Keeper of the Flame: Teresa Rowell
This is the second article of 2017 in a series where I, Lee Elliott Carnes, President of the Board of Trustees, ask questions to the Leaders of our gatherings. This month, Teresa C. Rowell, Member At-Large of the Board of Trustees and a founder of the Salisbury Gathering, shares her experience and wisdom. The first meeting of the Salisbury Gathering was on November 11, 2012 at Temple Israel with 17 members, 13 children and 17 non-members in attendance.
Lee: What was your first experience with Unitarian Universalism?
Teresa: My first experience with Unitarian Universalism was through my little brother’s kindergarten at the local Montessori school in Knoxville, TN. I think it must have been about 1980? I was a 4th grader in a plaid uniform. The school rented space from Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC). My memory is of going along with my mother to a dark building filled with many plants in macramé holders, long-haired teachers in flared jeans, and lots of happy, dirty kids playing on swings. My family was Catholic, and I attended church and Sacred Heart Catholic School from 1st through 8th grade. By my sophomore year in high school, I had drifted away from Catholicism to what my mother joking referred to as The Church of the Deep Mattress, aka Sleeping In On Sundays. While I adored being part of the choir, I had never felt a connection to my faith while growing up, and it felt liberating to finally be free of church. None of my friends were “churchies” either and I continued on in this way until 1988, when I met the young man who is now my spouse; Eric Hake. Eric was raised UU at TVUUC and so when he told me he was UU, I sort of knew what that was, or at least, I knew where their funky place of worship was located. When we decided to marry in 1990, we had the idea that a UU minister would probably be willing to marry us. The woman who made my wedding dress, Jimmy Benedict, had deep ties to UU’ism in Tennessee (*fun fact! If you go to The Mountain, see if you can find the Benedicts listed on the wall of volunteers!) and was part of the then, brand new Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Oak Ridge, TN. Jimmy encouraged us to reach out to her minister, Reverend Dilman Sorrells. Rev. Sorrells graciously met with us a few times in her sunny office, helped us plan our ceremony, and married us in my mother’s garden on July 21, 1990 – all for $50, no less! So, my first experiences with Unitarian Universalism were ones of openness, welcome, flexibility, and fun. Traits that I still experience today at PUUC!
Lee: What were your memorable experiences of the Salisbury or University Gatherings in 2016?
Teresa: Some of my memorable experiences for 2016 involve attending my first ever Southern Unitarian Universalist Leadership Experience last July with then Pres-Elect, Lee Carnes. We spent a hot and soggy week with UU’s from the Southern Region. That week changed how I thought about my religion’s place in the 21st century. At Salisbury, we participated in our 4th joint Thanksgiving meal with Temple Israel and John Calvin Presbyterian church. This shared meal has been held each Thanksgiving week since about 1964, so it is an event filled with much history and I feel humbled to now be a part of this tradition. Lastly, in Salisbury, our small band of music leaders participated in our first ever choir performance. Led by Orland Carra, 5 of us performed an a capella version of The Irish Blessing, in 3 part harmony, as a surprise for Rev. Robin during her final sermon at Salisbury.
Lee: So what made you so passionate about Unitarian Universalism?
Teresa: I think my passion for this faith sort of crept up on me while I was busy going about actively denying any need for organized religion in my life. Until 2008, I had successfully fended off my husband’s efforts to get me to attend UU church in any of the various towns we lived in. However, in 2008, we were living in Spokane, WA and we began attending services at UUCS. Our kindergarten-aged daughter loved it, and to my total surprise, so did I! After fighting needing religion in my life for so long, I finally felt my spirit relax, so to speak. I joined their Women’s Choir and finally let religious music back into my life after a long, long drought. I had found a place where I could bring my whole self each Sunday.
Lee: What was the question you hoped that I would ask?
Teresa: I was hoping you would ask me how it’s possible to be an Atheist and still be UU. It took me many years to be able to comfortably say out loud that I believe a person can be both religious and not believe in a god. For me UU’ism is the perfect fit for my spirit. I try and be the poster child for outreach in this area of Rowan County for those who don’t feel like they fit into the various religious traditions, to say with joy to them, “Come and see what it feels like to bring your whole self to church on Sunday!” Despite fighting it for so long, it appears that at age 48, I’ve turned into a “church lady.” I think my high school aged self would laugh at me now, but that’s ok.