I’m an atheist who loves the United Church

One of my earliest childhood memories is of a small, framed illustration on my bedroom wall. In it, a little girl in a blue dress knelt beside a bed in a scene reminiscent of Holly Hobbie, with a classic bedtime prayer in beautiful, old-fashioned script. I loved that illustration and I read the prayer every night. I didn’t necessarily pray, but read the words and hoped I wouldn’t spontaneously die in my sleep. Sweet as the poem was intended to be, I didn’t want the Lord to take my soul to keep. Not yet, at least.

During my childhood, my family regularly attended services at different United churches, though I’m not sure I’d describe any of us as deeply religious. I went to Bible camp in the summer and spent many happy weekends in Sunday school. We had all been baptized, but didn’t talk much about belief (or lack thereof). 

My grandfather, Rev. Don Gillies, a minister at Bloor Street United in Toronto, was the exception. He was devoted to the church, but also a critical thinker who never shied away from a respectful debate or discussing ideas contrary to his own. He was a political man with a passion for equality and human rights and he advocated for religious leaders to come together. He believed in God, but also in people. My Papa Donnie was also one of the few people with whom I regularly discussed religion who didn’t dismiss my burgeoning atheism as a phase or rebellion.

Read the rest of this piece here, on Broadview Magazine’s website!

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