'Daddy, why don't we go to church?' Son's question makes a lapsed Catholic into a (so far) Unitarian

March 31, 1996|By ROB HIAASEN

My son and I munched silently on our Honey Nut Cheerios. Sunday breakfast was going smoothly, too smoothly.

"Daddy, why don't we go to church?" my 6-year-old asked.

I have no idea.

Well, Dad, why don't you go to church?

The part I didn't tell my son: I was raised a Catholic and went off to Mass every Sunday while my father stayed put in his La-Z-Boy and watched the Miami Dolphins beat everyone (these were the old days.) I sat and stood and knelt through all those Masses and tried to listen to all those homilies and received all those communion wafers, without missing a single hand-off. Then I turned 14 and turned sharply away from the church and in my small mind, I lumped all churches together in one bad pot and gave nothing a spiritual chance for years and years until about a month ago when my son looked at my over breakfast and said "Can I have more Honey Nut Cheerios?" and, by the way:

"Daddy, why don't we go to church?"

I'd rather field sex questions. But those questions are at least six months away. I had no answer for my son. My wife -- raised a Methodist but in the mood for another church -- couldn't or wouldn't bail me out. She wanted an answer, too. I was the hold-up; I was the hold-out.

After breakfast, I told my wife yes. Yes, I'd try a Unitarian church in the area. The kids could go to Sunday School there, and we could go to church there. I said I'd try. I didn't know anything about Unitarians; it sounded like a non-church to me or better yet, a rest home for spiritual misfits, closet heathens, and fallen-off-a-cliff Catholics. A home for me?

By now, my family has been going to a Unitarian Church for more than a month. I haven't officially joined; I must be over-extending my guest privileges. The kind woman, an official greeter, suggests I wear a visitor's name-tag, but I can't even make that commitment.

For the kids, the classes offer bits of instruction about God and prayer and spirit. Snacks are offered - Fritos and cupcakes and such things. I asked my son if he likes the place. He said it's pretty good, then he wiped cupcake off his face. My younger daughters like it, so I think we have the children part covered. They will not grow up without an introduction and exposure to a church; one parental worry down, 499 to go.

My wife likes going to the Unitarian church, but she tends to be the social, open-minded type. She dove in already and contributed a huge salad to a feed-the-hungry project (I offered to cut up the carrots.) She talks to people after the service. They know her name -- which I consider a severe breach of family security.

The service is fine with me. The choir is quite good. There's a pony-tailed piano man, who could play all day, which would be fine with me. We have guest speakers and some are better than others, naturally. Who has something important or interesting to say every week? It's a tough speaking engagement.

The sermons are nothing like the ones I remember from Catholic service. One week, the Unitarians talk about Buddhism, another week someone reads a Robert Frost poem or discusses Carl Jung. One Sunday, a TV reporter talked about her life story. A TV camera shot video of her speech. I remember the Catholic midnight mass, but it wasn't video-taped. During routine announcements in mass, I don't remember hearing word one of the next Gay and Lesbian group meeting. These Unitarians are a funky group.

I like a line from Emerson that's re-printed in each church program. I like the silent church before the service begins. During the service, I like the silent church when the Unitarians observe a moment of silence. The silence sounds right and good, and maybe this is praying. My son also asked me whether I pray.

Children are so full of questions.

Rob Hiaasen is a feature writer for The Sun.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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