop and my having a home-based business, the usual tickets for easy entry into a larger social circle were restricted to those in other circumstances, I thought.
My eventual solution may seem old hat to some, odd to others, but it has been astonishingly successful and satisfying for me. But, at first, I floundered. Political engagement brought some sense of being part of the city. As time progressed, I did make a couple of excellent friends by volunteering.
Then a flash of inspiration. I decided to join a church. I can hear the skepticism: ‘That is so old!’ Or, some of you may be thinking, ‘Of course, isn’t that obvious.’ Some of you may be dubious, ‘Don’t you choose to go to church for spiritual reasons?’ No doubt others of you are thinking: ‘Weird! We live in a secular society: what could church involvement possibly bring you? Isn’t religion the source of most of the strife in the world? Won’t science answer all the questions?” and so forth.
I’m sensitive to all those issues, but I realized that one of my major personal characteristics is that I’m a seeker – curiosity rules my internal world. I have questions that plague me daily: “Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the ‘good’ life? How do you create meaning in your life, right now and in the long term!? Why is life so confusing, complex and challenging? Why is their so much violence in the world? How can that change? What will be the true impact of climate change in the long run? What is the future of humankind? What will my children’s and children’s children’s lives look like?” And on and on.
I have a large number of bulging book shelves that attest to my insatiable quest for answers, but I was beginning to realize that reading books is one thing, having a life is another. I needed to have both. It is little wonder that I gravitated to a place where people search for ways to navigate the great mystery of life and also to seek social justice, peace and rationality.
I had a good idea already that the Unitarian Church might be a good fit. I had a passing knowledge of it. I knew it was liberal, inclusive and principle-based. It didn’t purport to answer the big questions, just to help you in your personal search. Just what I wanted.
A quick internet searched showed that Beacon Unitarian Church had services very close to my place so I had no excuse. I took the plunge and went. I knew, almost immediately, that these were my ‘peeps’. Since then, I have been swept up in the warmth and energy of that community. It is a small congregation – maybe 50 or 60 actively involved – but it is full of the most diverse, thoughtful, warm, caring, knowledgeable, inquisitive, and politically and socially engaged people I could ever meet.
How has it rocked my world? In a nutshell, it has provided a place for me to grow spiritually, to connect with others and to become involved in social and political action. My latest involvement has been with the church’s refugee sponsorship plan. We have a family coming soon!
The church has provided me with a community, a world of relationships and a sense of belonging. Don’t overlook church or a place of worship as a source of connectedness. It may bring a depth and breadth to your life that you never expected. It may give you ground from which to grow. It will certainly bring you friendships.
When it gets right down to it, a sense of home comes from the quality of personal connections you make. And really, it is the intricate web of personal connections within a city that give it its heart and soul. I think New Westminster has plenty of that.
And I am here now, fully.