All Souls United for Love
By: Nena Beecham
March 8, 2016
When I walked up the steps of All Souls Church, a Unitarian Universalist church whose steeple grazed the icy blue sky, I was greeted with warm smiles and sincere “Happy Valentine’s Day” greetings. I went to the upper level, and it appeared less like a church and more like an opera house. Tall marble pillars held up the structure while windows, whose light poured in from all sides, made the crystal chandeliers sparkle like tiny snowflakes. The aura of the church, however, was not the feature that struck my senses the most. One of the members of the choir sung as the church filled up, and her ethereal voice echoed through the building and made my bones vibrate the same way they vibrate when the adhan is being given at Jum’ah prayers.
After everyone took their seats and the singing faded away, I was scared that I would spend the service feeling like a distant observer, as most people had sat at the lower level instead of the top. It officially began when a procession of people, all dressed in red and pink for Valentine’s Day, walked to the front to light a candle. The procession was extremely diverse, and the representation of different sexes, ages, and races immediately caught my attention. A member of the ministry stood up and proudly proclaimed, “All people are welcome at the table of God’s love.” Shortly after, she gazed to the upper level where I was and asked the guests to stand up so that we could be welcomed. I stood up and the whole church applauded for us, and in the midst of the moment, she also requested that no one left the church without being wished “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
The service continued in a fashion that I had observed in most Catholic and Protestant services, except there was a lack of scripture and hymns. Instead, the choir, whose singing made it impossible for me to not clap my hands or tap my feet, sung songs about love, and most speeches were about love, social justice, or acceptance. Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, who gave the longest sermon, began her speech smiling at us and reciting a quote from the Muslim poet Kabir. She talked about the challenges of love, the types of love, and how love persistently calls us back and “reaches us through the walls of fear.” The final quote of the sermon, and the one that stuck with me the most, was a quote in which she stated, “Healing comes through the embrace of love, through one person telling a story and another listening.”
In the end, my initial fears of not being welcomed and feeling like an outsider were struck down with each gesture of love that was shown. The service was unquestionably one of the best services I had attended, and the story I formed out of it was a story of connection, a story of acceptance, and a story of unconditional love.