Thursday, May 01, 2008
I joined the Universal Life Church by requesting ordination on September 3, 2007, because I had been out of active parish ministry for several years, yet, from time to time people asked me to perform weddings, and I felt that I should be connected to and be in good standing with an ordaining body. At the time, I was worshiping in a Lutheran church, but I was ordained in the United Methodist Church many years ago. Little did I know that my affiliation with a church that had no specific theology would lead me on a spiritual journey that I thought had been completed many years ago.
My spiritual journey began as a young teenager questioning our church’s contention that we had the “truth” and everyone else in the world was in darkness. At the time, our church had a worldwide membership of about half of a million, with a global population approaching three billion. The concept that God had a message that was revealed to such a small percentage of the total human population was troubling to me. I received instruction in our faith three times. Our pastor, who was the head pastor of a church with a membership in excess of two thousand five hundred, took a great deal of time with me when I was sixteen, trying to convince me to become baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He even told my mother that if I wasn't baptized, the loss of my soul would be upon her head. After one year of work, I still refused baptism. Although I lived in a university community, and all my neighbors and family members were members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I was not convinced.
After college, I entered the United States Air Force during the heart of the Vietnam conflict. I continued my spiritual journey by reading the works of Indian and Chinese philosophers and studying Buddhism. I also took instruction in the Roman Catholic Faith, as I had been told as a child that Roman Catholics had torture chambers in their churches, for the time when they would turn against Seventh-day Adventists to torture and kill us. Instruction in the faith lead to baptism in the Roman Catholic Church, though I never totally accepted all their theology. As I look back on my life, I see it more as a protest to my early indoctrination. I have found lots of bingo players in the church, but never once did I locate a torture chamber, and few Catholics have even heard of a Seventh-day Adventist. The one element I learned to love was the liturgical tradition and ceremony of the Church.
In 1975, following the fall of Saigon, I was transferred to Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, where I met a practicing Buddhist at a workshop. He invited me to a meeting, they fed me, and I practiced Buddhism for about two years, learning a great deal, but feeling that I had moved to an alien tradition before fully exploring my own. I spent the last two years on active duty worshiping in the Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs.
In 1980, I received a call to ministry in a Methodist church and returned to California. I served the congregation for eight years, and then moved into Social Work. When my program went away, I moved into teaching. Through the years, I continued to worship with Christian congregations, and continued my ministry as a teacher and preacher. When my daughters asked me the tough questions and I gave honest answers, it became clear that I was really very liberal and had a universal view on spiritual matters. I had not given much thought to the fact that my spiritual views had continued to evolve. It simply became clear, when I was answering questions, that some of my views had become quite heretical.
After receiving ordination in the Universal Life Church, I set out to discover as much as I could about the organization and beliefs. I took several courses through the headquarters and developed a clear understanding of Bishop Henley’s ideas. When I discovered the ULC Seminary, I took four courses, including Spirit Quest. Although I had not expected to undergo a radical paradigm shift, it occurred over the eight months of this course. For the first time, I was able to harmonize all my ideas under one roof. All the religious ideas, from indigenous, to Eastern and Western that had been incorporated into my spirituality, finally fit into a systematic whole. Metaphysics works to tie everything together for me. Furthermore, through meditation, I was able to experience the reality of my new belief system.
Whenever I am stressed, which occurs quite frequently as a high school teacher, I ground myself and create a protection rose. It is amazing how much easier it has become to deal with the negative energy that flows from and between my students. I clear out the energy at the end of each class. Although there is still conflict form time to time, I have experienced a great reduction, and please understand that many of my students are gang members from opposing gangs. Most of my students are from a low socioeconomic background and many experience physical and psychological abuse at home. What amazes me is that they can function as well as they do. With the implementation of many of your techniques, I am able to survive the year.
In many respects, this course has been life changing for me. I am more relaxed and am gaining understanding of my purpose in this existence. I look forward to beginning a new course as I continue on my spiritual journey.
Rev. Richard Alan Helmerson