Contents: UU World Back Issue

How to Convert

by Daniel Ó Connell

Newcomers know that becoming a Unitarian Universalist isn’t as simple as signing a membership book, but we don’t talk about the process of conversion much. The religious sense of the word “conversion” means to turn around, to find new ways to live your life based on your beliefs. I see the conversion to a depth-oriented Unitarian Universalism as comprising four simple (not easy!) steps:


Identify your history. We are each born into a world we did not create, to parents we did not select, who teach us a language we did not choose. To some degree we are not responsible for the world we were born into, the circumstances of our birth, or the religious heritage we were given. And yet, here we are. To plan your journey, you must know your map and where you have been.

Articulate your theology. You can do this in an adult religious education course like Building Your Own Theology or Conversations with the Bible. We never finish the process, but too many of us never really get started. Why are you here? Where is the joy in your life? What do you willingly give your life to? What do you believe about life and death, the divine, spirituality and religious experience, ethical living?

Take some spiritual risks. If you don’t believe in God, try prayer anyway. If you don’t like being around the poor and destitute, work in a soup kitchen. If you’re afraid of death, volunteer in a hospital. If you’re not creative, write poetry, paint, or sing. Use your spiritual fear like a Geiger counter—not to stay away, but to run headlong toward. Such risk-taking will help you grow spiritually and it will modify your theology, which in turn will suggest new spiritual risk-taking.

Become an elder. When we first get involved with a religious community, we pay attention to our own spiritual needs. Many of us come to a Unitarian Universalist congregation for the first time fresh from or in the midst of crisis. It is natural to find how the church can serve our spiritual needs. But the path to a depth-oriented Unitarian Universalism cannot stop there. Once we identify our history, articulate our theology, and take some spiritual risks, we must take our “ministry” or service out into the larger world, through and with our “church.”

We can move from being just a spiritual seeker to being a creator, sustainer, and nurturer of the beloved community, working to provide a church home for others not yet met, but just like us—thus coming back full circle. Where are you on your journey?


The Rev. Dr. Daniel Ó Connell is lead minister of Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, Missouri.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue

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