Religious? Who me? Reclaiming the word

el-cristoTwo years ago I spent time in Bolivia volunteering for Habitat for Humanity helping a family in need to build their home.

I’m not one to talk about religion or my spiritual life on your average day, but our project took place in Cochabamba, home of the world’s largest statue of Jesus. With Jesus looming over our work every day, it was hard not to talk about him. In the course of those conversations, I revealed to the members of my team that I had been invited to speak at my church about my Bolivian experiences upon my return to Canada.

A few days later, as we worked, we joked back and forth. One girl turned to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind us joking around. I know you’re really religious.”

I was so stunned I couldn’t speak.

I was horrified at the idea of being considered religious. The word conjured images of dusty old pious ladies with pursed lips reciting Bible passages unquestioningly. I imagined judgmental battle-axes and humourless fire-and-brimstone preachers. One this is certain: She obviously believed that anyone who goes to church has zero sense of humour. Is that how she saw me? Horrors. 

For someone who spent decades as an atheist and who still finds many aspects of some organized religions really worrisome, her perception shocked me. Me, religious? Ha! Religious was a label I did not want.

Okay, so I go to church almost every week. I am a Sunday school teacher. I was co-chair of our church council for three years. I’m on the Christian Development committee. But that doesn’t make me religious, does it?

Hhmmmm. . . I guess it does. So, if I’m going to be labelled “religious,” I’ll have to re-claim the word. I’ll have to change the connotations.

What does my church, my religion, my Spirit-seeking home, mean to me? It means: connection to the something more, critical thinking, compassion, kindness, caring work with people in need, acceptance of all people, questioning, evolving, progressive outlook, challenge, lifelong learning, meditating and justice seeking.

What does it NOT mean? It does not mean: judgmental, limited, blind, unquestioning, self-righteous, inflexible, exclusive, money-grubbing. That is not what my church is about at all.

I hereby reclaim the word religious. The compassionate, accepting, critical-thinking, justice-seeking, caring people who meditate on their questions to seek a connection with the something more (however that should appear to them) really need that to happen.


Our Mission Statement

We are a compassionate and progressive community that nurtures and celebrates each others’ spiritual growth. We are rooted in our Christian tradition and open to the truths of other faiths.

We strive to follow Jesus’ example by applying his teachings to today’s challenges. We share our personal experiences of the Divine to help each other recognize God in all creation.

We believe a more just and sustainable world is possible through increased love, awareness and action. We invest in our children, our community and our world to help make this so.

Who We Are

We are open and welcoming;
We are accepting, inclusive, diverse and progressive;
We are compassionate friends and family;
We are nurturing; supporting each other on journeys of discovery;
We are critical thinkers who create a safe place to question and explore;
We are lifelong learners who share our growth experiences and challenge each other to grow further.

How We Practice

We reflect on thought-provoking sermons;
We contemplate how Jesus’ teachings apply to today’s situations and challenges;
We ask ourselves what we believe;
We pray, meditate and are moved by music and other sensory experiences;
We study scripture and contemporary scholars;
We share our resources and take action to help our world, our community and our children.

What We Believe

We believe all are loved by God;
We believe each of us can experience the Divine;
We believe in lessons from our Christian tradition;
We believe truths are found in many spiritual traditions;
We believe God is in all creation: the kindness of strangers, love of friends and family, in nature;
We believe a more just and sustainable world is possible.

4 thoughts on “Religious? Who me? Reclaiming the word

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Thanks Phyllis. I don’t want to have to say “I’m spiritual, not religious.” I am spiritual, but I’m also very proud of the work that my church does to make the world a better place. I want to proudly say, “I’m spiritual AND religious – and it’s okay.”

  1. Alex M

    Thanks for your article. I agree that sometimes being seen as religious can have some negative connotations to it. I like your renewed definition of what it means to be religious. Your definition reminded me of an article by my friend Tim. He wrote about the benefits of organized religion and how that affects his own life as well as the lives of others. You can find it here I’d love to hear your thoughts on his article. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing what you think.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Very interesting. Thanks so much for the link. It certainly is true that people can pursue spirituality individually. I have found though, that such people often get stuck in a certain place if they don’t have others around them to challenge them to think in new ways or to add new ideas to their view of the world. I would say that the two big benefits of organized spiritual communities, then, are the continued spiritual evolution of the people involved through the dynamic exchange of information, and the ability to do many more, much more powerful good works in the community. The people in my church, and the people in many, many, many other religious groups (even the ones I disagree with theologically) contribute millions of dollars and hours of personal time to helping others.


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