6 tricks to finding fellowship for non-traditional spirituality

October 14 | Guest post by Kathleen
What to do when you crave the community
What to do when you crave the community that a church provides, but not-so-much the religious part.
My dad is continually trying to get me to go to church. And y'know what? Sometimes I actually go. Not because he's going to save me (although it's nice of him to keep trying), but because of the community of people he has there. They ask about my husband, and my fledgling opera singing career, and are generally warm and welcoming and lovely people.

As a non-theist pagan, I felt like I was seriously missing out on that fellowship and community that my dad has found at his church. It's hard to find that when you don't belong to a mainstream religion. Or if the local branch of the mainstream religion you belong to is full of assholes, because who needs that? But here are the options that may prove helpful if you feel like this is missing from your life.

1. Facebook

Facebook is the way of the world, and if you type in your metropolitan area + whatever you identify as spiritually, you may hit upon an established group that you can connect with.

2. Meetup.com

A little less shady than Craigslist, but still make sure to use good judgment about meeting strangers on the internet. There are a LOT of groups on there that sound seriously awesome.

3. Unitarian Universalist churches

If going the internet route skeeves you out, see if there's a Unitarian Universalist church near you. They welcome people of all viewpoints, including Atheists and Humanists. They have a handy dandy church locator on their website.

4. Join a book club

If you're not so much into a traditional church setting but want people to connect with who have similar views to you, try joining a book club. Check out your local library or the Google and again, use your best judgment about meeting strangers in dark alleys or whatever.

5. Events for your community

Keep your eyes peeled for events that are geared toward your spiritual beliefs, be it Pagan Pride Day, a New Age store hosting open meditation sessions or even Comic Con if you're a Jedi.

6. Start your own group

Using any of the options above, you could start your very own group and find like minded people. It takes time and you have to weed through the crazies (as with any venture involving meeting new people) but it can be deeply rewarding if spiritual fellowship fits with your values and priorities.

In case you were wondering I have found my own group, and it's pretty awesome. And now I don't have to go to church with my dad anymore.

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  1. I often feel like I am missing out on these kinds of faith-based communities – I do not identify with any religion or set of spiritual beliefs whatsoever, and I didn't even grow up with parents who dragged me to church/temple/etc. When I have tried to involve myself with the group of people who practice the same meditation as I do, I find I don't really connect with them at all (usually there's a big age gap). I have tried other types of groups from time to time though found nothing solid yet – moving frequently certainly doesn't help!

    2 agree
  2. I identify with a mainstream religion but I have something of the opposite problem. Rather than lacking a community, the community that exists here seems desperate for my attention and incessantly needy. I'm an introvert who deeply cherishes my breakfast-making time on Sunday mornings. Despite that fact that my fiance and I are members of a church here, I find myself hedging any commitment to actually attend church because I fear I will be mobbed by people and their demands for my attention. I'm seriously contemplating dropping church all together and going back to my regular meditation.

    2 agree
  3. I am being stubborn about my local secular humanist synagogue; the rabbi is wonderful and there are a few people my own age, but it is taking stubbornness. YOU WILL BE MY COMMUNITY DAMNIT.

    6 agree
  4. Another option (if you're apart of the mainstream religion type) is to go to a different church in a neighboring city. Like my parents used to attend a Catholic church two streets down from their house. Unfortunately a really mean/rude priest moved into that parish last month.

    Rather than quit it all together, they went to a different Catholic church in the next town over. Yeah, it's now like a 30 minute drive, but the priest and people are A LOT nicer. So if you don't like your mainstream religious order in your town, try the surrounding area for a different building and people.

    5 agree
  5. I am an agnostic bordering on atheist, but I recognize that religion is deeply ingrained in mainly people's lives. I think that belonging to a church/temple/belief structure etc. community is a really important part of being human. Fellowship is a thing, and people need it. (Also the definition of fellowship can vary widely.)

    I haven't found the right community for me yet. Forgive my generalizations, but this is my personal experience: 95% of Unitarians are fantastic people. And 95% of atheists who attend atheists meetings are assholes. I'm sure other people's personal experience is different from my own, but this is what I've found so far. Unitarians are very welcoming of atheists, and many atheists who want a community attend the Unitarian church. For me, there's a big logical flaw in this. It boils down to whether or not faith and belief is a personal value. Believing in something doesn't DO anything for me like it does for others. I like mysteries to be mysteries. Humans need to feel "awe," and some look to a god for that, but I get a sense of "awe" by thinking about the unknown. So when I attended a UU church, I liked parts of it, but I mainly felt that I was tolerating all the religious stuff to get to the good part, which didn't always come. But the people were pretty cool. And the few atheist meetups I went to were depressing and filled with odd rants and tangents. Yes, there is a point to human life, dear angry atheist. I just don't think the "point" is necessarily something based in belief.

    I've been to UU, Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, and UCC services, as well as Quaker meetings. I also have baggage about people trying to convert and save me. And I have ongoing issues with teaching religion in the science classroom, since you don't teach science in the religion classroom.

    What I would love is a community that doesn't rely on a religion for values. It would be great to have "fellowship" with other people who just want to have discussions and do good things outside of a standard belief system. Let me help build houses, but don't make me pretend to pray first. (I will stand there quietly and respect you, but I will not say the words or lead a prayer!) And religion creeps into other organizations I've been a part of. Was it a god who saved that sick kitten, or was it the vet and the medicine and the hours you spent nursing him back to health that saved him? These nonreligious service groups probably exist, but I just haven't found one yet. So maybe you are right that I need to start one.

    19 agree
  6. This has been on my mind a lot lately; I recently moved from Nashville, TN, to another town about four hours east. I work retail, and I get customers asking me all the time 'What church do you go to?' I don't particularly know how to say "I'm an agnostic" without somebody thinking they need to save my immortal soul. The closest Universalist Church is about a forty minute drive, but I hadn't thought to look into book clubs. I'm also going to look into parenting groups and playdates, now that I have a little one, and anime cons have always been one of my favorite ways to make friends. :3

    2 agree
  7. I've struggled with this, too! When I stopped attending church (which I grew up attending) the thing I missed most was the sense of community. I haven't found what I would consider a perfect replacement, but these things have helped me:

    Volunteering. Finding the right fit isn't always easy, but eventually I've found good places to live out my values in the company of others.

    Nature. One of the most spiritual experiences I've had as of late was volunteering as a leader on a wilderness trip. Since I often connect to my spirituality through nature, being in nature with other people can lead to great community.

    Neighborliness. Being connected to the people in my community is also a really nice way to find fellowship. Sometimes lending a lawnmower or saying hi over the fence doesn't feel spiritual at first, but the more I connect to those in my neighborhood, the more I find the spirituality in it. Working together to make change, living simply by sharing resources, connecting despite being really different people… that's all fellowship to me.

    I'm looking forward to seeing more ideas from other people!

    9 agree
    • "live out my values in the company of others." YES! This is what I want, minus the praying, haha.

      3 agree
  8. I also live in a town where "Where do you go to church?" usually leads before, "What do you do?" As a pagan in a conservative town I have struggled to find my community of people. I have a good friend who moved into the neighborhood about the same time I did, she is active in her Catholic church and has already built that almost instant community of people that mainstream church seems to provide. I do envy the easier time that my church going friends seem to have in finding their community.
    Not so easy when you're outside "hugging trees" like the weirdo that I am. Thanks for the advice!

    1 agrees
  9. This may seem like an odd route, but I've recently realized that this is what my family did for most of my childhood in our Catholic church: DO something during the service, and then be part of the community without feeling overwhelmed by the service itself.
    My family is one of the many Catholic families who have become disappointed in the "organized" part of the religion. But we were firmly ingrained in the community and liked the weekly ritual of going to church and having coffee and doughnuts with people we knew. So my family just signed up to do stuff in the church during the service, versus sitting in a pew and sitting through doctrine we disagreed with. Serving the community through being part of the choir was really fulfilling, and kept us engaged in a different way.
    Other services you may be able to provide that coincide with a service: babysitting, donation collection, setting up a coffee area/kitchen, attendant…

    7 agree
  10. I have to recommend the volunteering route as well. I'm extremely introverted, so going to a big church group takes a lot out of me. But it's so much easier if I have something to do with my hands – and people are much more approachable if I have a purpose, even if that purpose is to offer them coffee or whatever.

    I've been really excited about the Hands On network (http://www.handsonnetwork.org/) because you can pick and choose short term projects (usually done in a couple hours) and, if you like it, you can talk to the leaders of the group to do something long-term.

    1 agrees
  11. Thiiiiis is actually why I've been hanging out for the OBE forums that were mentioned a little while ago…

    By the way, is that still going to be a thing?

    I'd love to be able to connect with all of you all guys in a more real-time online manner, and to be able to find other offbeat-homies living in my area and maybe be able to connect with them IRL

    3 agree
  12. I met some people through meetup.com (which can be weird – you just have to find the right groups) and we started a brunch club. There are 6-8 women who meet every month at a new restaurant. It's kind of like church, except we meet at noon on Sundays and talk about whatever is going on. Fellowship and food – those were always my favorite things about church when I went as a kid.

    3 agree
  13. I'm an atheist and I live in Europe, where the concept of community associated to religious practice is not existent, as few people actually go to church on a frequent basis. So finding a community through religion is not an option for me.

    I still have found of community in participating in a coworking space: I am a work-from-home freelancer, and sometimes felt isolated from my acquaintances who are employees and don't understand the mindset of working freelance. Going to a coworking space full of other freelancers has given me access to a community of like-minded people.

  14. Yoga classes are a really great option for a semi-spiritual-but-largely-secular group experience. I've always found yoga classes to attract people from many walks of life and while there is some background in Hinduism it is usually minimally emphasized for folks who come from a different spiritual leaning. Plus, it's good for your body, too.

    1 agrees
    • I just want to share that I have had religious experiences while doing yoga. I identify as Catholic, but I really like meditation and yoga. Yoga and the like can be for everyone, no matter your religious affiliation, and I would argue that it's more than semi-spiritual though not everyone experiences it in the same way.

    • I've also had some really spiritual experiences in yoga class. You have to find the right studio/instructor–some are just about the fitness and not about the mind-body aspect. Once I found that great class I started bringing friends along, and we've built an ever-widening circle of people who go together. It helped me get to know those friends/acquaintances a lot better because after class we can chat about how the experience was for us that week. It's definitely a doorway to more spiritual conversations and connection than we would have otherwise gotten to.

  15. Along with Book clubs, if you're into this kind of thing, sewing/knitting groups often have a very church-like community feel. I belong to a Stich-n-Bitch, and it's totally my version of a life group or a small group or whatever your church happens to call the smaller community groups that often meet to do weekly bible studies.

    Also – I attend Quaker meetings. I've found that they're very comfortable with my belief system, which had previously gotten me labelled Heretic at other churches, and I like the quiet meditation time that counts as their "service" – there's people talking sometimes, but I've found, in my area at least, it isn't very preachy – it's jut people talking about their lives and what makes them happier…

    1 agrees
    • I think the book club entry should really be expanded to include any group of like-minded folk. I joined an amateur drama group, and I get to indulge a passion, and meet people with similar tastes.

      1 agrees
  16. I 1000x yes Meetup.com. I've used it in 3 cities (DC, Berlin, Paris) and each time had a strong success rate. You try out a few groups in the area and stick with the ones that are either the most active or have regular meetings in the same place.

  17. Unitarian Universalist churches! Some have a CUUPS group as well. The P stands for Pagan! UUs are very inclusive. The basis of the UU faith is that everyone helps everyone follow what ever spiritual path they are on. I have been a member for many years at a couple different churches, because I moved to different states. I have always found a welcoming community! Good luck.

    2 agree
  18. Yay! I like seeing this on Offbeat. I don't care much for labels but I'm a Taoist/Jedi/New Ager if I must pick some, I write about spirituality in an irreverent manner for fun and I started a Meetup awhile ago to meet new friends. I called it barstool philosophy and listed a bunch of topics I'm interested in. It totally worked! Highly recommend.

    Great post, thank you!

  19. There are so many secular groups popping up like Sunday Assembly, Harvard Humanists, and the Oasis Network that seek to provide that community sans religion.

    2 agree
  20. We recently started attending a Unitarian Universalist church. I am atheist, but wanted the community that I had growing up, without the religion. My kids go to Sunday school there and they love it. I didn't know what to expect, but I think we gound what we were looking for! Love the focus on kindness, community and the earth, without the preachiness.

  21. As another non-theist Pagan, I have always found spiritual connection through nature. When I was living in Tennessee I found tons of like-minded nature-loving Pagans through ADF and the local festivals but just have been unable to find like-minded folks since we moved to Florida. Surprisingly, I have found wonderful community when I stepped outside of the "Pagan" box and started connecting with the local gardening, herbalism, wildcrafting and especially permaculture communities.

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